Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Cirencester

Magazine article The Spectator

Notes On. Cirencester

Article excerpt

Everywhere you look in Cirencester there's another animal: a cockerel, a hare, a sheep or a skulking lioness. I rather fancied the big beasts that chase each other lustily around the Roman mosaics in the Corinium Museum, home to one of the liveliest archaeological collections I've ever seen.

The Romans of first-century Cirencester (Corinium) strike me as having been a fun-loving, optimistic bunch -- so much of what they left behind honours Bacchus, the wine god, and Mercury, god of commerce. They made some fantastically modern things. One could easily mistake the model of Mercury's cockerel (the herald of a new day), found in a Roman grave, for a Picasso.

Beyond cockerels, historic Cirencester owed much of its success to its sheep. Both Cirencester Parish Church of St John Baptist and the former abbey were built with money raised from trade in local wool. From the 14th century, wool was sold in what is now the Corn Hall, transported to Kent, and shipped thence to Europe. The Florentines were particularly partial to it.

Cirencester's enterprising sheep-shearers must have had little difficulty in gathering enough wool. The Cotswold Lion, traditionally the favoured breed of sheep, is one of the hairiest ever seen on Countryfile . These lovely shaggy creatures served the Romans and Elizabethans of Cirencester exceptionally well with their famous 'golden fleece', but there are only a few thousand left in the UK. Could we not strive to breed more? Perhaps then the branch of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill on Cirencester market could be replaced with something more Cotswoldsy. …

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