The History of Corsham

History of Corsham

Corsham’s vast historical past is the reason that so many people visit the small town. Its culture, museums and exhibits as well as its local community markets, festivals and projects give the town a traditional community spirit not seen in the big cities. Dating back to the Middle Ages, the town has a collection of stories to tell and this is reflected in its tourist attractions as well as in the streets where its old architecture still stands. Corsham Court has also been home to some important families through the generations.

Local Families

The most notable family name in the town is Methuen. The Methuens have lived in Corsham for eight generations since 1745 when Sir Paul Methuen first procured what was then known as Corsham House. This is now known as Corsham Court and it was as a result of Methuen’s complete refurbishment of the house and grounds that it is now known so today. Corsham Court is now home to James Methuen-Campbell who is presumptive heir to the title of Baron.

Sir John Dickson-Poynder resided in Latterly Hartham ParkHe was first a Baron then was given the title of ‘Sir’ in 1884. He was also a member of parliament for the Chippenham area of Wiltshire before becoming Lord Islington and Governor of New Zealand. Flemish Weavers

Sir Gabriel Goldney resided in Corsham. Goldney was first a clothier and subsequent owner of land at Bradenstoke Abbey, Stanley Abbey and Monks Park in Corsham. He was elected a member of parliament for Chippenham and in 1880 was created 1st Baronette of Beecham, Corsham. Further generations of Goldney’s were once owners of most of Pickwick Estate in Corsham.

The Hungerford’s, namely Lady Margaret Hungerford founded the 17th Century Schoolroom and Almshouses and resided in the previously known Corsham House, now Corsham Court. The Almshouses are still standing today with its 17th century furnishings still intact and opens as an exhibit.

The Brakspear’s were architectural contributors to the town as it stands today. Namely, Sir Harold Brakspear was an architect whose main contribution was restoration of the old Bath stone buildings in Corsham. He originated from Corsham, Wiltshire and some of his notable projects here included the Great Chalfield Manor and Lacock Abbey.

Other families of interest include the Pictor family who were contributors to the mining of Bath stone making them of importance to the main source of industry in the town of Corsham. The Fuller’s were brewers from Neston just outside Corsham and the Hulbert’s ran the brewery in Pickwick.

The family names of some of the current residents of the town can span back as many as 600 years. Most of the families of Corsham Town have contributed to history in some way or another.

Industry

The town of Corsham was well known for its export of high quality wool and cloth. The industry was highly successful making wealthy the town and its merchants. The clothier was William Arnold who also became a success in the property market due to his wealth.

Corsham town was also famed for its export of the cheap and durable Bath stone, also known as Oolitic limestone. This was used locally until the Great Western Railway and its tunnels were built allowing for its export further afield where it made the town economically successful.

The Great Western Railway

The chief engineer of the Great Western Railway project was Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was appointed in 1833. It was the digging of the tunnel that caused the discovery in more Bath stone meaning that there was, not only enough to transport out to sell, but a means of transporting it via the railway that was to be built. Work began on the tunnel in 1836 after the plans were laid for its exact route. It was to run between Bath and Chippenham and was dug through Box Hill, hence the name. it was one of the longest tunnels of its time at just under two miles in length and was dug particularly deep for its day which bemused many of the locals. Manpower and horsepower was used for labour and gunpowder used to forge the tunnel.

Conditions for workers were poor with only candles for light and their water pump flooded the tunnel making the environment an uncomfortable, and quite probably, unsafe to work in. It was opened in 1841, but the number of labourers had to be doubled in order to finish it in time. This meant that the tunnel costs were much higher than they were originally thought to be. Once the railway opened, many locals were afraid of travelling through the tunnel. Due to it being much longer than the average tunnel, the lack of light within it and the speed of the train, they often got off the trains at one end of the tunnel and then stepped back on at the other end. The tunnel was also used for transportation of limestone making the town incredibly wealthy as a result.

Historical Buildings

Hungerford AlmshousesAmong the oldest of the historical buildings still standing is Corsham Court. Formerly known as Corsham House, it dates back to 1582 when it was home to royalty. It was then procured by Paul Metuen whose ancestors still reside there today. Corsham is also home to the previously mentioned Schoolroom and Almshouses which were originally procured by Lady Margaret Hungerford to educate a select few of the poorer children from the area. Other historical landmarks of Corsham include the Flemish Weaver’s Cottages and St. Bartholomew’s Church.

The Cottages are Grade II listed and were built for Flemish workers who immigrated to the area and were built for them by Sir Paul Methuen of Corsham House. The Church was built in mid-12th century and later restored in 1874. This is most likely the oldest of the historical buildings in Corsham which is still open today. It is a Grade I listed building. There are many listed buildings in Corsham town as they were built using the original quarried Bath stone from the local area.