Fancy joining an archaeological dig or learning about the history of the Royal Agricultural University’s historic Cirencester campus?

21 August 2023

Dating back to 1845, Cirencester’s Royal Agricultural University - still known to many locally as the Royal Agricultural College – is the oldest agricultural college in the English-speaking world and, as you might expect, has an interesting and varied history.

And now we are officially opening the doors of our main Cirencester campus to visitors on Saturday 9 September as part of a free Heritage Open Days event taking place across England.

The RAU’s Swindon campus is also taking part and will be open on Friday 8, Saturday 9, and Sunday 10 September when visitors will have the opportunity to join archaeologists from our Cultural Heritage Institute for an archaeological excavation to help uncover the WWII secrets of Swindon’s GWR Park.

Sara Papps, the RAU’s Head of Planning who is organising the Cirencester campus Open Day, said: “As a university, we are always open - many public events are held here and visitors can call in at any time - but this seemed like a great opportunity to officially open our doors to anyone who wants to come and have a look around.

“We know that although the RAU – which was, until 2013, the Royal Agricultural College - has been part of Cirencester for almost two centuries, and is rightly proud of its association with the town, many local people have never visited our campus and we are excited to be able to welcome them and show them around.”

Approached from Cirencester’s Tetbury Road by a beautiful avenue of mature lime trees, the University’s main building includes a historic Dining Hall, a beautiful Quad and clocktower, a historic Tithe Barn (now the University bar), and its own Chapel.

Professor Mark Horton, the RAU’s Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) and a well-known archaeologist and television presenter who has been a host on the BBC’s Coast programme and also appeared on Channel 4’s Time Team as well as many other programmes about archaeology and history, will give a talk about the history of the institution at 2pm.

Sara added: “As well Professor Horton’s talk and the chance to see around our magnificent historic buildings and grounds, visitors will also have the opportunity to see part of the Orwin Collection, a collection of paintings on permanent loan from Oxford University.”

Meanwhile RAU Swindon will offer visitors the chance to join professional archaeologists from the University’s Cultural Heritage Institute (CHI), based at RAU Swindon, to uncover the WWII secrets of Swindon’s GWR Park on Friday 8, Saturday 9, and Sunday 10 September.

Organiser Cassie Newland, Director of the CHI, said: “Have you ever wondered how archaeologists decide where to put their trenches? Or how they reconstruct past civilisations from a handful of broken pottery? And have you ever thought that YOU might make a good archaeologist..? Well now's your chance to find out! 

“Each day of the three that we are open we will be holding a public archaeology excavation in GWR Park, in the Railway Village in Swindon, excavating the World War II shelters and practice trenches near the War Memorial.

“As well as learning how the New Swindon Rifle Corps prepared to fight on the front lines and kept themselves safe from enemy bombardment, we also hope to uncover artefacts that will connect us to local people in the past and discover how to research their untold stories.”

Everyone is welcome – although under 16s will need to be with a responsible adult - and no experience is necessary as full training and guidance will be given. Visitors can spend as much, or as little, time on site as they would like.

Cassie added: “From excavation, photography, and recording, to online research and artefact processing in the lab, there's a role for everyone in archaeology so there’s no need to get your hands dirty...unless you want to!”

The RAU Swindon event will take place from 10am until 4pm on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 September, and from 10am to 3pm on Sunday 10 September and visitors are asked to wear sturdy footwear and clothing appropriate for the weather “that you don't mind getting a little bit grubby”.  For more details about the RAU Swindon event, please visit

The RAU’s Cirencester campus will be open from 1pm to 4pm on Saturday 9 September only, with Professor Horton’s talk taking place at 2pm. Guided tours of the campus will be available and refreshments will be available to purchase from the University’s Retreat café. For more details about the RAU Cirencester event, please visit

Both events are free and no booking is required.

Established in 1994, Heritage Open Days is England's largest community led festival of history and culture, involving thousands of local volunteers and organisations. Every year in September it brings people together to celebrate their heritage, community and history. Stories are told, traditions explored, and histories brought to life. It’s your chance to see hidden places and try out new experiences – and it’s all free.