CAHS Snapshots of Local History

Contributions from Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society, members & friends

Cirencester’s Secret and Hidden Places, worth £500!

Two new volumes published quite separately within weeks of each other offer their readers plenty of fascinating detail on aspects of Cirencester life and history which if they survive at all may still be hidden or at least hidden-in-plain-sight, to coin a phrase.

David Elder’s Secret Cirencester (Amberley £15.99) fits into that publisher’s Secret series of volumes and so follows the format, and is a mine of information on lesser-known or even obscure aspects and events in the town’s past. The author deals with remarkable characters, people such as the Victorian female astronomer Elizabeth Brown (1830-99), Cirencester-born and a lifetime resident who became a national expert on sunspots and solar eclipses.

And there are others, already featured in this Snapshots series, such as smallpox vaccine pioneer Edward Jenner (1749-1823) and this year in the news, or in a different century the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016), still well remembered by many.

Relevant to what follows next, Secret Cirencester also deals with tucked-away or even disappeared historic buildings and locations. So we can still follow the line of the Thames & Severn Canal as it entered ‘Cirencester port’ at the foot of Querns Hill, where it has all now vanished from view. Or find one of the UK’s oldest surviving open-air swimming pools, opened in 1869, still functioning and much loved in its picturesque location on the edge of Cirencester Park.

Much of this provides ready ammunition for those who set off in pursuit of Hidden Cirencester, armed with a photo album recently published by the town’s Round Table. This is a handsome volume in 106 pages containing exactly 100 photographs of the nooks, crannies and definitely unusual places and buildings around the town. It is a permanent record, captured at one time; but the main idea is to identify all these images in a challenge quiz, complete with deadline and an attractive £500 cash prize. And there’s no doubt that this is some challenge!

Entry is via purchase of a copy, which comes complete with an entry form (substitutes or photocopies are not accepted). Then it is a matter of wandering the streets, copy in hand, looking carefully at those hidden but in plain sight targets. None of this by the way encourages any encroaching on private property as all images were taken from locations with public access.

Sample images are included here by way of encouragement (but without the answers!); however one useful tip when looking at buildings still holds good: do look up from time to time, it does help.

Cirencester Round Table vice-chairman Richard Dell came up with the idea, inspired by a similar competition run in 2000 in Bradford-on-Avon where he grew up. He told me that ‘my parents bought that book which has been an unusual talking point and coffee table style book around their home ever since. Flicking through it recently I realised that Cirencester would similarly provide potentially hundreds of inspiring images and views’. 

‘The hardest challenge was selecting just the final 100 for the book’ says Richard, but he has done a sterling job as the photographer throughout. Copies are available at £12 each from Corinium Museum, Gardiner Haskins, Moore Allen & Innocent and other sponsors.

But be quick as this volume has only a limited edition and is proving to be very popular. The deadline for submission is Thursday 06 April, that is the beginning of the Easter holiday weekend, with entries submitted via Moore Allen’s offices at 33 Castle Street.

This project is for anybody, not just local historians; it offers a stimulating way to participate and take in what is all around us, much of which is often taken for granted. Try it with younger members of the family too. It will remind us all of just how rich in all sorts of ways the history and town life of Cirencester remains, and worth seeking out.

Costs of both production and competition are covered by the generous sponsorship of six local companies, with all proceeds to benefit local charitable causes, in the best tradition of Round Table activities.

Round Table (RTBI) is a young men’s club for those aged between 18 and 45; it supports charities, the local community and its individual members through friendship and brotherhood. And the Cirencester Table boasts amongst its members the organisation’s National President for 2022/23 in Matt Fallon who lives in the town, so many congratulations to him.

David Viner

Support Cirencester’s principal heritage societies and their event programmes: Archaeological & Historical Society (www.cirenhistory.org.uk) and Civic Society (www.ccsoc.org.uk), which runs a programme of Town Walks in the season plus pre-booked for small groups. See the Society’s website or phone William Cooper on 01285 88 55 90.

To keep up to date with what´s going on in town, feel free to join our Facebook group by clicking here

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