Corsham has a diverse history which is still visible within its vibrant architecture and museums. The production of wool in the area was first to boost the town’s economy with the quarrying of Bath stone coming afterwards. These were the two main sources of industry and Corsham became known for its high quality wool and cloth as well as its discovery of the durable limestone still used in many buildings today. The Corsham Area Heritage and Information Centre is where different exhibitions are held showing some of the local history of the area and how it became the beautiful town it is presently.
The woollen industry thrived in the middle ages when it was said that the best wool in England came from Corsham, namely the Cotswolds. The Cotswold monasteries and Abbeys were where the native ‘Cotswolds Lions’ sheep were bred for their long gold fleeces. The wool industry made Corsham a prosperous town and served as the main contribution to their economy. The wool was spun to weave cloth for selling into industry. The clothier in 17th century Corsham was named William Arnold and he became significantly wealthy as a result of the industry. Arnold’s home was Lacock until he moved to the Corsham area. His home in Corsham is now the Corsham Area Heritage and Information Centre and inside is an interactive Wool Room showing the gradual positive effects of the wool and cloth industries on Corsham’s economy.
Bath stone (also known as Oolitic limestone) was primarily mined for local use until 1868 when the Box tunnel was dug out. The Great Western Railway was built making its transport to other places more accessible. The sale of this stone served as the main source of the town’s economy and the production of Bath stone increased after the railway was opened for use in 1841. Limestone was cheap, solid and durable therefore it was an ideal stone to use for buildings in the town. It can also be cut easily in any direction making it a stone which is easier to work with than, for example, slate which is a layered stone. For all of these reasons, the limestone industry was an economical one for the town.
The mixture of shades and colours seen in the buildings depend on where the Bath stone was quarried. In the south near to the city of Bath, the stone has a creamy hue whereas near the north of the Cotswolds the stone is a distinctive golden brown colour.
Some of the quarries where Bath stone was mined are still active today. Some of the buildings and accommodations of the town are what remain of this durable stone and those which do remain are listed buildings. The quarries have been re-used for example, the Octavian Vaults are wine cellars in the quarries where Bath stone was mined. They are used today for the storage of expensive wines. The natural Bath stone environment made it an ideal environment for this as the Bath stone is solid and durable. It was also used in 1934 for the storage of weaponry by the Ministry of Defence as it is a completely bomb proof stone.
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