Friends of the AMPHITHEATRE QUERNS WOOD and IV ACRE FIELD
We are now into the third year of our quarterly newsletter: we very much hope that you find them interesting, informative and entertaining. This time round, there is a double bonus. First, and try not to cry, we have the 5th and final part of our Roman history of the amphitheatre site. However, as we try from time to time to give some background/history of parts of the complex other than the amphitheatre itself, we also have a brief but very comprehensive story of the 1st Cirencester Scout Group and its current location in the scout hut on Cotswold Avenue, by the obelisk. Sincere thanks are due to Chris Hailstone, chairman of the group, for compiling this information.
Both of these articles are to be found at the end of this newsletter. One further item worthy of note: we wrote in the last newsletter about the renovation work that was carried out in the amphitheatre as a training opportunity organised by the town council and the Cotswolds Conservation Board, with participants from the Churn project. As a direct result of this, one of the participants now has a job with the town council.
Meanwhile, going through each area of the complex as we usually do:
The new signage has now been installed, located in the scout hut car park and along Cotswold Avenue, giving clearer direction to the amphitheatre proper. There is now also a bike rack in the car park.
The final draft design of the interpretation board (which will be placed next to the obelisk) has now been produced. 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 beyond the dual carriageway. We very much hope that this will be ready for installation in the not too distant future.
There is a plan to re-create an ancient 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.
Volunteer work to clear the growth along the back of the car park and plant new shrubs has taken place. A further volunteer session was held to start clearing the vegetation along the wall between the new pathway and the road, but the ground is so heavy with roots and stone, that the progress made was disappointing. With the mixture of sunshine and rain that we have had, the whole area is rapidly becoming overgrown again, and much more work needs to be done.
A draft design for the topograph about which we have previously written is in its early stages and discussions are being held with English Heritage regarding appearance, materials, and so on. There is also still an objective to have alongside this a reproduction of what the seating in the amphitheatre would originally have looked like. Very much a “wish list” item at present, but funding opportunities are being investigated.
There have been occasional reports of people using metal detectors in the amphitheatre. As the site is a scheduled ancient monument, this is an offence and, should you become aware at any time of such activity, it would be much appreciated if you would advise the police on 101.
The town council do an excellent job in maintaining the site and have created a series of mown pathways around the amphitheatre, giving access to all areas. They have now agreed with English Heritage to continue managing the site for a further 5 years.
In the coming months, it is hoped to top up the pathways with fresh gravel and continue building up the dead hedging.
The scouts, cubs and beavers are building some bat boxes (which will count towards their badges), with the wood kindly donated by Hailey Wood Sawmills. These will be put up in the autumn.
The town council are planning a full day of woodcraft activities during “Love Parks” week on Thursday 28th July. On Friday 29th, Andre Curtis from the Green Gym will be leading a Tree Walk through the woods – meet 2pm at the Cotswold Close entrance on 4Acre Field.
There have been a few incidents of antisocial behaviour reported in the form of groups of young people gathering and smoking cannabis. There has been no evidence of any threat to other users, but it is recognised that such groups can appear intimidating to passers by. The police and police community support officers are aware of this and have asked that anyone who is concerned advise them by calling 101.
FOUR ACRE FIELD
Ground preparation for further wild flower sowing along the east side took place during March, with a group of children from Chesterton Primary School coming along at the end of the month to scatter the seeds. It sort of stayed dry, and the kids only got mildly muddy. Since then, the flowers have grown, but are being swamped by the nettles, brambles and goose grass. A further volunteer session has been held to try to clear the worst of it, but only a short length could be tackled, and it is an uphill struggle to stay on top of it. Much more work (and more arms and legs) is needed.
The area of the first sowing, along the slope running parallel with the edge of the woods, was left this year to see what came back from previous years, and this has actually done surprisingly well.
It was disappointing to note recently that the information board by the yew entrance from the field down to the hospital was vandalised, with the facing being peeled back and stuck to itself. Presumably someone got some kind of pleasure from doing this.
We mentioned in the last newsletter that funds had been made available from the county council “Active Together” programme for the installation of outdoor exercise equipment at various locations across the town, including 4 acre field. This will comprise 5 pieces of equipment, and is actually being put in place as this is written.
The entrance to the field from Cotswold Close looks really tatty, with the concrete posts, rusty wire netting, all surrounded by weeds. It is hoped during the course of the summer to remove all this and replace with a knee high wooden barrier.
We have a programme of tasks that we want to undertake but absolutely need more bodies, particularly when it comes to clearance and conservation work. If you haven’t already been in touch but would be prepared to lend a hand or three, please let Alison know – email firstname.lastname@example.org
Our next working party will be from 2.30 – 4.30 pm on Sunday 17th July, but you are welcome to come along at anytime and see what we are doing. The location will again be 4 Acre Field to continue the task of preparing the border along the east of the field ready for sowing of wild flower seed in the autumn by continuing to remove dominant and invasive weeds such as docks & goose grass – most of the brambles have now been removed.
As last time, please bring along secateurs/large scissors and (if you have one) a garden fork for digging up roots if need be. Also bring gloves; these need to be sturdy gardening gloves to guard against nettle stings & thorns, and wear appropriate clothing and footwear e.g. long sleeves and full shoes again for protection.
Apart from this newsletter, you can find information and photos on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfAmphitheatre?fref=ts
We also have a twitter account:
Our website is now in development: www.aqiva.org.uk
If you would like any more detail, please contact our secretary, Alison, at email@example.com. If anyone would like to see previous newsletters, please let Alison know (sorry, but email only).
For Heritage Open Day (Saturday 10 September) our guided tour of the amphitheatre has become a regular feature, and this year is no exception. Followed, of course, by our popular bat walk and talk in the evening. The 1st Cirencester Scouts will be having a ‘Family Fun Day’ and will be providing refreshments.
During “Love Parks” week, we will have a stall at the Chesterton fete (23 July), held on the Thistle Patch off Cranhams Lane. Please come along for a chat and see what else is going on.
Meetings – held on the 4th Thursday of every month at Chesterton primary school, starting at 7pm. Next meetings:
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.
So we reach the end of number 9. Or nearly. As promised in our introduction, there follows the Romans part 5, and the history of our local scout group. We hope you enjoy.
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE AMPHITHEATRE SITE
PART FIVE – THE FALL OF ROME
Up until AD 200 there are references to gladiatorial combat across the Empire. From these references we can assume the amphitheatre continued as a stadium for entertainment including sports, pageants and gladiatorial combat. However Rome and its Empire were changing. During the reign of the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great, (306-337) Christianity grew to be the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Christian worship was decriminalised, persecution stopped and initially tolerance was given to all religions. Later in his reign Constantine legislated against pagan religion and some temples were destroyed on his orders. Across the Empire, Christian principles and teaching reduced the public’s enthusiasm for gladiatorial combat and saw a decline in the use of the amphitheatres.
The cost of use of the amphitheatre was significant: people attending events did not pay, so any event would be funded by politicians or other wealthy patrons who were out to influence public opinion. Probably here in Cirencester, in the early 4th Century, with changing attitudes and a lack of patronage the amphitheatre fell out of use. However, archaeology shows that about 350-360 the amphitheatre was remodelled. The north entrance, which leads to the town, was widened to allow use by wheeled vehicles. The cobbles laid at the entrance have ruts which were caused by extensive use of carts. This indicates the amphitheatre was probably being used as a market place. It is possible that the stall holders’ costs were lower than in the town and therefore attracted a different trader, possibly not unlike our current out of town car boot sales.
The Fall of Rome can be dated back to 376 when a rising by the Goths in the Balkans defeated the Roman army and they were able to settle in territory previously considered to be part of the Empire. This set the scene for the next 100 years as the Empire contracted with the ‘Barbarians’ ending Roman rule and occupying territory. There were numerous factors which led to this; the reduction of the army, the strength of the economy, the competence of the Emperors, religious changes and the efficiency of civil administration.Added to this was the increasing strength and confidence of those outside the Empire.
The Roman Empire supported society through a complex economic system. Everything depended on the continuance of Roman peace and the maintenance of the administration, roads and markets. With the breakdown of law, little of this specialised pattern could survive.
In 407 the defence of Britain by Roman armies was withdrawn and in 410 the Emperor Honorius told Roman cities to see to their own defence. Roman Cirencester’s dependence on the patronage of the state meant that it could not survive the withdrawal of the Roman Empire from Britain. The end can be clearly seen by the number of occupied buildings in the town. In 375 AD excavations have found 23 private buildings in use, by 400 AD the number was 10 and by 425 only 4. Excavations have also shown that later in the fifth century there is evidence of degraded use in the town – low status occupation of decaying town houses (probably squatters) and crude huts constructed within the ruins.
The amphitheatre, along with the town walls and gates and public buildings were no longer occupied. They buildings rapidly fell into disrepair and the valuables taken. Elsewhere in the county some villas continued as rural estates or farms but generally the town was left to decay. The stone work of the amphitheatre and other buildings was taken away for use elsewhere and Corinium abandoned.
However, with some good fortune, the amphitheatre was not destroyed or built over and has remained as an iconic structure in the town for almost two millennia.
GO SCOUTING ON THE NEXT PAGE
———————————————————————————————————-THE 1ST CIRENCESTER SCOUT GROUP AND SCOUT HUT
The Scout HQ on Cotswold Avenue is currently used by the 1st Cirencester Scout group, who celebrate their 80th Anniversary this year. However the group was not the original scout group who used the building.
It is believed that the building had once housed railway workers and in 1937 it was taken over by the 2nd Cirencester (Corinium) Scout Group. In those days the hut had a brick base, wooden walls, no running water and a single gas lamp. After the war in 1947 the hut was extended to match its current footprint, with the addition of a brick and concrete extension which included a chemical toilet (which drained away down the hill and into the stream) and basic electrics.
While the 2nd Cirencester group were using the hut as their HQ, the 1st Cirencester group had a more nomadic existence. On their founding in 1936 the group used the building on Chesterton Lane which now houses the Tesco store. The group used the second and third floors of this building between 1936 and 1945. On being asked by the landlords to vacate the building on Chesterton Lane the group moved into the Church Hall on Cricklade Road for the period between 1945 – 1947. This was followed by a period of a couple of years based in a wooden hut on Burford Road (just beyond where the CO-OP services and the Travelodge are). Finally the group were invited by the Bathurst Estate to use the old Home Guard buildings on Cecily Hill (overlooking Cirencester Open Air Pool) between 1951 and 1954.
Around this time Lady Bathurst pledged land for the specific use of the Scouting movement, and as there were discussions around the time to replace the barracks and Home Guard huts with a college from Oxford University the 1st Cirencester Scouts moved for the final time. Both the 1st and 2nd Cirencester groups had shrunk and the obvious way of making the groups stronger was to merge. The 1st Cirencester had a larger number of leaders, while the 2nd had the higher number of scouts and in 1954 the groups merged* and took up residence in the hut on Cotswold Avenue, adding full electrics and running water as part of the upgrade work.
In 1964 the original wooden framed part of the building was burned down in an act of arson – a wood pile which was stored in a shed against the side of the hut was set on fire and it spread to the wooden building causing extensive damage. There were rumours at the time that this was done by disgruntled railway workers who were angered by the closure of the railway as part of the Beeching reforms in 1964. The group and the Cotswold district worked to rebuild the hut, and our current Group Scout Leader Dave Gealer was one of those who helped with the construction of the hut, which remains as it was after the rebuild.
The hut itself belongs to the Scout Group, and is held in trust by Cirencester Town council as per the instructions of Lady Bathurst. This has been the case since 1968, and the Scout Association leases the land, the current agreement running until 2025.
The 1st Cirencester group is thriving in the year of its 80th anniversary with solid sections covering Beavers (6 – 8 years), Cubs (8 – 10½) and Scouts (10½ – 14) with the hut also providing a base for the Churn Valley Explorer Scout unit. The hut is used Monday – Wednesday for the group’s section meetings and the executive committee of the group are looking at ways of making the hut more available for the community at large to use more regularly.
*It was agreed at the time that the 2nd Cirencester name would not be used again, but this was overruled when the Scout group in Stratton was formed and the 2nd Cirencester name was rekindled for this group.