News Letter No.8

Friends of the AMPHITHEATRE QUERNS WOOD and IV ACRE FIELD

Winter 2015/16

 Apologies for being a little later than intended, but there has been quite a lot going on in February, and we wanted to be as up to date as possible. Much of this is centred on raising the profile of the amphitheatre and surrounding area to make it a more enjoyable and informative visitor experience. More of this further on, but….

To start with, we’ve moved into the 21st century and now have our own twitter account:

@aqiva_ciren         – Please start tweeting us!

Also, we have started development of our own website which we hope to have running in the next few weeks. For that to be successful, having interesting content is essential. Therefore, if you have any old photos, news clippings, stories about the site or anything at all that you think may be of interest or relevant and that you would be happy to share, please email them to Howard on: aqivawebmaster@gmail.com

We are also working on a Discovery Trail App. Not much work has been done on this over the winter but, now the weather is getting better, we hope to take more photos to include on the App. The App is accessible via https://ticl.me/ticlapp (Apple or Android phones only), but can be viewed via the website which is https://ticl.me   – type Cirencester into the search & it should come up. There are only a couple of photos on the App at present, but watch this space – more will appear!

We’re up to chapter 4 of our Roman history of the area, this time focusing specifically on the amphitheatre itself. This is to be found at the end of this newsletter.

Meanwhile, going through each area of the complex as we usually do:

 OBELISK

New signposts have been made, courtesy of English Heritage, which will be located in the car park by the scout hut. These will give clearer guidance regarding access to the amphitheatre itself. Awaiting installation, but should be very soon.

The infill on the pathway and steps leading from the obelisk, across the bridge, and up to the viewing platform had settled and compressed, so this has been further “topped up”.

Work continues on developing an interpretation board which will be placed next to the obelisk. This will give information about the obelisk itself (although not too much is known about it) and the Bathgate cemetery, which in Roman times extended to beyond the dual carriageway.

There is a plan to create a pathway from the obelisk down into the woodland area between the amphitheatre bowl and the dual carriageway. It was hoped to have this done during Jan/Feb, but it has had to be deferred, probably until the autumn.

 AMPHITHEATRE

 To quote from our previous newsletter:

 “Visitors come to the site and, apart from a fairly recently installed sign by the entrance from Cotswold Avenue, there is absolutely no on-site information, and nothing at all showing the layout. It is genuinely not unknown for visitors to come and then leave without actually having seen the amphitheatre proper, and being understandably somewhat disappointed at this (non) experience.”

As well as the signage mentioned in the obelisk section, a further significant step towards rectifying this situation has been taken within the last few days. If you haven’t already seen, do come and look at the large stone mounts which have been located at either end of the amphitheatre bowl. Plaques have been set on the stones giving more information about the amphitheatre site and also the excavations carried out in 1966. This has been a joint project with input from English Heritage, the Corinium Museum, the Town Council and AQIVA.

 

There are plans to locate a topograph on the viewing platform which is to the right of the entrance from Cotswold Avenue (this is a sort of mounted plaque which shows the site and its context within the surrounding areas). Alongside this would be a reproduction of what the seating in the amphitheatre would originally have looked like. Disappointingly, our initial application for external funding to achieve this was turned down, but we will continue to look for alternative sources. If any local businesses might be interested in sponsoring this project, we would welcome the opportunity to explore further with you.

You may have seen the repairs to a couple of sections of the drystone wall that runs between the amphitheatre and the ambulance station. This was a win/win training opportunity organised by the Town Council with participants from the Churn project and with training/supervision provided by the Cotswolds Conservation Board. To quote the CCB:

“The aim of the project is to provide an opportunity for unemployed and low skilled workers in the Cirencester area to gain knowledge and experience in a traditional rural skill which has the potential to lead to future employment opportunities within and around the Cotswolds AONB” (area of outstanding natural beauty). Those participants who wish to do so, can follow on to achieve a formal qualification.

WORK IN PROGRESS                    JOB DONE

The pathway running down from the Cotswold Avenue entrance has been topped up with fresh, clean material.

The lake that appears during periods of heavy run in the wooded section between the bottom of the slope (running down from the obelisk) and the dual carriageway made its expected appearance. Seen from a distance, it can actually look quite pretty.

QUERNS WOOD

A Roman sarcophagus has been installed by the wellbeing entrance to Querns Wood (this is the one located opposite the main hospital entrance). This was excavated many moons ago from the site and spent a large part of its recent life as a very large flower pot! It has now been rescued and relocated (minus flowers) to this new position.

Regular users of the pathway from the woods into the amphitheatre will know that the section as you leave the woods gets very muddy after heavy rain, and this year has been no exception. Following the clearance work done last year, there is now a level track off to the left as you exit the woods, and turf reinforcement mesh has been put down to help make this a safer option. However, the mud was already a pretty dominant feature when the mesh went down so this did not have as positive an impact as had been hoped. This needs to be reviewed when everything finally dries out.

 FOUR ACRE FIELD

It’s coming up to wild flower sowing time again, but there is an enormous amount of preparation work needed to maximise the benefit/impact of this. We will email you again when we have a firm date for this work in case any of you are willing and able to assist.

In common with everywhere else in recent months, parts of the field got somewhat soggy, to say the least. But some of us enjoyed it!

Charlie, I think you’ll find they’re ducks, not sheep!

During 2014, Gloucestershire County Council launched a programme called “Active Together”, through which they would make a sum of money available to every county councillor (of which Cirencester has two) to allocate to projects promoting health and wellbeing within their area. (subject to GCC approval). Grants could be made available to a variety of organisations, including town councils, parish councils, as well as clubs and other societies – basically, consideration would be given to any proposal that would meet the clearly defined Active Together guidelines. Cirencester Town Council applied for a grant from this scheme to install outdoor exercise equipment at several locations around the town, including 4 Acre Field, and this has been approved. Our bit is likely to consist of three or four pieces of equipment, which will be located in the dip between the wild flower area and the tree line along the edge of Querns Wood. It is anticipated that this will be installed during the spring.

VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME

AQIVA has now obtained public liability insurance that will enable us to undertake projects independently of the Town Council and we are making progress with a programme of volunteering opportunities for this year. We have already circulated a questionnaire asking for anyone who is willing to volunteer to help with projects/events on a regular or ad hoc basis to contact us. If you meant to return the form, but haven’t done so yet, please just email Alison on aqivasec@gmail.com  to say what projects you might be interested in.

They types of projects we have in mind for this year are:

  • Clearance and conservation work
  • Sowing & planting  e.g. wildflowers in 4 Acre Field and around the Obelisk
  • Biodiversity projects/surveys
  • Events/ Activities – e.g. Heritage Open Day in September
  • Visitor Surveys/Counts
  • Building bird& bat boxes, insect hotels etc.
  • Improving our media profile – e.g. continuing to develop our App & build a website.
  • Litter picks

Children are welcome to join in our projects provided it is safe for them to do so and they are accompanied by a responsible adult.

 AND (NEARLY) FINALLY

 Communication – We have already mentioned in the introduction that we now have a twitter account and are working on the website. Also, there is plenty of information as well as photographs on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfAmphitheatre?fref=ts

If you would like any more detail, please contact our secretary, Alison, at aqivasec@gmail.com. If anyone would like to see previous newsletters, please let Alison know (sorry, but email only).

Meetings – held on the 4th Thursday of every month at Chesterton primary school, starting at 7pm. Next meetings:

24 March                                 28 April                                   26 May

23 June                                    28 July                                    25 August

22 September                          27 October                              24 November

22 December (maybe)

Please feel free to come along. We hope that you get a sense of things happening, and we would love you to be part of it.

AND (FINALLY) FINALLY

A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMPHITHEATRE SITE

 PART FOUR – THE AMPHITHEATRE

 To recap, the Romans arrived in AD 43: by AD 70 most of the southern part of Britain was securely under Roman control and the assimilation of the local population into Roman culture, often by winning hearts and minds, was underway. The wooden fort at what is now Watermoor was dismantled, and Corinium town grew through its location on the road network and local trade. By the early Second Century, the street grid was laid out and stone buildings constructed. It would have been at this time that public buildings, the Basilica, the Forum and the Amphitheatre were constructed.

The amphitheatre is a unique feature of the Roman Empire and spread across Europe as the Empire expanded. By the time the Romans invade Britain the amphitheatre and games were long established institutions. The amphitheatre became the symbol of the Empire and across Europe and North Africa about 230 amphitheatres have been identified, including more than 20 sites in Roman Britain. Most have disappeared, for example the London amphitheatre, the largest in Roman Britain was on the site of the Guildhall in the city of London. Cirencester is an excellent example and the second largest in Britain.

In Cirencester the site for the Amphitheatre was the quarry which had supplied much of the stone for building the town. The construction took advantage of the site; excavations have shown that the rear wall, to the south east, was built against the quarry face. The arena was levelled and the banking to the north west was built up using quarry waste.  The seating banks were up to 30m wide and retained by timber and drystone walls. The spectators were accommodated on narrow terraces with wooden planks for seating. It is suggested that wooden seating was more appropriate to the British climate and probably more comfortable than the stone used elsewhere. There were about 16 terraces including wider terraces at the top for standing spectators.

When originally constructed the earth banks were higher, by about 2.5 metres, and the Amphitheatre would have held 8,000 people. The population of Corinium varied between 10,000 and 15,000 so at times the majority of the town could enjoy the spectacle.

So what took place in amphitheatres? The amphitheatre should be seen as a stadium which was used for a wide range of events; sports, games, display of military pageantry, religious festivals, the execution of criminals, simulated hunts and gladiatorial combat. All public entertainment in the amphitheatre was free, but seating was allocated by class and gender. The duration, frequency and character of spectacles would be dependent on the enthusiasm of the populace and the purses of those funding the events. The spectacles would be paid for by local magistrates, politicians (probably at election times) and others ‘on the make’.

Were there gladiators in Cirencester? Much of the British evidence relates to the baiting and killing of wild animals and the only solid proof of gladiators are inscriptions, finds of equipment and images. The cost of training and supporting gladiators was enormous and given the nature of the event any investment in individual gladiators would be lost should he be injured or killed. So there is no firm evidence to show gladiators fought to the death in Cirencester, however it is recorded that that well known gladiators would go ‘on tour’. Hence it is possible there would have been ‘exhibition’ contests in the Amphitheatre. The fights would have been violent but would have been staged to avoid serious injury or death.

Next time – Armageddon and the Amphitheatre after the Romans.

 

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