Archaeologists working for Cotswold Archaeology have found an arcaded shopping centre running along the eastern edge of Roman Ermin Street. The 1st and 2nd century structures were found in the basement of Cirencester Corn Hall, which is being converted into an entertainment centre for the town by Wildmoor Properties.
Academics have questioned in recent years just how many people were served by Roman towns, portraying them as centres for officialdom without a large residential population. These excavations revealed a succession of pavement surfaces between the street arcade and the shop fronts, building up to more than 1.5m in depth, suggesting heavy wear and tear from pedestrian traffic, at least for the 1st century or so of Cirencester’s existence and in the central area of the Roman town.
The shopping arcade itself consisted of a row of rectangular units, 2.5m wide and 5m deep, with shops at the front and living quarters or workshops at the rear. The floors were kept clean, so there was little evidence of function or date, apart from the scant remains of what might have been the floor of a bread oven.
Elsewhere on the same site, foundation pits were dug that yielded pre-Roman soils and turf, a rare find because Roman construction work in the town often resulted in the removal of pre-existing topsoil. No evidence was found for Iron Age activity on the site, but it is hoped that the samples from the foundation pits will yield evidence of Cirencester’s prehistoric environment.