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Wiltshire Community History

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Corsley

This page is one of 261 pages covering every community in Wiltshire, and is provided by Wiltshire Council Libraries and Heritage. A project to provide a fuller picture of each community is in progress, working on the larger communities first. When these 261, which are modern civil parishes, are completed we will begin work on a further 180 villages and hamlets to provide comprehensive coverage of Wiltshire communities large and small.

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810:

From Andrews’ and Dury’s Map of Wiltshire, 1810


Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham


This is a corrected and updated edition of the 1773 map that includes the recently built canals.


Map of the Civil Parish of Corsley:

Map of the Civil Parish of Corsley

1890s
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre


From the Ordnance Survey 1890s revision of the one inch to one mile map. The modern civil parish has been superimposed.


Thumbnail History:


The small parish of Corsley is situated on the Somerset border next to Longleat. It is quite unusual in that it has no village and no centre, only the distinct hamlets of Corsley, three Whitbournes, Longhedge, Corsley Heath, Lane End and Lyes Green, loosely connected by narrow lanes. The name is obscure, but probably comes from the Old British 'Cors' meaning reeds or a swamp. Apart from the chalk area around Cley Hill, most of the parish is on Upper Greensand. Two streams flowing west into Somerset trisect it. The Rodden Brook passes Corsley church and Corsley Mill, and the Whitbourne flows in a steeper, almost unseen valley to the south. Heavily wooded hills rise to the south of the Whitbourne, and these are part of the Longleat Estate transferred to Corsley in 1934.

There are just two tumuli in Corsley, on the top of Cley Hill. Sir Richard Colt Hoare and William Cunnington excavated both in the early 19th century. The larger barrow contained ashes, fragments of pottery, and ears of wheat, but no internment. The smaller had an internment of burnt bones, which had been disturbed.

Opinions differ as to why Cley Hill is so named, as it is made entirely of chalk. Possibly the hill is named after a forgotten owner, but Colt Hoare believes the name derives from the Celtic 'Cleis', meaning chalk. This Iron Age hill fort covers 17 acres and has enclosing banks and a ditch. In the Middle Ages Cley Hill was the centre of a huge common field until the enclosure award. The banks and the ditch were damaged by this cultivation.

The only estate at Corsley mentioned in Domesday Book was very small, and most of the land there formed part of the royal manor at Warminster. By the late Middle Ages the parish was divided into seven manors. Corsley was unified after the Reformation when it was gradually acquired by the Thynnes. In turn they bought the three Whitbournes, Bugley, Corsley Manor, Huntenhall and Little Corsley.

Although there was a parson of Corsley in the mid 13th century, little is known of the religious life of Corsley until after the Commonwealth. Such a small benefice was not attractive, and it was often men who had only just qualified who were appointed. Thomas Aylesbury, for example, was apparently only 17 on his appointment in 1668, but went on to hold the living for 56 years.

In the mid 18th century, services were held once on a Sunday, alternately mornings and afternoons. In 1783 the living passed to Thomas Huntingford who was headmaster of Lord Weymouth's School in Warminster. He increased the services to twice a day and also began extra services in Lent and monthly celebrations of the sacrament. His brother and successor, George Huntingford, continued this system and also began a Sunday School in 1788. In 1851 two services were held each Sunday; average attendance was 250 in the morning and 400 in the afternoon, and there was also a Sunday School with 140 members.

There was also a nonconformist community in Corsley. There were 24 sectaries in 1662 and 50 in 1676. No organised congregation is known to have existed in the village in the 17th century, and it has been suggested that villagers probably belonged to the Baptist church at Crockerton. Several houses were licensed for worship in the early 18th century. None of these can be connected with any permanent congregation, and probably the first society to establish itself in the parish was Methodism. Corsley was a 'new place' with 31 members in 1769. The following year it had increased to 46, and Wesley preached in the parish in 1772. A building was registered for worship in 1773 at Lane End.

Other dissenters in Corsley must have attended the Independent and Baptist causes, which began just outside the parish boundary at Chapmanslade in the 1770s. It was probably there that the 30 'Presbyterians' who lived in the parish in 1783 went. There was, however, at that time a Baptist congregation in the parish, with 20 adult members, a licensed house at Whitbourne Temple, and a preacher named Parrot. By the early 19th century there were only two or three members, but Richard Parsons of Chapmanslade revived the cause. After he had preached there for several years, numbers had so increased that a chapel was built and opened in 1811.

The church of St Margaret stands near the former manor house, quite remote from its main centres of population. The dedication was to St James in the early 16th century, and did not change to St Margaret until 1786. The old church consisted of a nave, north aisle, chancel, south porch, and tower. This served the parish well until 1830, when it was both too small and in a bad state of repair. The present church was designed by John Leachman and consists only of a nave and the original tower. There is no chancel.

The church of St Mary was designed by W.H. Stanley of Trowbridge and opened in 1903. In 1899 Mary Barton of Corsley House died and left £10,000 to buy a piece of land at Whitbourne Temple and built a chapel-of ease in memory of her husband and son.

The Methodists were served by the Wesleyan Chapel at Lane End which was built in 1849. It was refitted in the 19th century when a schoolroom was attached to the rear. The Baptist Chapel at Whitbourne was built in 1811.

Manor Farm is the most interesting building in the parish. Sir John Thynne built himself a small manor house here in the 1550s, at the same time as he was remodelling Longleat House, and lived here for five years after Longleat had been damaged by fire in 1567. Part of this building survives as a farmhouse.

Corsley House is a handsome ashlar-stone house, built for the Barton family in 1814. It was designed by the Bath architect John Pinch, who successfully built a Greek revival mansion around the old three-storey house. In the early 20th century it was the home of Byam Davies, father of Maud.

Moving on towards the Heath, we come to the Whitbourne area, which has listed cottages and houses dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. Temple has two semi-detached cottages that are early 16th century. Also in this area is The Old Dyehouse, a detached house dating from the early 18th century. It may have originally been an industrial building. On the outside wall near the porch are blocked arrow vents suggesting that the building may have been a dyehouse for the local woollen industry.

Sturford Mead is a large early 19th century house that has been occupied by the Thynne family at various times. It was designed by John Pinch, the same architect who designed Corsley House. It was built for a Mr. Fussell, a clothier from Frome, who married a Corsley girl. Fussell inherited her family's business, which enabled him to finance his new home. This mansion affirmed his newly acquired status as somewhere between a successful tradesman and a gentleman. The 6th Marquess of Bath's wife and children lived here during the War while he was away with the Wiltshire Yeomanry.

Further along the main road is Corsley Heath, generally referred to as the centre of the parish. The Post Office, shop and a pub are all here. The Royal Oak is one of two pubs in the village, the other being The Cross Keys. The Royal Oak Inn is a spreading two-storey building of stone, mainly 18th century but extended in the 19th. The first lease was granted in 1749.

High House Farm, formerly known as Mad Doctor's Farm, is on the western edge of the parish. It is a rendered rubble stone building dating from the 18th century. There are also stone cottages in this area, known as Dartford. This manor was owned by the Prioress of Dartford, Kent.

At the end of the 19th century there was a maltings at Lye's Green. In this area is Court Lane, where The Malthouse is. There is a datestone on this building incised with the initials TC / 1698. It is of rendered rubble stone with a slate roof, and was altered and extended in the 19th century. Nearby is Court Farmhouse, built in the late 16th century and altered in the 18th.

Corsley Mill, now in Chapmanslade parish, is a brick built miller's house dating from the 17th century. Opposite is the shell of the grist mill built here in the 19th century.

Although enclosure reduced employment on the land it encouraged small industries. Corsley Mill combined grist milling with fulling of cloth and went on to become a cloth factory while dye-houses were established at Sturford, Lower Whitbourne and Bissford. Clothing workshops grew up particularly in the Whitbourne valley and some of these were supplying works in Frome long after the trade had vanished from Warminster. At the end of the 19th century there was a silk mill on the Somerset border employing 20 women and girls.

Other small industries were brickworks south of Dertford, a maltings at Lye's Green and a smith and timber works at the Heath. Total employment in industry exceeded that of farming for much of the 19th century. In common with many villages, Corsley had several small shops spread across the parish. In 1867 there were six, but by 1914 this had reduced to three. The Down family ran the village Post Office for 80 years. Seth Down took it over c.1905, passing the business on to his daughters who ran it for 38 years. During their time the two girls did not take a single holiday.

The Wagon Works at Corsley Heath was not only a long-standing business but also a major employer. John Pearce, builder and wheelwright, first appeared in Kelly's Directory in 1889. In 1914 it was taken over by Aaron White, who in turn passed the business on to his son Len in 1931. In the 1920s the company employed up to 30 men as builders, wheelwrights, carpenters, blacksmiths and cabinet makers, surviving until the Second World War.

At the time of Domesday Corsley was even smaller than neighbouring Horningsham with an estimated population of just 20. The next estimate, made by Maud Davies, was 700 people in 1700. One hundred years later the figure was 1412. The successful mills drew even more people to seek homes and work here, and the population peaked at 1729 in 1831, despite the assisted emigration that had taken place in the previous decade. 200 people emigrated to America during 1829-1831, and the parish paid for 66 undesirables to go to Canada in 1830. After this the figure fell continuously down to 729 in 1931. In 1934 the new civil parish of Chapmanslade was created which moved 194 people out of Corsley. The population fell again after the Second World War, before the building of new houses, particularly at Corsley Heath, led to a small rise in 1981.

In the 16th and 17th centuries several people left money to be given to the poor of Corsley. Apart from Jeremiah Holwey, who left £50, the remainder was £4 and £5. The total was £118. Money was given to those who had no relief from the parish, as well as bread and beef. They also received Lord Bath's annual Christmas gift of 100 loaves and a bullock. A workhouse was built at Upper Whitbourne in 1773, when it had 25 residents. One of the main reasons it was built was the rapidly expanding population who had no where to live. It was easier to put all the poor in one building, making their houses available.

In 1909 Maud Davies, daughter of a retired barrister living at Corsley House, published 'Life in an English Village', a study of the social and economic life of the Corsley villagers. It was a notable work, of which Corsley can still be proud, and gives us today a detailed picture of life in a small Wiltshire village. Unfortunately the villagers discovered Davies' key to the confidential information, which caused a lot of upset. Her father bought as many copies as he could find, and Maud moved to London, tragically dying three years later.

Like many villages in Wiltshire, one of the first forms of entertainment provided in Corsley was a Reading Room, where the men could go to read a newspaper or play billiards. This was built in 1892 and extended in 1925. It is still used today. The Women's Institute was founded in 1920 and is also still in existence. A major event in Corsley's calendar is the August Bank Holiday Show. This was first held in 1909 as a fete and sports day.

Both football and cricket clubs have been in existence in the village for over 100 years. The Corsley Memorial Playing Field was established after the last War as a Memorial to the men who lost their lives in the two Wars. Skittle teams were run at the Royal Oak and Cross Keys pubs. Socials, dances and concerts in the Reading Room provided pre-war entertainment. A few households had radios, which were run on accumulators and had to be re-charged at the Wagon Works.

In 1947 over half the parish was sold by the Longleat Estate to raise duties after the death of the 5th Marquess of Bath. The 6th Marquess then converted part of his park within Corsley parish into a safari park.

A climb to the top of Cley Hill will afford a fine view of Corsley, showing all its geographical complexities. Its close neighbour, Chapmanslade, can be seen on the horizon.

CouncilWiltshire Council
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Population 1801 - 2011

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Folk Arts:

Folk Songs from Corsley

Folk Biographies from Corsley

Folk Plays from Corsley

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