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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Corsham Court & All That!

In my Blog yesterday, I mentioned Corsham Court, together with the information that I had been born in Corsham. I thought that you might be interested to know a little more about the place, and Corsham Court in particular.

Corsham has been home to the Royal Navy, the Royal Air Force and the Army, especially during the second world war. Prior to that it was a typical West Wiltshire weaving town, tastefully built of Bath stone, several quarries of which were worked in the parish from early times. Of particular interest to visitors is the row of weaver’s cottages known as the Flemish Buildings.

The local Anglican church is the Church of St Bartholomew, and it was there that I first sang in public when I was a choirboy! I remember that we used to get paid the princely sum of two shillings and sixpence, (about 12.5 pence), whenever we sang at a wedding!

In 1801 it was the eighth most popular town in the County, jealously preserving a number of ancient rights, which included the right to hold a Court Leet and have its own coroner. The parishioners were exempt from jury service and the vicar was empowered to hold his own consistory court. As a point of interest, my father, who was a well-known wine merchant in the town for around forty years, used the name Court Leet as a brand name for his own-brand sherry. I well remember spending many hours as a youngster labelling bottles with the Court Leet name on them. His business was unusual in that it was one of only five in existence that boasted an ‘irrevocable licence’.

In and around Corsham is are several distinguished country mansions, Hartham Park, Monks Park, Puckeredge House, 17th century Pickwick Manor, Jaggards and Easton Manor House (Circa 15th century) amongst them. Without doubt, the finest and most imposing of those in the district is Corsham Court, home for many generations of the Methuen family since the mid-18th century.


The earliest known records of a house at Corsham date back to 978 when the house was a summer palace for the Kings of Wessex. The property subsequently became part of the dowry of the Queens of England until Elizabeth I granted a leasehold interest following which Thomas Smythe (one of her subjects) erected an Elizabethan manor house on the site.
Corsham Court was a Royal Manor in the days of the Saxon Kings and is currently the home of James Methuen-Campbell, the eighth generation of the Methuens to live there. He succeeded to the Corsham Estate on the death of the Seventh Baron Methuen in 1994. The home is based on Thomas Smythe’s Elizabethan Manor House, dating from 1582. It was bought by Paul Methuen to house a collection of 16th and 17th century Italian and Flemish Master paintings and statuary. During the middle of the 19th century the house was altered to receive a second collection of fashionable Italian Masters and rare Italian Primitives and stone inlaid furniture.

Inside the building, Corsham Court is home to a magnificent collection of over 140 paintings, statuary, bronzes and furniture. The collection includes works by such names as Adams, Chippendale, Caravaggio, Lippi, Rubens and Van Dyck. The picture gallery is 72ft in length, and the intricate plasterwork of the ceiling is mirrored in the pattern of the carpet specially commissioned by the 4th Lord Methuen and made in 1959 by the Royal Tapestry and Carpet factory in Madrid.

The grounds to Corsham Court were planned by ‘Capability’ Brown and were later finished by John Nash and Thomas Bellam. When I was growing up I was close friends with Richard (Dickie) Ball, and his father, the late Ivor Ball, was Head Gardener at the Court for many years.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that once you kick-start your memory about a particular period of your life, so the friends and incidents surrounding it come rushing to the fore in waves. At this moment, as I write this blog-post, I am surrounded, metaphorically speaking, by my childhood friends. I can see in the darkened recesses of my mind, the images of yesteryear, images such as the late Joan Pictor, a great local eccentric and ultimately benefactor to the town, shabbily dressed and sitting in her house in the High Street, gazing out onto the passing world through her net curtains that were so dirty that they would fall apart if they were touched. After her demise the town benefitted by her bequest of her house and contents.

I loved the Alms Houses, set on the edge of the town, and magnificent in their design. These were given to the town by Dame Margaret Hungerford, wife of the commander of Cromwell's forces in Wiltshire, and incumbent of Corsham Court at that time. The Schoolroom doubled as the Chapel, and it still contains the original desks, the master's chair being built into the pulpit. Well worth a visit!

I’ve written before about childhood trips to the local sweet shop, but there was so much more. My early forays into the world of learning were the result of my childhood educational journey via ‘Miss Bailey’s’, or, to give it the correct title, Cheviot House Primary School, which was housed in the High Street.

Ah, dear reader! The wonderful benefits of memories! I hope that you enjoyed today’s journey down Memory Lane.

1 comment:

CorshamJim said...

Many thanks Colin for such an interesting read about the town which for me has only been home for a few months so far. I hope you don't mind I gave your blog a mention on the Corsham Diary website at