Driving the ‘Fosse Way’: Cirencester to Chipping Campden: Journey with the History Guru to England and Spain

Posted on Dec 29, 2011 in category

3 OCTOBER: Travelling on the 'Fosse Way'

The Roman army was quick to develop a network of roads in southern England as it had built throughout the empire like the via Domitia in southern France/Spain (122 B.C.) and the via Aurelia (or as some scholars prefer, via Julia Augusta 13-12 B.C.) linking the north-western coast of Italy to southern France.




For a unique Roman road map (consisting of 11 parchment rolls, 6.74 metres long by 34 cms high) copied by a medieval monk in A.D.1265 and conserved by an Augsburg collector, Konrad Peutinger, in

A.D.1507 see the 'Tabula Peutingeriana':



Today, we set out in our VW Golf from Bath (Aquae Sulis) to Cirencester (Roman fort town of Corinium) in the first leg of our journey along the Roman road called the 'Fosse Way'. The 'Fosse Way' or 'Ditch' road originally marked the border between south-eastern, Roman-controlled England and the Celtic barbarian tribes.

Wikimedia Commons: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fosse_Way.JPG


Cirencester has a museum dedicated to historical eras in the local area especially Roman Britain called 'Corinium Museum'. The Romans called the town 'Corinium Dobunnorum' and it grew from a small army fort to be Roman Britain's second biggest town in the 1st century A.D. with some 96 hectares within its fortified walls.

Prior to the Roman invasion in A.D.43, the Dobunni tribe settled this area. The tribe had gradually moved from their 'oppida' or hillforts such as Crickley Hill in Gloucestershire to more settled villages such as Bagendon (tribal centre from A.D. 20-A.D.50). At this time, Dobunnic gold and silver coins featured the triple-tailed horse image.

For a more complex and alternative view of the Dobunni based on archaeology rather than the traditional Roman writers, Dr Tom Moore and Richard Reece propose that Rome's desire to simplify Celtic society for administrative and military reasons could account for labelling all tribes in this area Dobunni.

See article: www.academia.edu/628462/The_Dobunni

Triple-tailed horse Dobunnic gold coin from Cirencester's Corinium Museum

The Dobunnic Celtic economy consisted of trading:

  • Slaves, grain, wine, cattle, gold, silver, iron, hunting dogs
  • Ivory work
  • Leather work
  • Pottery vessels
  • Salt
  • Bronze-working
  • Iron work

Luxury goods were imported from Gaul and beyond such as wine and pottery. Large quantities of wine amphorae were found at Bagendon.

Copper alloy work from a horse's harness featuring glass enamelling (Sudeley, Gloucestershire)

One hundred and forty seven iron currency bars (4 shown here in the museum display) have been found at Salmonsbury


Corinium was first established as an auxiliary cavalry fort of 500 men within 2.5 hectares. It was occupied by the cavalry from A.D. 50 – late A.D. 60'. Evidence includes impressive stone funerary stele found in the area as well as pottery sherds that enabled stratigraphic dating.

Sextus Valerius Genialis, a Frisian (Holland/Germany) tribesman who died at 40 years of age

Imported from Gaul 'Samian ware' (terra sigillata) from 1st century A.D. was popular in the fort


Once the cavalry fort was transferred, the surrounding civilian town or 'vicus' was now large enough to survive independently of military support. However, Corinium inherited Roman town planning and a desire to become Roman.



An artist's interpretation showing the forum (left), basilica (top of forum) and the semi-circular theatre (right of the forum)

Corinium Museum has a very good display of religious artefacts:

7. Bust of 'Dia Nutrix' (nursing mother goddess)

8. Figurine of Venus (many mass-produced and imported from Gaul and Germany)

9. Remains of Minerva statue

Celtic horned god, Cernunnos with serpents in each hand

Mercury display, a god often linked to Celtic deity, Lugus who, according to Julius Caesar, had "a talent for all the arts"

After a quick tour of modern Cirencester, which included the remnants of the amphitheatre in a local park, the VW Golf chariot reeved up again. Destination? We took a punt to see if we could tour Chedworth Roman villa on an advertised 'closed' day.

The size and shape of the amphitheatre at Cirencester are the only legacies

The detour to Chedworth Roman villa was very pleasant with pheasants (instead of kangaroos and wombats here in Australia!) crossing the road on numerous occasions.

Unfortunately, the Director of Chedworth was unable to show us around the site because builders were on-site and the resultant concerns over occupational, health and safety issues. Fair enough! He did tell us that they recently spent over 2 million pounds building a structure over the site to conserve it.

One of the protective covers of Chedworth Roman villa

For archaeological reports on this villa see:





A plan of the villa: 6096 square metres of living area in a J shape


Bibury was on the way – a small village established mainly on one side of the Coin River with marshy land

on the other side called 'Rack Isle'- in the past mill cloth was hung on racks. A quaint construction of weavers' terrace houses called 'Arlington Row' along with several other stone houses, the former coaching inn, 'Swan Hotel' and a Saxon Church of Saint Mary make this village a pleasant, short break.

River Coin 'Arlington Row' was first constructed in A.D.1380; converted 17th century


The Slaughters are the twin villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter. The fearsome name is quite tame in its Old English origin – muddy place 'slough'. In peak tourist season, locals must think the name is more appropriate as the narrow road that winds its way along the Eye stream from Lower to Upper Slaughter must be slaughtered by traffic in the peak tourist season. A 17th century manor house built for a High Sheriff of Gloucestershire is now an upmarket hotel. It's great to see such a well-maintained blast from the past!

St Peter's Church in Upper Slaughter


Bourton-on-Water on the River Windrush is another picturesque Cotswolds town. However, unlike the Slaughters with their lack of retail industry, Bourton-on-Water is geared for tourist merchandise. Accordingly, our stay was short; we walked along the river, crossed a couple of the old bridges (again, I couldn't resist climbing in the river!) and sat and watched the tourists go by. The town boasts a close association with Charles I and his son, Charles II during the tumultuous English Civil War (1642-1651). Also, an Iron Age hill fort of 23 hectares is nearby at Salmonsbury (remember the 147 iron currency bars?).

For an article on British oppida 

Five stone bridges cross the river: the oldest dating from 1654 and the most recent 1953


Escaping the stream of tourist coaches beginning to flood into Bourton-on-Water, we VW Golfed it to the next Cotswolds town on our list, Stow-on-Wold. A wool market town (Henry I granted the market rights with 10 pounds the average annual profit!) that was built on a hill or 'wold', Stow-on-Wold has a large 'Market Square'. In March 1646, the town saw one of the last battles of the English Civil War with Royalists and Parliamentary forces fighting and dying in Market Square.

See: http://www.cotswolds.info/blogs/battle-of-stow.shtml#battle_of_stow

King's Arms Hotel – Charles I stayed here on one of the three occasions he passed through

Chipping Campden

By 6.00 pm we had booked into the 17th century 'Volunteer Inn' at Chipping Campden and we were ready to see the town centre. 'Chipping' is old English for 'market'. This town owed its past wealth to the 'Cotswold Lions' or sheep for their wool. King Henry II gave the town its first charter in A.D.1175 and its name.

Houses and public buildings here date from as early as the 14th century with many built in the 17th century. 'Market Hall' takes centre stage in the main Square. 'Market Hall' was built in A.D. 1627 for 90 pounds in order to house the town's merchants. Occasionally it is still used for this function.

'Market Hall'


Perhaps the most impressive house in Chipping Campden is 'Grevell House'. A 14th century gentrified masterpiece, Grevell house is the oldest house in the town. William Grevell, a wealthy wool merchant and financier of King Richard II, built it in 1380 to impress his fellow citizens.

Grevell House


Another architectural gem in the town is the 'Almshouse'. Arguably one of the first examples of public housing in England, it consists of 12 dwellings to house 6 poor men and 6 poor women. Two residents share one entrance even today! In 1612, at a cost of 1,000 pounds, Sir Baptist Hicks benevolently built it. According to his epitaph, he donated a total of 10,000 pounds to the town during his life. 'The Almshouse' is still used today for public welfare housing although I'm not sure whether Hicks' 150 pounds maintenance donation covers all costs. His loyalty for King and country was proven when he decided to burn down his 29,000 pounds Campden Manor rather than see Cromwell's forces occupy it.

'The Almshouse'

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