Corsham

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Corsham is a historic market town and civil parish in northwest Wiltshire country, England. It is at the southwest edge of the Cotswolds, just off the A4 which was formerly the main turnpike road from London to Bristol, between Bath (7.5 miles / 12 kilometres) and Chippenham (4.5 miles / 7 kilometres).

Corsham is close to the Box tunnels, which were mentioned as significant site on the now lapsed proposed Great Western Railway World Heritage Site. The NT property of Lacock is close by.

The town does not have a traditional market charter, but the County Council runs a general market on the High Street, every Tuesday.

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. In 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.

Corsham apparently derives 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.

There is evidence that the town had been known as “Corsham Regis” due to its reputed association with anglo-saxon Ethelred of Wessex, and this name remains as that of a primary school.

One of the towns that prospered greatly from Wiltshire’s wool trade in mediæval 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.

Corsham is home to one of the finest barbours in all of England, Bernies is run by Wesley Frith one of Britains leading entrepreneurs and recent addition to the Forbes “Britains 100 richest young people”. Recent price increases in Bernies have lead to a Facebook petition demanding paying customers should be entitled to a free cup of tea.

Wiltshire Police has a station in the town that is headed by a sergeant, and is a base for five local and rural neighbourhood policing teams.

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.

Middlewick House was occupied by Camilla Parker Bowles and her husband between 1986 and 1995, when it was bought by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd.

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.

Hartham Park is a Georgian estate that includes a rare stické court.

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[20] and three district councillors from the Corsham and Lacock division. In 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.

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.

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.

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.[45] 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.[45] 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.[47]

The Church of St. John the Baptist, in Gastard dates back to 1428 but the current building only to 1912. It is built in the gothic style.

The Church of St. Philip and St. James is part of the parish of Neston. Opened in 1866, its architecture is early English constructed of local stone.

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. The Baptist Chapel, Moor Green, was founded in 1833. Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Velly, was founded in 1857. The Congregational Church, Pickwick Road, originally met in a malthouse, and a new building was commenced in 1790. In 1971 it closed and is now used for offices. 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. Monk’s Lane Chapel, built in 1662, was formerly a Quaker meeting-house and was transferred to the Congregational church in 1690. 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.

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:

The Basil Hill Site is in Park Lane and comprises the former Basil Hill Barracks; approximately 800 personnel are employed there, rising to 2,100 in 2010 as part of a major modernisation programme named “Corsham New Environment”. It is home to the Directorate of Information Systems and Services (DISS) and also houses the Global Operations Security Control Centre (GOSCC). Completion of Corsham New Environment will see the Rudloe and Copenacre sites relinquished by the Ministry of Defence.

The Rudloe Site was formerly RAF Rudloe Manor, which 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. By 1998 it had become mostly administrative, housing the RAF Provost and Security Services, which dealt with security and criminal investigation services, the Defence Communication Services Agency, while the detachment of 1001 Signals Unit of the RAF remained. It closed as an operational site in about 2000.

RAF Rudloe Manor was the location of Headquarters Southern Area Royal Observer Corps from 1952 until 1980 when it was relocated to Lansdown near Bath. Co-located with the ROC was Headquarters Southern Sector United Kingdom Warning and Monitoring Organisation responsible for the now defunct Four-minute warning in the event of nuclear attack during the Cold War.

The Copenacre Site was originally an underground stone quarry 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 in January 2011 and was put up for sale.

Hawthorn was a development of the Bath stone quarries for defence purposes, originally intended for the underground manufacture of engines for the Hawthorn aeroplane by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and includes the Central Government War Headquarters, variously known as “Turnstile” or “Burlington”, and the Central Ammunition Depot.

Other units include Corsham Computer Centre. Joint Service Unit provides administrative support & facilities management in 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. Services Cotswold Centre is a welfare service in Neston offering temporary accommodation for services families who require it, and has 63 family units. It also has a medical centre and other amenities. HMS Royal Arthur 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.

The UK military communications satellite constellation called Skynet, a PFI arrangement, is controlled by contractor, Paradigm Services, from the location of the former 1001 SU Det on Skynet Drive. The ground segments in support of the constellation are located at Bordon, Hampshire and Colerne Airfield, Colerne, Wiltshire (formerly RAF Oakhanger and RAF Colerne.) A number of defence-related contractors are either 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, southwest 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.

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.

Corsham Court has also been used as a period location in productions such as Barry Lyndon (1975), The Remains of the Day (1993), A Respectable Trade (1997) and Wives and Daughters (1999).

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