Town hall and post office at the High street
Corsham shown within Wiltshire
|Population||13,000 (in 2011)|
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|EU Parliament||South West England|
|UK Parliament||Chippenham North Wiltshire|
Corsham is a historic market town and civil parish in west Wiltshire, England. It is at the south-western edge of the Cotswolds, just off the A4 national route, which was formerly the main turnpike road from London to Bristol, 7.5 miles (12.1 km) east of Bath and 4.5 miles (7.2 km) west of Chippenham.
Corsham was historically a centre for agriculture and later, the wool industry, and remains a focus for quarrying Bath Stone. It contains several notable historic buildings, such as the stately home of Corsham Court. During World War II and the Cold War, it became a major administrative and manufacturing centre for the Ministry of Defence, with numerous establishments both above ground and in the old quarry tunnels. The early 21st century saw some growth in Corsham's role in the film industry.
- 1 History
- 2 Features
- 3 Community
- 4 Local government
- 5 Population and demographics
- 6 Education
- 7 Churches
- 8 Transport
- 9 Town twinning
- 10 Economy
- 11 Sport and leisure
- 12 Notable people
- 13 Gallery
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 Further reading
- 17 External links
Corsham appears to derive its name from Cosa's hām, "ham" being Old English for homestead, or village. The town is referred in the Domesday book as Cosseham; the letter 'R' appears to have entered the name later under Norman influence (possibly caused by the recording of local pronunciation), when the town is reported to have been in the possession of the Earl of Cornwall. Corsham is recorded as Coseham in 1001, as Cosseha in 1086, and at Cosham as late as 1611 (on John Speed's map of Wiltshire). The Corsham area belonged to the King in Saxon times, the area at the time also had a large forest which was cleared to make way for further expansion.
One of the towns that prospered greatly from Wiltshire's wool trade in medieval times, it maintained its prosperity after the decline of that trade through the quarrying of Bath stone, with underground mining works extending to the south and west of Corsham.
Numbers 94 to 112 of the High Street are Grade II* listed buildings known as the "Flemish Weavers Houses", however there is little cogent evidence to support this name and it appears more likely to derive from a handful of Dutch workers who arrived in the 17th century.
Corsham also contains the historic Georgian house, The Grove, opposite the high street, a typical example of classic Georgian architecture.
Corsham's small town centre includes the Martingate Centre, a late 20th century retail development, which also houses offices and a small teaching facility for Wiltshire College, a further education institution.
The stately home of Corsham Court can also be found in the town centre. Standing on a former Saxon Royal Manor, it is based on an Elizabethan manor home from 1582. Since 1745, it has been part of the Methuen estate. The house has an extensive collection of Old Masters, rooms furnished by Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale, and parks landscaped by Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. The house is open to the public all year round excluding December and is famed locally for its peacocks, which freely wander about the streets. The owner of Corsham Court in the mid-seventeenth century was the commander of the Parliamentarian New Model Army in Wiltshire; his wife built what came to be known as the Hungerford Almshouses in the centre of town.
Corsham is the site of the disused entrance to Tunnel Quarry, which used to be visible off Pockeredge Drive.
The town has its own festival. Corsham also started a jazz festival (separate from the town festival) in 2004, which included a performance by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. The event however was not as successful as the organizers would have hoped, bands across the seven venues had to compete with each other and turnout was lower than expected. In 2005 the festival was reduced to just two venues and a much reduced lineup. In 2006, the festival reduced in size once again, with only the Royal Oak Pub hosting the event, and the Stan Tracey Trio as principal headliners.
Pickwick itself was once a separate settlement and now forms the north-western part of the town. The name derives from Anglo-Saxon pic (meaning a peak or pointed hill) and wic (village). The Wiltshire Hundred Roll of 1273 refers to a "William de Pikewicke".
Corsham was the inspiration for Charles Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers; it is thought that he borrowed the name from Moses Pickwick, a coachman who was born in Pickwick, lived in the "Hare and Hounds" inn, and ran coaches between Bath and London.
Pickwick Manor was noted by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as an "unusually impressive example of a late 17th century manor house", having remnants of a 14th-century wing. More recently it has been the residence of architect Harold Brakspear and his descendants.
Beechfield is a late Georgian house in Middlewick Lane. It was extended in the early 1970s to provide additional accommodation The house itself was split into residential accommodation while part of the grounds were split off in 2002 under the auspices of the Town Council to provide a Nature Area where local flora and fauna can be seen.
Gurneys House is another building of historical significance which now provides hotel accommodation and a restaurant. It also caters for special events such as weddings.
Pickwick is also noted for "The Two Pigs", a real ale pub which is a Grade II listed building. Formerly named "The Spread Eagle", it is now known for hosting live music, but at the end of the nineteenth century - when Pickwick did not have a mortuary - corpses were laid out on the bar of the pub until they could be transferred to Corsham mortuary.
Corsham Town Council's civil parish boundaries include several neighbouring settlements: Broadstone, Chapel Knap, Easton, Gastard, Hartham, Leafield, The Linleys, Neston, The Ridge, Thingley, part of Rudloe, and a small part of Chippenham south of the A4 road.
Neston village was established around Neston Park, a country estate whose house was built c.1790. Neston Park is home of the Fuller family, who give their name to the Fuller, Smith and Turner brewery in London, known for Fuller's London Pride cask ale.
When the Local Government Act 1972 came into force on 1 January 1974, Corsham came within the areas of Wiltshire County Council and North Wiltshire District Council, electing one county councillor and three district councillors from the Corsham and Lacock division. On 1 April 2009, Wiltshire became a unitary authority managed by Wiltshire Council and the county's district councils were all merged into this body. From 2009, Corsham elects three councillors to the new authority, one from each of three new single-member electoral divisions:
- Corsham Pickwick and Rudloe,
- Corsham Town, and
- Corsham Without and Box Hill (which includes neighbouring Lacock and part of Box.)
Corsham's lowest level of government is Corsham Town Council, which was founded as a parish council in 1895. Although Corsham never had its own town charter, in May 2000 it became a town council. There are currently twenty councillors, and the four council committees are
- Finance and General Purposes - general policy, finances, Christmas lights and "Corsham in Bloom"
- Leisure - children's play areas, recreation grounds and allotments
- Amenities - Town Hall maintenance, cemetery, footpaths etc.
- Planning - the council is not itself the planning authority for Corsham but makes recommendations to Wiltshire Council on applications.
Population and demographics
The first official census of 1801 showed Corsham having 2,402 inhabitants, while the most recent of 2001 lists 10,780. No census was taken in 1941 due to the Second World War, but the rise in population (from 3,754 in 1931 to 9,268 in 1951, a rise of 147%) is attributable to the influx of military personnel. The increase shown for 1840 is due the influx of stone workers and the arrival of the Great Western Railway.
The 2001 census demographics of the SN13 postcode area, of which Corsham comprises the major part, do not differ markedly from national figures; the unemployment rate is 2.0 per cent compared to a national 3.2 per cent, and there is a marginally higher rate of retirees (at 23.3 per cent as against 22 per cent). 23 per cent of adults are educated to degree level, against a national average of 20 per cent.
The education authority for Corsham and its surrounding area is Wiltshire County Council, which maintains seven primary schools and one secondary school. The primary schools, catering for students up to age 11 are
- Box Church of England Primary School, High Street, Box. Founded in 1875 as an elementary board school, it now has about 170 pupils.
- Corsham Primary School, split between Pound Pill, and Broadwood Avenue, Corsham, was formed from the origins of Lady Methuen’s School for Girls (founded 1816), The National School for Girls (c.1840s) and Corsham British School For Boys (c. 1840). These schools came under the aegis of the Corsham School Board in 1893 and were finally merged in 1923. It now provides for about 540 students.
- Corsham Regis School, Kings Avenue, Corsham, opened in 1943 for the children of incoming military workers. It became specifically a junior school in 1955 when older children transferred to the Corsham Secondary Modern School, and now has about 180 students. It has 7 classrooms and a nursery called ABC.
- Lypiatt Primary School near Neston, to the south of Corsham itself, and was opened in 1951 to cater for children of Ministry of Defence employees; it now has about 16 students.
- Neston Primary School, Church Rise, Neston, was founded in 1861 as Corshamside School. It now provides for about 170 students.
- Shaw Church of England (Controlled) Primary School in Corsham Road, Shaw, Melksham, takes pupils from Corsham. Founded in the 1840s, it expanded over the years as an elementary school until 1953, when a secondary school opened in Melksham and Shaw became a primary school. It now has about 185 students.
- St Patrick's Catholic Primary School, Lacock Road, Corsham, opened in 1966 and now has about 200 pupils.
- The Corsham School, The Tynings, is Corsham's only secondary school; it was opened in 1972 as a comprehensive school and is now a specialist Visual Arts and Maths and Computing College with approximately 1400 students. Catering for students from 11 to 18, its DCSF educational statistics are generally better than for Wiltshire as a whole. Its most recent Ofsted inspection, in 2009, assessed it as Outstanding in most areas.
- The Heywood Preparatory School, Priory Street, is an independent school providing education from ages 3 to 11, and has about 190 pupils. It achieved a favourable assessment when last inspected in June 2008, being described as "successful in meeting its aims and outstandingly so in many areas. It meets the needs of all pupils who are well educated in the widest sense". It is located on two acres of property in the centre of Corsham, near Corsham Court, and was first mentioned in the Domesday Book as a priory donated to an order of monks.The building itself is a Grade II Georgian building built in Bath stone in 1776, later additions include a barn, used as a dining room and later a science block and multi-functional performance hall built in the previous decade. In 2011, the Duchess of Cornwall opened a new sports court at the school. The school is owned by Michael and Pamela Hall, who are the bursar and headteacher respectively who bought it in 1993. The school was rated 95th in The Sunday Times Good Schools Guide, previously it was 115th.
Corsham Priory was referred to in 1336 as having been given to Marmoutier Abbey during the time of Henry I (1068–1135) as an alien priory. An unnamed prior was referred to in 1201, but the priory itself had become inactive by 1294 and its lands passed to The Crown and eventually to King's College, Cambridge. The site later became that of a Georgian house, which is now The Heywood School.
The town of Corsham and its surrounding villages are within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Bristol.
The main parish Church of St Bartholomew is of Saxon origin; it lies between the High Street and Corsham Court. The fabric has been extended numerous times since its foundation, and in 1810 the spire was removed as a danger but not replaced until 1874. In the north chancel chapel, the large altar tomb of Thomas Tropenell is shared with his first wife, Agnes.
Roman Catholic church
St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church was originally Pickwick School, then a glove factory, before becoming a gas mask factory during the Second World War. It was converted into a church to provide for incoming military workers. It did not have a resident priest between the Reformation and 1957.
Corsham has a range of free churches and chapels, most founded in the 19th century, although the Monk's Lane Chapel dates back to the 17th century.
Ebenezer Chapel, Priory Street, was formed in 1822/3 when some members of the Congregational Church split over doctrine. The present building opened in 1829 and has been extended since then. Zion Hill Baptist Chapel was built in 1859 by a group who separated from the Priory Street Ebenezer Chapel.
The Particular Baptist Chapel, Pound Pill dates back to about 1824. The Brethren met in several locations, beginning in the mid nineteenth century at Pockeridge Lodge, moving to Neston, while another group met in Pickwick. By 1903, both were meeting in Neston and in 1925 they bought the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Station Road.
The Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Pickwick Road, replaced a cottage in Easton, and a house in Middlewick Lane, before the present chapel was built in 1903.
Corsham is connected to Bradford on Avon by the B3109 road, to Melksham by the B3353, and to Chippenham and Bath by the A4 Bath Road, a former turnpike from London to Bristol. Four public car parks in the town centre are operated by Wiltshire Council for a small fee. Bus companies, including Coachstyle, Faresaver and FirstGroup plc, operate local services, as well as buses to all nearby towns.
The Great Western Main Line railway from London to Bristol passes through Corsham, though the local station closed in the 1960s. Nearby stations, and most passenger trains, are operated by First Great Western. Some local services call at the nearest station at Melksham (4.5 miles, 7.2 km) while Chippenham station (4.7 miles, 7.5 km) offers frequent express services and connections. The eastern portal of Box Tunnel, built as the longest railway tunnel of its time, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Railway, is at Hudswell on the western edge of the town. Corsham Railway Cutting carries the main line westward through Corsham to Box Tunnel; in 1971 6.6 hectares (16 acres) of land in the cutting were designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for notable geology.
Corsham has had a twinning relationship with the town of Jargeau, France since 1981, and has an active twinning association. Corsham holds an annual twinning event in which musical and charity events occur, accompanied by French food and wines. There is also a boules competition for the Peter Henderson trophy which is named in memory of a local doctor and former chairman of the twinning association. As part of the 2008 event, a mock Storming of the Bastille was staged to celebrate Bastille Day, Corsham Town Hall standing in for the Parisian prison.
The Ministry of Defence has operated a number of locations in the vicinity of Corsham since the First World War and employs approximately 2,000 people. Several defence sites in the Corsham area are located underground and were formed from historic Bath Stone quarries. The largest of the above-ground sites are centered around the Hawthorn area of Corsham.
Basil Hill site
The Basil Hill site is in Westwells Road and comprises the former Basil Hill Barracks; the site is now designated MOD Corsham and accommodates approximately 2,100 people. It is home to Joint Forces Command's Information Systems and Services (ISS) and also houses the Ministry of Defence's Global Operations Security Control Centre (GOSCC) amongst other units.
Rudloe site and Hawthorn site
The Rudloe Site bordering Westwells Road and Bradford Road was formerly one of three sites that comprised RAF Rudloe Manor. Rudloe Manor was established during the Second World War as a non-flying station for administrative and command & control purposes. It was home to HQ Number 10 Fighter Group, RAF Regional Command, Headquarters RAF Police & Security Services, No 1 Signals Unit, Controller Defence Communications Network and 1001 Signals Unit. The main site also served as the primary entrance for the Central Government War Headquarters, variously known as "Turnstile", "Stockwell", "Subterfuge" and "Burlington".
By 1998 it had become mostly administrative, housing the RAF Provost and Security Services, which dealt with security and criminal investigation. The sites were taken over by the Defence Communication Services Agency in about 2000, while the detachment of 1001 Signals Unit of the RAF remained at the Hawthorn site until its privatisation. RAF Rudloe Manor was then absorbed into Joint Support Unit Corsham.
- Hawthorn site
Hawthorn site, located on Skynet Drive, previously accommodated the RAF 1001 Signal Unit detachment of RAF Rudloe Manor. The site still supports the Skynet system, but is now managed by Astrium Services.
The UK military communications satellite constellation called Skynet is a PFI arrangement controlled by contractor, Astrium Services. The ground segments in support of the constellation are located at Oakhanger, Hampshire and Colerne Airfield, Colerne, Wiltshire (formerly RAF Oakhanger and RAF Colerne.)
The Copenacre Site, located off the A4 Bath Road, was originally an underground stone quarry located below land formerly part of the Hartham estate; this was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1937 and became the Royal Naval Stores Depot, Copenacre. It closed on 30 September 1995. The Copenacre Site closed completely in January 2011 and was put up for sale.
- Joint Support Unit
- Provides administrative support and facilities management for all three locations. In 2006 a Private Finance Initiative contract was let to Inteq for the renewal and expansion of the Basil Hill and Rudloe Site facilities, valued at around £800m.
- Corsham Computer Centre
- Services Cotswold Centre
- A welfare centre in Neston offering temporary accommodation for services families who require it. The centre has 63 family units. It also has a medical centre and other amenities.
- HMS Royal Arthur
- This was a Royal Navy training establishment; during the Second World War it had been based at a Butlins holiday camp at Ingoldmells, near Skegness, but moved to Corsham in 1947.
- A number of defence-related contractors are co-located or in the vicinity of the MoD sites, such as Chemring Energetics UK Limited and Serco Defence, Science and Technology.
Underground extraction of Bath Stone continues in Corsham on a smaller scale than previously. Hanson plc operates Hartham Park Quarry in the Hudswell district, south-west of Pickwick, and Monk's Park Quarry near Gastard.
Disused quarries have been redeployed for other purposes; apart from defence usage, there is a wine storage facility at Eastlays, near Gastard, and storage of magnetic media for off-site data protection at Neston.
Film and television
Another use for the quarries is the film industry. Underground scenes from the first episode of Blake's Seven were filmed at Eastlays, and disused tunnels form part of the studio complex of Corsham Media Park, a specialist business park that opened in 2001 adjacent to RAF Rudloe Manor.
Period drama location filming occurs in Corsham, as in neighbouring Lacock and Atworth parishes. Neston Park hosted major outdoor film sets for the 2008 BBC television adaption of Lark Rise to Candleford, and the BBC also filmed scenes for a 2008 version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles in Church Street and Corsham Court grounds.
Sport and leisure
- Felix Aylmer (1889–1979), Actor. President of Equity 1950-1969
- Jennifer Biddall (b. 1980), actress, best known as Jessica Harris in Hollyoaks
- Camilla Parker Bowles (b. 1947), and her first husband Andrew Parker Bowles
- Harold Brakspear (1870–1934), restoration architect and archeologist, lived at Pickwick Manor and Parkside in High Street
- Robert Brian (b. 1970), drummer and session musician, most notably for Siouxsie Sioux
- Revd Richard Enraght (1837–1898), religious controversialist, curate of St Bartholomew's Church, Corsham, 1861–1864
- Sir Gabriel Goldney, 1st Baronet of Beechfield (1813–1900), MP for Chippenham, and the Goldney baronets
- Edward Hasted (1732–1812), historian, master of Corsham Almshouse
- Elizabeth Hurley (b. 1965), actress, attended St Patrick's Primary School, 1973-74
- Nick Mason (b. 1944), musician, Pink Floyd
- Baron Methuen, family seat is Corsham Court
- Gavin Schmidt, climatologist, GISS
- Jim Smith (1906-1979), England Test cricketer, brother of the below
- William Smith (1900-1990), cricketer, brother of the above
- Rini Templeton (1935–1986), artist, studied at Bath Academy in Corsham c. 1956
- Michael Tippett (1905–1998), composer, lived at Parkside in High Street, 1960-70
The historic High Street is typical of a Cotswold town
A 1773 map shows Neston's earlier name of Corsham Side
Neighbouring civil parishes (anticlockwise from the north):
- Biddestone – small village north of Hartham
- Colerne – medium-sized village north-west of Corsham and Pickwick
- Box – village west of Corsham; parish includes part of Rudloe
- Atworth – Neston Park Estate extends south beyond Atworth village
- Lacock – historic village and abbey, largely owned by the National Trust, east of Gastard
- Chippenham and Chippenham Without parishes – market town north-east of Easton
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- courtesy Wiltshire County Council Libraries & Heritage
- McCamley, Nick (2000) Secret underground cities : an account of some of Britain's subterranean defence, factory and storage sites in the Second World War, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, ISBN 0-85052-733-3
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Corsham.|
- Corsham travel guide from Wikivoyage
- Corsham Town Council
- Corsham at Wiltshire Community History from Wiltshire County Council
- Historic Corsham photos at BBC Wiltshire
- Subterranea Britannica – entry on the Corsham bunkers
- Wiltshire's Secret Underground City: Burlington Articles, interactive map and video tour from BBC Wiltshire