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Black Jack Street, Cirencester, Gloucestershire

PUBLISHED: 17:09 04 February 2010 | UPDATED: 14:54 20 February 2013

Victorian terrace on the corner of Black Jack Street and Silver street

Victorian terrace on the corner of Black Jack Street and Silver street

Black Jack Street is a short thoroughfare with a fascinating history. It has recently been the focus of retail expansion, and there are plans to develop it - and Cirencester - even more. <br/><br/>Words and photography by Mark Child

A statue of St John the Baptist once stood in a niche on the church tower at Cirencester, at a time when metalworking was carried on in the immediate environs. It is said that the heat from the furnaces discoloured the statue to such a degree that it was called 'black jack', and thus the thoroughfare that curved away from it was known, at first colloquially, as Black Jack Street. That, anyway, is the legend; although disputed, it is nonetheless sure to be a better story than any other yet to be found. In the 19th century, the Victorians took against such an irreverent association for their parish church's dedicatee, and for a while took to calling the road St John Street.


Documents extant from the early 18th to the early 19th centuries were tantalisingly ambiguous in the matter of the street's name. It was referred to as 'Gosditch Street otherwise known as Black Jack Street also known by the name of Park Street'. Cirencester historian Linda Viner has researched this anomaly, and her work shows that over the last couple of centuries or so, others have made several unsuccessful attempts to sort it out. Linda's notes reveal that about a century before discomfited residents unsuccessfully appealed to the Local Board in 1887 to have the name officially changed to St John Street, Black Jack Street, as we know it today, was in place. The consensus is that this section of roadway had only comparatively recently been so named: Gosditch Street having previously run from West Market Place to the foot of Cecily Hill; and Park Street was not to be so designated much before the end of the century. All of this is notwithstanding the supposed - and disputed - one-time existence of a deed, dated 1509, that mentioned Black Jack Street!


Even the notion of a smoke-blackened jack is called into question by one authority, who believes that since a black jack was a pitch-lined leather drinking vessel that held small beer or ale, the street is likely to have been named after a hostelry that was in it. Linda thinks 'Cirencester desperately needs the work of the Victoria County historians to sort out its property deeds - but that would take years of work and frustration!'.


Black Jack Street can claim Cirencester's greatest celebrity, whose name continues to reverberate around the town today. Daniel George Bingham (1830-1913) was born in a double-gabled house on the south side of the street; he entered the railway service at Cirencester in the 1840s, and lived most of his life abroad. He was, however, the town's single most important benefactor, financing the building of the Bingham Library in 1905 and the Bingham Hall in 1908. The birthplace has gone, but not his legacy. In 2005, the Trustees of the Bingham Library commemorated his life and beneficence with a book, Cirencester A Century Ago: The Bingham Legacy, compiled for them by David and Linda Viner, and published by Sutton Publishing.


Today, Black Jack Street is one of the most fascinating parts of the town, and is without doubt one of the most rewarding for shoppers. It is hard by the church, whose richly panelled tower provides an exquisite visual longstop to this old thoroughfare. It is also close to West Market Place, but may nonetheless have to be sought out by visitors who do not know the area. It is worth taking the trouble. In hardly more than a year, two comparatively hidden little courtyards admitted from Black Jack Street have been redeveloped for trade, adding immensely to Cirencester's rich mix of specialist retail and food outlets, and greatly enhancing the street's value for visitors. The old buildings that line them are what remain of a number of built-up alleyways that characterised this part of the town; a mixture of agricultural buildings and ancient tenements that, for the most part, were still in situ and lived in little more than a century ago. You can get an idea of this arrangement by looking at the buildings that are now taken up by the kitchen and stores beneath the glass atrium of Jack's tea shop, or by glimpsing the old cottage walls and attractive container planting through the gate marked 'Private', beside the street's bookmakers. This is the only alleyway of its type remaining.


Documents relating to premises in Black Jack Street during the 18th century suggest that it was a relatively poor area, overwhelmingly residential with some street-level traders. The better buildings were closer to the church. The tenements were sometimes owned by people who did not live in the town; they were rented and occupied by a good many agricultural workers and their families, as well as those of tradesmen such as rope makers, painters, carpenters, and shoemakers, etc.


By the middle of the 18th century, Black Jack Street must have been all of a bustle. It had acquired a well-established beer house that had lately achieved the status of an inn, whose landlord was also the local coal merchant. Although there is no evidence that it had become a particularly desirable address in the residential sense - and photographs extant show that it had some fairly crumbly old buildings - the whole tenor of the place was clearly in the ascendant. Soon after the middle of the 19th century, there was a huge interest in photography, and the street then housed a 'photographic artist', and a stationer and printer who added photography to his portfolio. There was an office in the street, where servants looking for work could register; a day-school for children had been established; and Black Jack Street had a veterinary practice.


There was clearly a mixture of professional people and tradespeople living and working in the street; its residents included tailors, corn dealers, grocer, greengrocer, a couple of whitesmiths and bell hangers, boot and shoe maker, two bakers, a currier, a slater and plasterer, a cooper, and a cordwainer who boasted that he employed two men and three boys. There was also a family of trunk makers. The sons of Black Jack Street's families tended to be labourers; their daughters were servants, dressmakers or milliners. As the 19th century progressed into its latter decades, most of Cirencester society would have had reason to visit Black Jack Street on a regular basis, both for the requirements of their everyday existence and the increasing number of professional services that were opening there.


Move on to just a century ago, by which time Black Jack Street had more named private residents, and the whole tone had improved. The redevelopment of neighbouring Castle Street was completed 1896/7, admitting the Post Office, and the access to its yard at the rear was off Black Jack Street. In 2007, this yard is about to be redeveloped by Cirencester's Wildmoor Properties, who also own Swan Yard that runs parallel with Black Jack Street.


The aim of Wildmoor's Black Jack Street project is to create an architecturally designed mixed development of residential, retail and commercial properties, giving it all an open mews feel. The properties will line a passageway running between Castle Street and Black Jack Street, and will be accessed from either. Black Jack Street is to be fronted by new two- and three-storey buildings, designed in the local vernacular. At ground-floor level, there will be ten retail units and a new post office; two office suites are planned; and nine flats will occupy the second level. According to Wildmoor, the intention is to attract a couple of national retailers 'of a type suitable for Cirencester' to the larger shop premises, and otherwise 'to create a bijou and intimate feel with the style of the others'. This will be helped if the proposal to restrict vehicular access in Black Jack Street to delivery vehicles - long overdue in my opinion - comes about.


A century ago, the street also had a public call office of the National Telephone Company. Rooms to let had become apartments. Carpenters had, for the most part, become cabinet makers; a 'fancy warehouse' had been established; and the bookseller had also become a publisher. Amongst the traditional trades, there was the butcher - by now almost a century old, cheese factor, and boot and shoe maker; the whitesmiths had become general smiths, and were into their third generation.


One of Cirencester's best-known modern-day companies began in first- floor accommodation in Black Jack Street in 1968, where Christian and Mary- Rose Brann established Christian Brann Limited. They rented, at just 7 per week, 2,000 square feet of property, then belonging to United Dairies. Christian Brann Limited outgrew the Black Jack Street premises in 1973, and relocated to Phoenix Way, where the name Brann survives.


Black Jack Street is one of the town's most pleasant shopping quarters; it is vibrant, and much sought after as retail premises become available. Several of the retailers have set up there in the last two years, and much of what they sell reflects the interests of contemporary society and of the visitor trade.


Jack's coffee shop provides all home-cooked food at one end of Black Jack Street; at one time there was a wet fish shop here. The coffee shop is owned by Anne Rainy-Brown and was opened on Valentine's Day in 2007. She found several clay pipes in the cellar. The premises have a glass-covered atrium, and stanchions embossed with the name TH & J Daniels Ironfounders Stroud. This was the company, started in the 1840s by the Nympsfield village blacksmith, which developed into a heavy-engineering foundry and was still operating in the 1960s. The bookmakers next door was, in living memory, the bedding department of Loveday's famous furniture store that was situated further down the street. It was connected to the parent building by means of a tannoy; prospective customers entering the bedding shop were greeted by a disembodied voice, followed some time later by a breathless Jim Loveday, who had hurried along the street.


Beer runs through the story of most streets in most towns; Black Jack Street had its share of home brews, brew houses, coopers and brewers in succession; but it only had one establishment that became a public house, and it is still there today. The Golden Cross Inn is on the site of an old house and garden for which documents exist from 1708, and whose occupants in the middle of the 18th century were two painters. There was also an adjacent right of way to a public water pump. The earliest reference to it being named the Golden Cross, presumably a beer house, is in 1826, when it also had a bakehouse attached. When the premises were conveyed to John and Thomas Arkell in 1864, it had long been a well-established drinking house, and came with 'offices, stables, backside yard and garden ground'. The Golden Cross was the sixth public house to be either leased or bought by the Swindon brewery since the firm was established in 1843, and the first Cirencester property to be added to its estate. The company rebuilt the premises in 1874; this is substantially as it presents today, and it remains an Arkells pub.


Nearby is Fair and Natural, squeezed into the front room of an old cottage. Emma Fouracres opened her shop in late 2006, selling fair trade and organic products, and an ever-increasing range of children's wear, toys, games and jewellery. Her aim is to make her way of life more accessible to others. The clothes are mainly sourced in Africa, and India where they are made by the Aroha tribe and come through a charity, the Aroha Foundation. The shop also specialises in recycled jewellery that is made locally.


The front of Jesse Smith's butcher's shop, distinguished by its entrance of green decorative wall tiles, informs passers-by that the firm was established in 1808. Yet even before the Smith family took over as a pork butcher specialising in pickled tongues, there was another butcher on this site. The company is owned by Richard Hawes, and his business in Cirencester is the blueprint for the little Jesse Smith and W.J. Castle group that may now be found in five Cotswold towns.


In Cirencester, Jesse Smith's has its own bistro restaurant at the rear, bordering a new retail complex around what has been variously a stable yard and a slaughterhouse yard. The bistro opened in 2002 and is run by Andrew Parfrey, whose aim is 'to buy the best fresh fish, fresh meat, and vegetarian ingredients and cook it quite simply in an on-site wood-burning oven where all the food is roasted, adding our own interpretation of classic dishes'. The seafood is delivered fresh, three times a week, from Newlyn and Looe in Cornwall. The dining experience here is enhanced by the thick, old stone walls, and original wooden lintels. Allied to the bistro are wine tastings, a cookery school, and a programme of music.


The complex now includes Cowley House, the premises next door that were at one-time owned and lived in by the local undertaker and coffin maker, and the various outbuildings attached to each. This is now Cowley House Shopping Mews, in which eight rooms are filled by Tim Potter's Cowley House Antiques. In fact, it's more than that; Tim's aim is to show how, in the matter of furnishing, old and contemporary can complement each other. He 'sources the unusual' for his rooms of antiques; has 'cabinets crammed with the unusual and the astonishing'; sells gifts and accessories for lifestyle and home; garden accoutrements; and holds art exhibitions by local artists.


The street front at Cowley House is occupied by Sarah Haynes's Rubies and Roses, a business that has been there since 2006 selling enamel-ware, hand-embroidered children's clothing; footwear; hand-crafted fashion accessories; and individually designed jewellery made by Zulu women. Almost all of the stock comes from South Africa, where she was brought up and where her mother and sister live, helping to source the products. The enamel pieces are from Lumelor Afrika, an organisation that helps women - particularly single mothers from impoverished communities - to gain skills and be fairly paid for what they do, and aids orphaned children.


The first shop inside the courtyard entrance is Forget Me Not, where Rosie Collins sells flowers, baskets, plants and local vegetables. Her shop lies beside the old courtyard well that has been turned into a water feature, and a large holly bush provides shelter and a pleasant setting for her displays of plants.


Cotswold Accessories & Beauty, owned by Jane and Kathryn Rawlins, relocated after about four years from Chipping Norton, and opened at Cowley House Yard in April 2007. The business primarily sells selected items of women's clothing from Italy - including shoes, handbags, jewellery and other accessories - and a limited range from France. They began by making innumerable trips to Italy in order to source stock, but have since built up a range of contacts who know exactly what to look for. The pair also offer beauty treatments and tanning.


Much of the complex is taken up by If In France; Dan Dullaghan and Patricia Pearson are Canadian Francophiles whose homage to everything French is encapsulated here. Fashion, furnishing, ftes, say their business cards. The couple have lived in France - as described in Patricia's book Life on a French Poster - maintain a house there, and now have a mission to bring much of it to England. The business carries fifteen French clothing lines, designed in France and mostly sourced in Paris, and selected French furniture. In England, the clothes are unique to If In France. When the business held its first fashion show, at Barnsley House Hotel, French designer Christophe Guillarme came over for the occasion. There will be another fashion show during a luncheon at Jesse Smith's Bistro in October.


Lorna Irwin brought Nelly's Trunk to Cowley House in April 2007, from where she sells goods from India. Lorna was born there, her parents currently live in India, and her family have a long association with the country. She loves the colours, the vibrancy, and the quality of the goods, and feels that she has found a gap in the Cirencester retail market. It is all authentic; Lorna makes regular sourcing trips to India, and her parents - being on the spot - know exactly where to go to top-up supplies when needed. Indian people are very resourceful, says Lorna, and proves this by also offering recycled items for sale such as handmade paper and carrier bags, plates made from leaves that can be composted, and paper made in an eco-friendly way from elephant dung.


Next to Cowley House, a stone-built double frontage bears the Bathurst coronet and the date 1909. Before the war, this was an antiques shop, and was, for a while, Loveday's modern furniture showroom. It is empty as I write, but by the time you read this it should be the factory outlet business of Mirage, the very upmarket retailer of casual designer clothes in modern original styles for women. Mirage was founded ten years ago by Valeria Zilkha and her husband; its flagship outlet is in Knightsbridge, and it also has stores in Chelsea, Hampstead, and Nice in France. The Cirencester shop will sell women's fashions and accessories, and own-brand knitwear.


There was once an abattoir in what is now Templar Mews, running off Black Jack Street. Here, the buildings have been remodelled into the contemporary Rectory Kitchen & Cellar wine bar and restaurant, which opened in high summer 2007. This is one of the businesses of The Really Hospitable Company - Julian Muggeridge and Jonathan Barry's enterprise, which also includes The Rectory Hotel at Crudwell, and The Plough across the road from it, which is being refurbished to reopen as The Potting Shed. All of the food sold at the Rectory Kitchen, for on-site eating or takeaway, is made, where possible, from organic and local ingredients in the kitchens of the Rectory Hotel.


Jackie Dunkerley opened the Table Eight gift shop in 2005. The business sells 'everything to put on top of your table, such as china, glassware, cutlery, napkins, and some kitchenware. The complementary business in Cirencester, run by Jackie's husband, is the Compleat Cookshop in Bishops Walk. Next door to Table Eight, and quite by coincidence, because they have been in Cirencester for about fifteen years, is the Winchmore Kitchens showroom. This company has been designing kitchens in traditional and contemporary styles for more than half a century; the Cirencester branch being one of two in the area - the other is at Worcester - and there are two more.


Arguably the best-known occupier of premises in Black Jack Street was the bookseller W.H. Smith, who set up there c1908, having hitherto only been represented at Cirencester railway station. The business went into the currently unoccupied double-fronted property where Loveday & Loveday, furnishers and furniture removers, settled in the mid-1920s; more recently, it was occupied by Harry Hares Antiques. Jim Loveday still owns the premises, and is hopeful that the old family shop in Black Jack Street will soon again be occupied. He has recently received enquiries from a furniture company in the Midlands, and from a number of organisations who would like to add yet another to Cirencester's complement of restaurants.


Jim recalls how the family fled an outbreak of typhoid c1850 at Dulverton in Devon, and came to Cirencester via North Cerney, where his grandfather was schoolmaster from 1870 to 1906. His father, who was apprenticed to Ovens & Sons in Cirencester as an upholsterer, later managing the firm until about 1925. Eventually, Ovens could not afford to keep him on at a wage of 5 per week. W.H. Smith had suffered a fire in its printing press at the rear of the Black Jack Street premises. Jim's father, who by then lived in a cottage in Cicely Hill, set up his furnishing business in the former Smith's shop - moving into the associated living accommodation in 1926. According to Jim, next door at the time - at number 3 Black Jack Street - were the general smiths, Gillman and Sons. The smithy was at the rear, and the premises were fronted by an ironmonger's shop.


Keith's, the tea and coffee specialist owned by Tricia Ferguson, has been in Cirencester for thirty-five years, and is responsible for the irresistible aroma that pervades the church end of Black Jack Street. At the rear of the retail business is a small restaurant that offers 'light lunches and the best scones in town'. This property, and indeed, almost all the others in Black Jack Street, was once occupied by the firm of Mason & Gillett, the early 20th-century equivalent of a supermarket. It was at number 1 Black Jack Street that George Gillett established his grocery, tea and biscuit dealership in Victorian times, later adding cheese, and the business grew along the street. Ladies who visited Mason & Gillett were provided with a high chair to sit on, whilst the assistants collected up their grocery orders and then carried them to wherever the customers' ponies and traps were waiting.


Next door to Keith's is Encore, where, for seven years, Linda Purvis has been retailing nearly-new and end-of-line clothes from celebrities and 'ladies who lunch' in London, selling on behalf of clients; her stock includes catwalk samples, new cashmere, and accessories such as handbags, jewellery, and shoes and boots. Linda has worked with Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, at one time handling more than 10,000 items given to them by celebrities, which raised over 120,000 for charity. At the time of writing, her intention is to open a menswear section in September.


The Coln Gallery has been in Cirencester for over fifteen years. It is owned by Lord Banbury of Southam, who is a professional gilder, and offers a framing service. Inside, you will find Steven Skinley, singer, guitarist and illustrator. The shop at street level sells artists' materials and books; upstairs, is a gallery where there will soon be permanent exhibitions of works by local photographers, painters, sculptors, etc.


Almost in the shadow of St John's church is French Grey Interiors, which opened at the end of 2006. Sally Marks's shop took the place of her previous business on the site, Caf Rocco, which was there for seven years; she is also owner of the Summer Caf in Malmesbury. In Cirencester, she sells French-style painted furniture; clothing and accessories; and some original French antiques.


The gradual transformation of Black Jack Street, and its adjacent former post office yard, into Cirencester's niche shopping quarter is part of a number of moves being carried out to enhance the retail and visitor value of the town. Some projects, like the restoration and redevelopment by Wildmoor Properties of the Corn Hall and King's Head Hotel in Market Place, are private developments. Here, the two buildings have been treated as a whole; the King's is to have its assembly rooms and banquet hall reinstated; a restaurant and suite of bars are being created; a reconfiguration is taking place of the ground floor; and the whole place is being upgraded, with en suite bedrooms going into the former offices above the Corn Hall. The latter is being remodelled into a flexible space for events; the passage will become an attractive arcade, and a number of small shops will be shoehorned in, adding to the town's improving retail estate.


These buildings border the Market Place, which is currently part of a cohesive strategy that is being developed for the town. By the end of the year, the Cotswold District Council expects to publish its Vision for Cirencester, an amalgamation of potential alterations, old and new, that might be of benefit in the future. It includes an archaeology strategy, and relevant proposals by Action Cirencester - an interest group comprising professional people and members of the public. Their suggestions, aimed at attracting more visitors, include changing the layout of the historic Market Place in ways that would enhance the centre of the town and reduce the effects of cars. Their ultimate aim is to improve the economy of the town, and thereby enable more small businesses to flourish in the face of competition from the out-of-town retailers. Central to this would be a pedestrianised piazza, and a realigning of parking and public service vehicle points down the middle of the market place, with improved pedestrian access. All of the Vision is as yet still in its development stages.


One area of redevelopment that has been operating on fewer batteries of late, but which is expected to be up to full power early in 2008, is Brewery Arts. The project will be thirty years old in 2009, and the aim of the remodelling is 'to provide a multidisciplinary arts centre' out of a site that has traditionally included a performance space, coffee shop, craft shop, and premises for a number of craft workers. The old premises, currently undergoing internal revamping, were formerly a brewery's malt and hops store, malt kiln, bottle washing room, bottling plant and store rooms. Funding from the Arts Council, the Cotswold District Council, and general fundraising, has more or less achieved the target for building work. Brewery Arts still needs to find the cost of the fit-out; readers who would like to help financially should contact Annie Gould on 01285 657181, or send an e-mail to fundraising@breweryarts.org.uk.


The remodelling of Brewery Arts began in late 2006, and centred on opening up the whole interior and making a homogeneous whole of its various parts. At the moment, three of the craft workers are in situ, and seven of the others are arranged about the former theatre space; the Studio 7 group has left their adjacent premises for the time being, but will be back in full force when the changes are complete. Even if it is not yet business as usual, there is certainly still much to be enjoyed here. Since the wonderfully atmospheric coffee shop closed last October, Brewery Arts has been continuously bombarded with queries after its welfare. It is scheduled to re-emerge next year - enlarged, and commanding a view of the improved craft shop below.



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The man who researches Cirencester


When a place is of such nationally historical significance as Cirencester, it needs a really dedicated person to adequately maintain and interpret its past. David Viner has been doing just that, ever since he got the job as the town's first full-time museum curator, at the relatively tender age of twenty-three. That was in 1970, and for the next twenty-eight years, he built up the Corinium Museum into one of the top three museums in the country, established the Countryside Collection at Northleach, and oversaw the local archaeological excavations. Along the way, he became one of the best-known personalities in the town, and the conservator of much material from which we now understand how Cirencester has worked in the past. Now a very successful historical researcher and writer, he has a dozen books to his name - including albums of old Cotswolds photographs - and is currently working on an illustrated album of farm wagons, which he describes as being 'nationally interesting and locally significant', scheduled for publication in 2008. His books also include The Thames & Severn Canal, and (with his wife Linda) Cirencester A Century Ago - The Bingham Legacy.


David Viner was the last head boy at Cirencester Grammar School before it closed in 1966. He went on to read history at Reading University, where he is now Research Fellow at the Museum of English Rural Life. This has enabled the current farm wagons project, as the Reading museum holds the national collection of farm wagons; it has also helped him to pursue an inventory of traditional craftsmen's tools, recording those in often hidden collections all around the country.


Nine years ago, David took early retirement from the museum's service to set up a consultancy with his wife Linda. She read archaeology at Leicester University, has worked as an archaeologist on digs for English Heritage, and is the author of Lost Villages in Dovecote Press's Discover Dorset series. The two met when she took part in a Leicester University summer dig at Cirencester. Linda looks after their archives, writes church guides, and undertakes historical research. The couple act as advisors to the Trustees of the Bingham Library, which is the other Cirencester body that has a collection. Meanwhile, David spent five years on the Heritage Lottery Committee for the South-West where 'the annual pay-out of 11 million gave us a wonderful opportunity to help schemes'. He is also chairman of the Cirencester Archaelogical and Historical Society, and is a trustee of the Cotswold Archaeological Trust at Kemble - one of the largest archaeological units in the country.


A statue of St John the Baptist once stood in a niche on the church tower at Cirencester, at a time when metalworking was carried on in the immediate environs. It is said that the heat from the furnaces discoloured the statue to such a degree that it was called 'black jack', and thus the thoroughfare that curved away from it was known, at first colloquially, as Black Jack Street. That, anyway, is the legend; although disputed, it is nonetheless sure to be a better story than any other yet to be found. In the 19th century, the Victorians took against such an irreverent association for their parish church's dedicatee, and for a while took to calling the road St John Street.


Documents extant from the early 18th to the early 19th centuries were tantalisingly ambiguous in the matter of the street's name. It was referred to as 'Gosditch Street otherwise known as Black Jack Street also known by the name of Park Street'. Cirencester historian Linda Viner has researched this anomaly, and her work shows that over the last couple of centuries or so, others have made several unsuccessful attempts to sort it out. Linda's notes reveal that about a century before discomfited residents unsuccessfully appealed to the Local Board in 1887 to have the name officially changed to St John Street, Black Jack Street, as we know it today, was in place. The consensus is that this section of roadway had only comparatively recently been so named: Gosditch Street having previously run from West Market Place to the foot of Cecily Hill; and Park Street was not to be so designated much before the end of the century. All of this is notwithstanding the supposed - and disputed - one-time existence of a deed, dated 1509, that mentioned Black Jack Street!


Even the notion of a smoke-blackened jack is called into question by one authority, who believes that since a black jack was a pitch-lined leather drinking vessel that held small beer or ale, the street is likely to have been named after a hostelry that was in it. Linda thinks 'Cirencester desperately needs the work of the Victoria County historians to sort out its property deeds - but that would take years of work and frustration!'.


Black Jack Street can claim Cirencester's greatest celebrity, whose name continues to reverberate around the town today. Daniel George Bingham (1830-1913) was born in a double-gabled house on the south side of the street; he entered the railway service at Cirencester in the 1840s, and lived most of his life abroad. He was, however, the town's single most important benefactor, financing the building of the Bingham Library in 1905 and the Bingham Hall in 1908. The birthplace has gone, but not his legacy. In 2005, the Trustees of the Bingham Library commemorated his life and beneficence with a book, Cirencester A Century Ago: The Bingham Legacy, compiled for them by David and Linda Viner, and published by Sutton Publishing.


Today, Black Jack Street is one of the most fascinating parts of the town, and is without doubt one of the most rewarding for shoppers. It is hard by the church, whose richly panelled tower provides an exquisite visual longstop to this old thoroughfare. It is also close to West Market Place, but may nonetheless have to be sought out by visitors who do not know the area. It is worth taking the trouble. In hardly more than a year, two comparatively hidden little courtyards admitted from Black Jack Street have been redeveloped for trade, adding immensely to Cirencester's rich mix of specialist retail and food outlets, and greatly enhancing the street's value for visitors. The old buildings that line them are what remain of a number of built-up alleyways that characterised this part of the town; a mixture of agricultural buildings and ancient tenements that, for the most part, were still in situ and lived in little more than a century ago. You can get an idea of this arrangement by looking at the buildings that are now taken up by the kitchen and stores beneath the glass atrium of Jack's tea shop, or by glimpsing the old cottage walls and attractive container planting through the gate marked 'Private', beside the street's bookmakers. This is the only alleyway of its type remaining.


Documents relating to premises in Black Jack Street during the 18th century suggest that it was a relatively poor area, overwhelmingly residential with some street-level traders. The better buildings were closer to the church. The tenements were sometimes owned by people who did not live in the town; they were rented and occupied by a good many agricultural workers and their families, as well as those of tradesmen such as rope makers, painters, carpenters, and shoemakers, etc.


By the middle of the 18th century, Black Jack Street must have been all of a bustle. It had acquired a well-established beer house that had lately achieved the status of an inn, whose landlord was also the local coal merchant. Although there is no evidence that it had become a particularly desirable address in the residential sense - and photographs extant show that it had some fairly crumbly old buildings - the whole tenor of the place was clearly in the ascendant. Soon after the middle of the 19th century, there was a huge interest in photography, and the street then housed a 'photographic artist', and a stationer and printer who added photography to his portfolio. There was an office in the street, where servants looking for work could register; a day-school for children had been established; and Black Jack Street had a veterinary practice.


There was clearly a mixture of professional people and tradespeople living and working in the street; its residents included tailors, corn dealers, grocer, greengrocer, a couple of whitesmiths and bell hangers, boot and shoe maker, two bakers, a currier, a slater and plasterer, a cooper, and a cordwainer who boasted that he employed two men and three boys. There was also a family of trunk makers. The sons of Black Jack Street's families tended to be labourers; their daughters were servants, dressmakers or milliners. As the 19th century progressed into its latter decades, most of Cirencester society would have had reason to visit Black Jack Street on a regular basis, both for the requirements of their everyday existence and the increasing number of professional services that were opening there.


Move on to just a century ago, by which time Black Jack Street had more named private residents, and the whole tone had improved. The redevelopment of neighbouring Castle Street was completed 1896/7, admitting the Post Office, and the access to its yard at the rear was off Black Jack Street. In 2007, this yard is about to be redeveloped by Cirencester's Wildmoor Properties, who also own Swan Yard that runs parallel with Black Jack Street.


The aim of Wildmoor's Black Jack Street project is to create an architecturally designed mixed development of residential, retail and commercial properties, giving it all an open mews feel. The properties will line a passageway running between Castle Street and Black Jack Street, and will be accessed from either. Black Jack Street is to be fronted by new two- and three-storey buildings, designed in the local vernacular. At ground-floor level, there will be ten retail units and a new post office; two office suites are planned; and nine flats will occupy the second level. According to Wildmoor, the intention is to attract a couple of national retailers 'of a type suitable for Cirencester' to the larger shop premises, and otherwise 'to create a bijou and intimate feel with the style of the others'. This will be helped if the proposal to restrict vehicular access in Black Jack Street to delivery vehicles - long overdue in my opinion - comes about.


A century ago, the street also had a public call office of the National Telephone Company. Rooms to let had become apartments. Carpenters had, for the most part, become cabinet makers; a 'fancy warehouse' had been established; and the bookseller had also become a publisher. Amongst the traditional trades, there was the butcher - by now almost a century old, cheese factor, and boot and shoe maker; the whitesmiths had become general smiths, and were into their third generation.


One of Cirencester's best-known modern-day companies began in first- floor accommodation in Black Jack Street in 1968, where Christian and Mary- Rose Brann established Christian Brann Limited. They rented, at just 7 per week, 2,000 square feet of property, then belonging to United Dairies. Christian Brann Limited outgrew the Black Jack Street premises in 1973, and relocated to Phoenix Way, where the name Brann survives.


Black Jack Street is one of the town's most pleasant shopping quarters; it is vibrant, and much sought after as retail premises become available. Several of the retailers have set up there in the last two years, and much of what they sell reflects the interests of contemporary society and of the visitor trade.


Jack's coffee shop provides all home-cooked food at one end of Black Jack Street; at one time there was a wet fish shop here. The coffee shop is owned by Anne Rainy-Brown and was opened on Valentine's Day in 2007. She found several clay pipes in the cellar. The premises have a glass-covered atrium, and stanchions embossed with the name TH & J Daniels Ironfounders Stroud. This was the company, started in the 1840s by the Nympsfield village blacksmith, which developed into a heavy-engineering foundry and was still operating in the 1960s. The bookmakers next door was, in living memory, the bedding department of Loveday's famous furniture store that was situated further down the street. It was connected to the parent building by means of a tannoy; prospective customers entering the bedding shop were greeted by a disembodied voice, followed some time later by a breathless Jim Loveday, who had hurried along the street.


Beer runs through the story of most streets in most towns; Black Jack Street had its share of home brews, brew houses, coopers and brewers in succession; but it only had one establishment that became a public house, and it is still there today. The Golden Cross Inn is on the site of an old house and garden for which documents exist from 1708, and whose occupants in the middle of the 18th century were two painters. There was also an adjacent right of way to a public water pump. The earliest reference to it being named the Golden Cross, presumably a beer house, is in 1826, when it also had a bakehouse attached. When the premises were conveyed to John and Thomas Arkell in 1864, it had long been a well-established drinking house, and came with 'offices, stables, backside yard and garden ground'. The Golden Cross was the sixth public house to be either leased or bought by the Swindon brewery since the firm was established in 1843, and the first Cirencester property to be added to its estate. The company rebuilt the premises in 1874; this is substantially as it presents today, and it remains an Arkells pub.


Nearby is Fair and Natural, squeezed into the front room of an old cottage. Emma Fouracres opened her shop in late 2006, selling fair trade and organic products, and an ever-increasing range of children's wear, toys, games and jewellery. Her aim is to make her way of life more accessible to others. The clothes are mainly sourced in Africa, and India where they are made by the Aroha tribe and come through a charity, the Aroha Foundation. The shop also specialises in recycled jewellery that is made locally.


The front of Jesse Smith's butcher's shop, distinguished by its entrance of green decorative wall tiles, informs passers-by that the firm was established in 1808. Yet even before the Smith family took over as a pork butcher specialising in pickled tongues, there was another butcher on this site. The company is owned by Richard Hawes, and his business in Cirencester is the blueprint for the little Jesse Smith and W.J. Castle group that may now be found in five Cotswold towns.


In Cirencester, Jesse Smith's has its own bistro restaurant at the rear, bordering a new retail complex around what has been variously a stable yard and a slaughterhouse yard. The bistro opened in 2002 and is run by Andrew Parfrey, whose aim is 'to buy the best fresh fish, fresh meat, and vegetarian ingredients and cook it quite simply in an on-site wood-burning oven where all the food is roasted, adding our own interpretation of classic dishes'. The seafood is delivered fresh, three times a week, from Newlyn and Looe in Cornwall. The dining experience here is enhanced by the thick, old stone walls, and original wooden lintels. Allied to the bistro are wine tastings, a cookery school, and a programme of music.


The complex now includes Cowley House, the premises next door that were at one-time owned and lived in by the local undertaker and coffin maker, and the various outbuildings attached to each. This is now Cowley House Shopping Mews, in which eight rooms are filled by Tim Potter's Cowley House Antiques. In fact, it's more than that; Tim's aim is to show how, in the matter of furnishing, old and contemporary can complement each other. He 'sources the unusual' for his rooms of antiques; has 'cabinets crammed with the unusual and the astonishing'; sells gifts and accessories for lifestyle and home; garden accoutrements; and holds art exhibitions by local artists.


The street front at Cowley House is occupied by Sarah Haynes's Rubies and Roses, a business that has been there since 2006 selling enamel-ware, hand-embroidered children's clothing; footwear; hand-crafted fashion accessories; and individually designed jewellery made by Zulu women. Almost all of the stock comes from South Africa, where she was brought up and where her mother and sister live, helping to source the products. The enamel pieces are from Lumelor Afrika, an organisation that helps women - particularly single mothers from impoverished communities - to gain skills and be fairly paid for what they do, and aids orphaned children.


The first shop inside the courtyard entrance is Forget Me Not, where Rosie Collins sells flowers, baskets, plants and local vegetables. Her shop lies beside the old courtyard well that has been turned into a water feature, and a large holly bush provides shelter and a pleasant setting for her displays of plants.


Cotswold Accessories & Beauty, owned by Jane and Kathryn Rawlins, relocated after about four years from Chipping Norton, and opened at Cowley House Yard in April 2007. The business primarily sells selected items of women's clothing from Italy - including shoes, handbags, jewellery and other accessories - and a limited range from France. They began by making innumerable trips to Italy in order to source stock, but have since built up a range of contacts who know exactly what to look for. The pair also offer beauty treatments and tanning.


Much of the complex is taken up by If In France; Dan Dullaghan and Patricia Pearson are Canadian Francophiles whose homage to everything French is encapsulated here. Fashion, furnishing, ftes, say their business cards. The couple have lived in France - as described in Patricia's book Life on a French Poster - maintain a house there, and now have a mission to bring much of it to England. The business carries fifteen French clothing lines, designed in France and mostly sourced in Paris, and selected French furniture. In England, the clothes are unique to If In France. When the business held its first fashion show, at Barnsley House Hotel, French designer Christophe Guillarme came over for the occasion. There will be another fashion show during a luncheon at Jesse Smith's Bistro in October.


Lorna Irwin brought Nelly's Trunk to Cowley House in April 2007, from where she sells goods from India. Lorna was born there, her parents currently live in India, and her family have a long association with the country. She loves the colours, the vibrancy, and the quality of the goods, and feels that she has found a gap in the Cirencester retail market. It is all authentic; Lorna makes regular sourcing trips to India, and her parents - being on the spot - know exactly where to go to top-up supplies when needed. Indian people are very resourceful, says Lorna, and proves this by also offering recycled items for sale such as handmade paper and carrier bags, plates made from leaves that can be composted, and paper made in an eco-friendly way from elephant dung.


Next to Cowley House, a stone-built double frontage bears the Bathurst coronet and the date 1909. Before the war, this was an antiques shop, and was, for a while, Loveday's modern furniture showroom. It is empty as I write, but by the time you read this it should be the factory outlet business of Mirage, the very upmarket retailer of casual designer clothes in modern original styles for women. Mirage was founded ten years ago by Valeria Zilkha and her husband; its flagship outlet is in Knightsbridge, and it also has stores in Chelsea, Hampstead, and Nice in France. The Cirencester shop will sell women's fashions and accessories, and own-brand knitwear.


There was once an abattoir in what is now Templar Mews, running off Black Jack Street. Here, the buildings have been remodelled into the contemporary Rectory Kitchen & Cellar wine bar and restaurant, which opened in high summer 2007. This is one of the businesses of The Really Hospitable Company - Julian Muggeridge and Jonathan Barry's enterprise, which also includes The Rectory Hotel at Crudwell, and The Plough across the road from it, which is being refurbished to reopen as The Potting Shed. All of the food sold at the Rectory Kitchen, for on-site eating or takeaway, is made, where possible, from organic and local ingredients in the kitchens of the Rectory Hotel.


Jackie Dunkerley opened the Table Eight gift shop in 2005. The business sells 'everything to put on top of your table, such as china, glassware, cutlery, napkins, and some kitchenware. The complementary business in Cirencester, run by Jackie's husband, is the Compleat Cookshop in Bishops Walk. Next door to Table Eight, and quite by coincidence, because they have been in Cirencester for about fifteen years, is the Winchmore Kitchens showroom. This company has been designing kitchens in traditional and contemporary styles for more than half a century; the Cirencester branch being one of two in the area - the other is at Worcester - and there are two more.


Arguably the best-known occupier of premises in Black Jack Street was the bookseller W.H. Smith, who set up there c1908, having hitherto only been represented at Cirencester railway station. The business went into the currently unoccupied double-fronted property where Loveday & Loveday, furnishers and furniture removers, settled in the mid-1920s; more recently, it was occupied by Harry Hares Antiques. Jim Loveday still owns the premises, and is hopeful that the old family shop in Black Jack Street will soon again be occupied. He has recently received enquiries from a furniture company in the Midlands, and from a number of organisations who would like to add yet another to Cirencester's complement of restaurants.


Jim recalls how the family fled an outbreak of typhoid c1850 at Dulverton in Devon, and came to Cirencester via North Cerney, where his grandfather was schoolmaster from 1870 to 1906. His father, who was apprenticed to Ovens & Sons in Cirencester as an upholsterer, later managing the firm until about 1925. Eventually, Ovens could not afford to keep him on at a wage of 5 per week. W.H. Smith had suffered a fire in its printing press at the rear of the Black Jack Street premises. Jim's father, who by then lived in a cottage in Cicely Hill, set up his furnishing business in the former Smith's shop - moving into the associated living accommodation in 1926. According to Jim, next door at the time - at number 3 Black Jack Street - were the general smiths, Gillman and Sons. The smithy was at the rear, and the premises were fronted by an ironmonger's shop.


Keith's, the tea and coffee specialist owned by Tricia Ferguson, has been in Cirencester for thirty-five years, and is responsible for the irresistible aroma that pervades the church end of Black Jack Street. At the rear of the retail business is a small restaurant that offers 'light lunches and the best scones in town'. This property, and indeed, almost all the others in Black Jack Street, was once occupied by the firm of Mason & Gillett, the early 20th-century equivalent of a supermarket. It was at number 1 Black Jack Street that George Gillett established his grocery, tea and biscuit dealership in Victorian times, later adding cheese, and the business grew along the street. Ladies who visited Mason & Gillett were provided with a high chair to sit on, whilst the assistants collected up their grocery orders and then carried them to wherever the customers' ponies and traps were waiting.


Next door to Keith's is Encore, where, for seven years, Linda Purvis has been retailing nearly-new and end-of-line clothes from celebrities and 'ladies who lunch' in London, selling on behalf of clients; her stock includes catwalk samples, new cashmere, and accessories such as handbags, jewellery, and shoes and boots. Linda has worked with Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine, at one time handling more than 10,000 items given to them by celebrities, which raised over 120,000 for charity. At the time of writing, her intention is to open a menswear section in September.


The Coln Gallery has been in Cirencester for over fifteen years. It is owned by Lord Banbury of Southam, who is a professional gilder, and offers a framing service. Inside, you will find Steven Skinley, singer, guitarist and illustrator. The shop at street level sells artists' materials and books; upstairs, is a gallery where there will soon be permanent exhibitions of works by local photographers, painters, sculptors, etc.


Almost in the shadow of St John's church is French Grey Interiors, which opened at the end of 2006. Sally Marks's shop took the place of her previous business on the site, Caf Rocco, which was there for seven years; she is also owner of the Summer Caf in Malmesbury. In Cirencester, she sells French-style painted furniture; clothing and accessories; and some original French antiques.


The gradual transformation of Black Jack Street, and its adjacent former post office yard, into Cirencester's niche shopping quarter is part of a number of moves being carried out to enhance the retail and visitor value of the town. Some projects, like the restoration and redevelopment by Wildmoor Properties of the Corn Hall and King's Head Hotel in Market Place, are private developments. Here, the two buildings have been treated as a whole; the King's is to have its assembly rooms and banquet hall reinstated; a restaurant and suite of bars are being created; a reconfiguration is taking place of the ground floor; and the whole place is being upgraded, with en suite bedrooms going into the former offices above the Corn Hall. The latter is being remodelled into a flexible space for events; the passage will become an attractive arcade, and a number of small shops will be shoehorned in, adding to the town's improving retail estate.


These buildings border the Market Place, which is currently part of a cohesive strategy that is being developed for the town. By the end of the year, the Cotswold District Council expects to publish its Vision for Cirencester, an amalgamation of potential alterations, old and new, that might be of benefit in the future. It includes an archaeology strategy, and relevant proposals by Action Cirencester - an interest group comprising professional people and members of the public. Their suggestions, aimed at attracting more visitors, include changing the layout of the historic Market Place in ways that would enhance the centre of the town and reduce the effects of cars. Their ultimate aim is to improve the economy of the town, and thereby enable more small businesses to flourish in the face of competition from the out-of-town retailers. Central to this would be a pedestrianised piazza, and a realigning of parking and public service vehicle points down the middle of the market place, with improved pedestrian access. All of the Vision is as yet still in its development stages.


One area of redevelopment that has been operating on fewer batteries of late, but which is expected to be up to full power early in 2008, is Brewery Arts. The project will be thirty years old in 2009, and the aim of the remodelling is 'to provide a multidisciplinary arts centre' out of a site that has traditionally included a performance space, coffee shop, craft shop, and premises for a number of craft workers. The old premises, currently undergoing internal revamping, were formerly a brewery's malt and hops store, malt kiln, bottle washing room, bottling plant and store rooms. Funding from the Arts Council, the Cotswold District Council, and general fundraising, has more or less achieved the target for building work. Brewery Arts still needs to find the cost of the fit-out; readers who would like to help financially should contact Annie Gould on 01285 657181, or send an e-mail to fundraising@breweryarts.org.uk.


The remodelling of Brewery Arts began in late 2006, and centred on opening up the whole interior and making a homogeneous whole of its various parts. At the moment, three of the craft workers are in situ, and seven of the others are arranged about the former theatre space; the Studio 7 group has left their adjacent premises for the time being, but will be back in full force when the changes are complete. Even if it is not yet business as usual, there is certainly still much to be enjoyed here. Since the wonderfully atmospheric coffee shop closed last October, Brewery Arts has been continuously bombarded with queries after its welfare. It is scheduled to re-emerge next year - enlarged, and commanding a view of the improved craft shop below.



..........................................................................................


The man who researches Cirencester


When a place is of such nationally historical significance as Cirencester, it needs a really dedicated person to adequately maintain and interpret its past. David Viner has been doing just that, ever since he got the job as the town's first full-time museum curator, at the relatively tender age of twenty-three. That was in 1970, and for the next twenty-eight years, he built up the Corinium Museum into one of the top three museums in the country, established the Countryside Collection at Northleach, and oversaw the local archaeological excavations. Along the way, he became one of the best-known personalities in the town, and the conservator of much material from which we now understand how Cirencester has worked in the past. Now a very successful historical researcher and writer, he has a dozen books to his name - including albums of old Cotswolds photographs - and is currently working on an illustrated album of farm wagons, which he describes as being 'nationally interesting and locally significant', scheduled for publication in 2008. His books also include The Thames & Severn Canal, and (with his wife Linda) Cirencester A Century Ago - The Bingham Legacy.


David Viner was the last head boy at Cirencester Grammar School before it closed in 1966. He went on to read history at Reading University, where he is now Research Fellow at the Museum of English Rural Life. This has enabled the current farm wagons project, as the Reading museum holds the national collection of farm wagons; it has also helped him to pursue an inventory of traditional craftsmen's tools, recording those in often hidden collections all around the country.


Nine years ago, David took early retirement from the museum's service to set up a consultancy with his wife Linda. She read archaeology at Leicester University, has worked as an archaeologist on digs for English Heritage, and is the author of Lost Villages in Dovecote Press's Discover Dorset series. The two met when she took part in a Leicester University summer dig at Cirencester. Linda looks after their archives, writes church guides, and undertakes historical research. The couple act as advisors to the Trustees of the Bingham Library, which is the other Cirencester body that has a collection. Meanwhile, David spent five years on the Heritage Lottery Committee for the South-West where 'the annual pay-out of 11 million gave us a wonderful opportunity to help schemes'. He is also chairman of the Cirencester Archaelogical and Historical Society, and is a trustee of the Cotswold Archaeological Trust at Kemble - one of the largest archaeological units in the country.

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