With contributions from Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society, members & friends
It may come as a surprise that one of Cirencester’s shortest and narrowest streets was once a main focus of its commercial activity. It remains so today, but the nature of trading has changed as café culture has taken over, encouraged and enabled by pedestrianisation introduced a few years ago. This has certainly had a beneficial effect. Described not long ago as ‘Cirencester’s Notting Hill’, Black Jack Street offers no less than a dozen places of refreshment in little more than two minutes’ walk.
It was all once very different. The town’s Post Office was certainly here from 1794 and later the Telephone Exchange, plus its first branch of WH Smith ‘booksellers & newsagents’. All these later moved elsewhere but within memory Gillman’s was Ciren’s last traditional ironmongers (closed in 2002) and likewise Cowley’s, established in 1871 as carpenters, joiners, builders, and undertakers – ‘House Repairs of All Kinds attended to; Funerals Completely Furnished’. Both had yards off the street which still survive, now offering many shopping opportunities. Gillman’s yard is now Templar Mews, but Cowley House preserves its name.
Starting nearest the church, there have been changes to the buildings (if not the street numbering) on the gentle curve round from West Market Place. What is now French Grey Interiors and Coln Gallery once housed the fondly remembered Masons & Gilletts grocers’ shop. Next door (now Jungle and Keith’s) was home to C.H. Savory’s Cirencester ‘Steam Press’, printers, publishers, and stationers, established in 1852 and acquired by W H Smiths in 1905 (remaining here into the 1920s).
Recent memory also recalls that here from 1968-73 was the first office in the town of mail order marketeers Christian Brann Ltd, before their expansion into Phoenix Way. Opposite, the Crown inn has a long history back to mid-16th century, albeit much rebuilt following a fire in 1914.
Loveday & Loveday is the other main name of memory, upholsterers and house furnishers occupying large premises (now Cote). Then comes No 6, a fine period house (now A La Boutique) next door to Sassy & Boo occupying Gillman’s old shop. Next is Lola, once part of Lovedays, its prominent datestone recording its rebuilding by the Bathurst Estate in 1909.
The other great survivor is Jesse Smith & Co., long-established in this family as far back as 1808 as a leading town butcher, ‘sausage maker and bacon curer’, and still very much a street focal point, its shop front with decorated tiles and other historic detailing still catching the eye. Its Stable Yard behind is another mixed retail conversion, adding to the street’s contemporary vitality.
Next along the Golden Cross Inn is another survivor, its name recorded as far back as 1826. Acquired by John Arkell in 1864 as a well-established drinking house, it became that company’s first Cirencester pub and was fully rebuilt in Arkells Brewery house style in 1874. It too had its own side and rear yard, now incorporated.
The remainder on this side includes another shop (now Octavia’s bookshop) and access to a row of domestic cottages (now Black Jack Mews and private property), a restored reminder of others once similarly tucked away. Next door was for a number of years the local newspaper office of the Gloucestershire Echo (now Jack’s).
That leaves the other side of the street, turning back towards the church, and altogether less commercialised and more domestic, reflecting its complete rebuilding of 1868-9 of earlier tenements and small businesses to create a great sweep of urban cottages from Silver Street into Black Jack Street, with a tiny shop provided on the corner. This too had a stint as a newspaper office, for the Swindon-based Evening Advertiser.
The surviving historic town house on this side (no 7, and private) once housed the Post Office before its move to Castle Street in 1861. Behind, the much later post office yard was accessed from here, all now infilled as The Old Post Office. Drizzle Chocolate and John Lewis of Hungerford occupy that space and bring us neatly back to the much-photographed view back to the church tower, one of the defining images at the heart of Cirencester’s town centre.
David Viner & Rick Martin
Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society
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