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Chapter TitleNotes


Title :Corsham
Author :Harold Brakspear
Book Type :General History and Topography
Publisher :
Date :
Journal :WAM 1927 vol.43, pages 511 – 539
Full Text :CORSHAM.

The tract of land that now forms the parish of Corsham is practically tie southernmost end of the great oolitic range of the Cotswolds and its height above the river valleys rendered the site suitable for human habitation from the earliest times; though later cultivation has obliterated all evidence of such inhabitants, except a tumulus just behind Hartham House.

In Roman days one of the great military roads, that from Bath to Silchester, ran the whole length of this tract of land and afterwards formed the southern boundary of the parish; but, in spite of its proximity to Bath, Corsham cannot boast of any other evidence of that race. In Saxon days the road was disused and a ditch was thrown up along its course which from then till now has borne the name of Wansditch or Wansdyke. This ditch was apparently made as a boundary between the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex.

It may be remembered that during the time of the heptarchy the Saxons were always at war with their neighbours, but after the seven kingdoms were united in the person of King Egbert they settled down into a quiet and peaceable folk, who loved their homes and gained prosperity by the cultivation of their lands. To them we owe, not only the name of Corsham, [Corsham is said (Wilts. Arch. Mag. xxi. 667) to have received its name from a Celtic river name, but at Corsham there is no river and surely the obvious derivation is the ton of Cossa or Corsa] but most of our country institutions and customs; they introduced what was afterwards called the feudal system, whereby the king nominally owned the whole country, having under him the great nobles and under them the lesser owners: all of whom held their lands by service to the overlord, and he of the king: churches were built near the lord's houses, and were richly endowed; manors were formed and divided the one from the other; so many were grouped into hundreds and the hundreds into counties.. The boundaries then made were virtually the same as they remain to-day.

The manor of Corsham belonged directly to the king and in consequence was known as ancient demesne; it was apparently given by the Confessor to his brother-in-law Tostig, the fourth son of Earl Godwin, who, owing to his murderous villainies was expelled the country and his lands reverted to the king [Dugdale's Baronage (1675) i. 4].

The church of Corsham had been so liberally endowed that its possessions formed a second manor, though apparently held as a member of the king's manor.
In 1066, when William of Normandy conquered Saxon England, Corsham fell to his share as ancient demesne, and he gave the church manor to his newly founded abbey of St. Stephen's at Caen [Mon. Ang. (1846) vi. 1070].

In 1085 was compiled, for taxation purposes, that wonderful survey called Domesday Book, wherein is recorded that

"The king holds Cosseham. Earl Tosti held it in the time of King Edward. There are 34 hides, but it renders geld for 18 hides. The land is 50 carucates. In demesne are 11 hides and there are 7 carucates and 10 serfs. There are 65 villans and 48 coscets and 9 cottars with 38 carucates. There are 2 mills worth 8/6, and 32 acres of meadow and 1 hide of pasture and 2 miles of wood in length and breadth. This manor with its appendages pays 30 pounds by weight. The English, however, value it at 31 pounds by tale. The abbey of St. Stephen of Caen holds the church of this manor with 2 hides of land [In the Exon Domesday this is returned at 2½ hides]. The land is 5 carucates. This is held by 3 villans with 6 coscets. It is worth £7.

Edgar holds the church of Paveshou which adjoins the manor and his father held it. It is worth 5 shillings" [Domesday Book for Wilts (1865), II.

In the same record are no less than six distinct holdings under the name of Hartham, part of which is now in the parish of Corsham.

The manor of Corsham was after granted on a term of years or lives to first one person and then another, but in 1242 a more important grant was made. In that year King Henry III. gave this manor inter alia to his brother Richard, Earl of Cornwall, [Rot. Claus. 26 H. III. p. i, m.8.] and to this Earl Corsham owes its peculiar privileges.

The Earl granted the manor of Corsham to the customary tenants of the manor, but the exact date is not known. The original grant is among the manor deeds and bears an impression of the Earl's seal, though slightly damaged (Plate II.). It recites that

We Richard earl of Cornwall concede and by our present writing confirm for us and our heirs to our customary tenants of our manor of Corsham the whole of our manor of Corsham with rents, demesne lands, meadows, feedings and pastures to the same belonging, saving to us the third part of Myntemede which the said customary tenants mow, carry and garner at their expense, also our fish stews, parks, warren and all pleas, perquisites and escheats that are due to us and our heirs, to have and to hold to the said customary tenants and their successors of us and our heirs for ever for the annual rent of 110 marks [The 110 marks was at this time or earlier assessed upon the ancient holdings of the manor, and was regularly paid until after the grant of the lordship of the manor to Paul Methuen in 1770. The lists of these lords' rents remain for 1649, 1676, and 1763] to be paid to the bailiff of our said manor in two terms of the year namely in the octave of Easter 55 marks and in the octave of St Michael 55 marks for all services and demands to us and our heirs particularly excepting to us everything as aforementioned, and we ordain that the said our customary tenants are for ever quit of tallage, view of frank pledge and all other customs belonging to us and our heirs. The said our customary tenants agree for themselves and their successors that if they hold not to the same covenant according to the present writing that all their tenements which they hold of us shall revert without question to us and our heirs if by them it be found that the said form of this writing be not held, also we wish and concede that if the same our customary tenants of the said manor of Corsham come to rebel against the form of this writing that our bailiff, for the time being, shall have power to distrain them by land and cattle for all the above said according to the terms of this writing fully observed. And to these things the testimony of this writing we have fixed our seal. These to witness dom. Richard de Turry, dom. Sampson de la Bokye, dom. Henry Crok, dom Philip de Eya, Walter Gilun, then bailiff, Martin of Hortham, dom. Gilbert prior of Corsham, Richard de Cumberwell, Ralph then vicar of Corsham, and others.

This writing was inspected and confirmed by letters patent on 1st July, 1332, by King Edward III.; on 12th February, 1446, by King Henry VI.; on 24th May, 1511, by King Henry VIII.; on 8th November, 1550, by King Edward VI.; and on 11th May, 1571, by Queen Elizabeth. The originals of these inspections have been carefully preserved and retain the great seal of England of the respective sovereigns.

The actual manor being disposed of to the tenants it remains to follow the story of the 110 marks and the demesne lands reserved to the use of the Earl.

These passed at his death (1272) to his son Edmund and on his death in 1300 reverted to the king as next heir, at which time an inquisition was held at Corsham when the property was found to consist of a capital messuage with two small gardens, worth 12d. a year; the third part of Mintesmead which contains l½a. and was worth 2s. a year; there was also a fish stew worth 12d.; a park called Estpark in which were six wild beasts worth £4 10s.; also another park called Westpark in which were wild beasts, worth 13s, 4d.; and there were there two water mills worth 106s. 8d by the year; also there were certain fairs on the feast of St. Bartholomew, worth 40s.; and the pleas and perquisites of the courts of Corsham were worth with fines, reliefs, and heriots £10 [Wilts I.P.M. for Ed. I. (1908) 263].

King Edward I. then gave the lordship, rent, and demesne lands to his daughter Mary, who had become a nun of Fontevrault and was then in the house of Ambresbury [Rot. Pat. 30 E. I m. 14]. The princess afterwards exchanged Corsham for the manor of Swayneston, in the Isle of Wight [Rot. Pat. 1 E. II. p. i, m. 10.] and the king then gave Corsham to his favourite Peter de Gaveston [Rot. Pat. 3 E. II. m. 37] whom he had made Earl of Cornwall, as parcel of that earldom. Gaveston was beheaded in 1313, when Princess Mary re-exchanged Swayneston for Corsham [Rot. Pat. 8 E. II. p i, m. 27] which she held till her death in 1332 when it again reverted to the crown.
Again the property was farmed to various persons.

In 1346 the king (Edward III.) and the queen spent the summer between Corsham and Marlborough.

In 1353 the lordship, rent, and lands of Corsham were granted to Princess Isabel for life [Rot. Pat. 27 E. III. p. ii, m 3] and on her death in 1394 a number of grants were made out of the rents of the manor to many of her personal attendants including her physician [Rot. Pat. 2 R. II. p. 1 m. 28].

In 1408 Corsham was given to Queen Joan as part of her dower [Rot. Pat. 9 H. IV. p. 2, m. 22] and from that time until the death of Henry VIII's last queen it formed part of the dower of the queens of England and in consequence is sometimes known as Corsham Reginae.

Queen Elizabeth retained the lordship of the manor in her own hands for some years, but in 1572 granted inter alia the two parks, fish ponds, warrens, and advowson of the church, to her favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton, in consideration of £4761. [Lett. Pat. 12. vij.14 Eliz].

Shortly after Hatton became so impoverished that he was forced to sell Corsham and other estates.

This sale resulted in the Corsham estate coming into the hands of Thomas Smyth, who was a Corsham man, and had made a huge fortune out of the farm of the customs of the port of London. He gave his Corsham estate to his third son Henry during his lifetime, and spent his remaining years in Kent.

It would be confusing and merely a list of names and dates to follow the descent of the various parcels of the manor for the next 150 years. The manor itself was in the hands of the tenants, the lands reserved by Earl Richard were in the hands of one set of grantees; the yearly rent and perquisites of the court were leased to others, and the actual lordship was in the hands of the crown but more often than not leased with the rent.

This went on till 1770, when the whole of the three parcels were reunited in the hands of Paul Methuen, of Bradford. He bought the estate that comprised the East park (the West park had already been alienated), [It passed with the demesne property until the death of Henry Smyth in 1605, when it went to his son Thomas. In 1656 it was conveyed as "all those enclosed grounds called the West Park and the lodge therein standing with the appurtenances containing 70 acres," to John Danvers, of Monks. It was sold by the Danvers to Arthur Eastmead, the owner of Pockeridge, in 1674. The area can still be traced, and is bounded by stone walls, the north-west side being against Park Lane, in Pickwick], the fish ponds and warren in 1745; and the yearly rent, the perquisites, and actual lordship of the manor were granted to him by the king after an Act of Parliament had been passed for that purpose.

From this period the lordship of the manor and the lands reserved by the Earl of Cornwall, the annual rent, and the perquisites of the court, have passed from father to son, and are now in the hands of the present Lord Methuen.

Though it is obvious that there must have been a dwelling place for the grantees of the manor after the conquest, the first actual reference to a house occurs in 1230 when, after the grant of the manor to Ralph son of Nicholas, the king ordered him to have 25 oaks from the forest of Chippenham and a like number from the forest of Melksham for his buildings at Corsham. [Rot. Claus. 14 H. III. m. 14]. A further grant of 20 oaks from these forests was made to him for his guest-house. [Rot. Claus. 15 H. III. m, 18].

In 1244, two years after the manor was given to Richard Earl of Cornwall, he had a grant of 4 oaks from the forest of Melksham for the repair of his barn at Corsham [Rot. Claus. 28 H. III. m. 13] and this was followed two years later by the grant of 20 oaks for the construction of his house. [Rot, Claus. 30 H. III. m. 1]. As already stated it was described as a capital messuage with two small gardens on the death of his son in 1300.

The next reference to the house was in 1335, when the demesne lands were farmed to William of Horwode, when the king ordered him to spend £50 from the issues of the manor on the construction of a new hall [Rot. Claus. 8 E. III. m. 35] and this was followed by a second order to spend a further £50 on the same hall. [Rot. Claus. 8 E. III. m. 12].

No further reference to the building has been met with until Leland's visit about 1541 when he records that at Corsham be ruines of an old maner place and thereby a park, wont to be yn dowage to the Quenes of Englande. Mr. Baynton yn Quene Anne's dayes pullid downe by licens a peace of this house sumwhat to help his buildings at Bromeham. [Leland's Itinerary (1746), ii. 27]

Twenty years later the house was in hopeless ruin and on 11th September,1562, an inquisition was taken to enquire into its condition; when the jurors found that

the manor house of the lady the queen is much ruined and that nothing remains beyond the walls of a certain chapel, which chapel was shorn of stone called the freestone by John Bonham Knight, who died in the time of King Edward VI, late King of England, to build the lodge of the same and that the same existed, one old house Anglice an old gatehouse and one old stable to the same adjoining on the west side and one small tenement to the same adjoining on the east side and the caretaker of the same occupies it, and that the land on which the manor house is situated contains by estimation two acres.

When the property was obtained by Thomas Smythe he began to build a new house, apparently to the north of the site of the old one, and this was finished according to a date stone on the present building in 1582.

In 1602 Thomas Smythe's son Henry sold the property to Sir Edward Hungerford, of Rowden, [Abstract of title in possession of Lord Methuen] and went to live in a smaller house called Southerwicks [Court Book, 26. iii. 3 Jac]. At this time a survey of the estate was made when the house was described as

A faire stronge howse, newly built with freestone, having a hall and ij. parlers at each end thereof, wainscotted; a greate chamber and long gallery, verie faire; and diverse other roomes, parte wainscotted; a faire new built gatehouse and stable with stone, glased and covered with slatt with loftes over them; ij. faire green courts with a high wall about them coped with freestone; a fountaine in the middest of the garden; and a still-howse and banketting house, with cisters and condytes [The water supply was obtained from a well to the north-west of the house on land belonging to one William Adlam, he at the Court held 8. ix. 44 Eliz. surrendered a parcel of the meadow called Conduit Close upon which the conduit house was built for conveying water to the capital messuage called the Place with free ingress, regress, and egress across the close from and to the said house to repair the same and the water courses and conduit pipes, to Sir Edward Hungerford, Kt.] to convey the water to every office in ye howse. All which cost the buildyng £4000; and standeth in a parke which is enclosed about with a stone wall conteyning cxxviij acres of verie good meadowe and pasture. [Copy in the parish chest from the papers at Longleat].

The gate-house was probably destroyed at the Rebellion and the stables were rebuilt at the end of the seventeenth century, otherwise the house itself does not seem to have been altered. [This is shown by drawings in the possession of Lord Methuen dated 1756].

After the property was bought by Paul Methuen, of Bradford, in 1746 he intended to make considerable alterations to the house, but nothing was done for some years.

The first alteration was the re-facing of the north front by a facade in the Georgian manner, and apparently at the same time the whole of the main part of the house was cleared out to form a vast hall with staircases at each end and galleries along the side walls. [The Georgian front was erected between 1748 and 1756, and was merely a casing of the back wall of the hall as shown by the drawings last referred to. The hall is shown in this condition in the plan illustrating Corsham House by John Britton, 1806].

In 1757 Sir Paul Methuen, the son of John Methuen, the ambassador, died, leaving his cousin, Paul Methuen, of Corsham, heir to his estate and collection of pictures, subject to the proviso that rooms suitable for their reception should be provided.

Further alterations to the house were then made under the direction of Lancelot Brown, and consisted of the addition of a wing on the east side containing a picture gallery, and a corresponding wing on the west side to balance the south front: the south ends of both wings were copied from the earlier ones of Customer Smyth.

Paul Methuen died in 1795, and was succeeded by his son, Paul Cobb Methuen.

Humphrey Repton, the famous landscape gardener, was called in to report upon improvements to be made in the park, and incidentally says: -

The south front of Corsham is of the style called Queen Elizabeth's Gothic. The north front was Grecian architecture and consequently at the time Mr. Brown altered the east front a question arose whether this new building should accord with the north or south front. This I think was very properly determined in favour of the former... but Mr. Brown with great judgement copied the old character in the ends of the new building because it was made a part of the original front (Plate III 1).

It is now proposed to add an entire new range of buildings to the north side of Corsham and here a new question arises. What style of architecture ought to be adopted, whether it ought to accord with the original style of the south or with the east front which was evidently built to agree with the north front now about to be destroyed. [Corsham Court, Lord Methuen (1924), 37].

These works were undertaken principally with the intention of assembling the whole collection of Sir Paul's pictures together.

The new front was designed by Joseph Nash in the gothic manner, and consisted of an eating-room, a saloon and a music room; the eating room is 36ft. X 24ft. by 18ft. high; the saloon is in the middle and is an octagon, 40ft. in diameter and 24ft. high, commanding a beautiful view of the lawn and water; the music-room is the easternmost and is 36ft. X 24ft. by 18ft. high, the ceiling is covered and enriched with a very large guillochis, the openings of which are of plate glass and afford an upper light which, in all cases, is the best for pictures; these three rooms are en suite and communicate by means of the music-room with the grand picture gallery, leading to the drawing-room, state bedroom, and dressing-room. [Corsham Court, Lord Methuen (1924),39.]

The present Lord Methuen writes:- "The comfortable old house was converted into a mansion built apparently for show, domestic comfort being entirely disregarded. The interior work was in a style both tawdry and commonplace, and the material used was so indifferent that my grandfather was forced in 1844 to completely reconstruct that portion of the house built by Mr. Nash and build an entirely new north front, the architect being Mr. Bellamy. The house was not only bitterly cold, but so damp that Mr.Waagen (1835) ...considered the pictures would in a few years have been ruined." [Ibid., 40].

The present house therefore consists of Customer Smythe's house in the middle and inner parts of the side wings; the east and west sides of Lancelot Brown, the former remodelled by Nash, who added the octagonal turrets; and the north front by Bellamy, who also did away with the vast hall, converting the ground floor into an entrance lobby and two rooms, with bedrooms on the floor above.


The manor of Corsham, which was given to the customary tenants by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, included the whole of the parish, save Hartham, the rectory manor, and the demesne lands, together with a tithing in Stratton St. Margaret, near Swindon, and Pitters Farm, now in the parish of Pewsham. It was divided into eight tithings, namely, Corsham or the Town tithing, Pickwick, Woodlands, Meere, Gastard, Little tithing, Easton, and Stratton.

In addition to the privileges arising from the grant of Earl Richard, the tenants also enjoyed the rights of tenants of ancient demesne. These important rights were acknowledged by the common laws and consisted chiefly of the power of punishment by stocks and pillory, pit and gallows, exemption of tallage or military service due to the king, from exactions by knights of the shire, and the exemption from serving on juries outside the manor.

This manor, like most others, had customs of its own, but unlike others these customs were in operation until last year (1925). The original customs are contained in 27 articles and the earliest copy that is known is in the Tropenell Cartulary of 1464. [Tropenell Cartulary (1908), i.51.]. They were begun to be transcribed in the court book of the second year of Queen Elizabeth, but were not completed. They are, however, contained at length in the court book containing the proceedings of the court held on the 3rd October 1687.

The courts of the manor were:-

THE COURT LEET WITH VIEW OF FRANKPLEDGE was held once a year, generally in October, and was presided over by the foreman of the jury, at which the tythingmen were appointed, the jury of twelve was sworn, and the constables and aletaster were selected. The court formerly tried all offences in civil matters brought before it.

THE COURT BARON was held at various times as necessary, at which the customary tenants surrendered, and were admitted to their holdings, paid quit rents, and all business relating to their tenure was conducted through the homage. The steward of the lord presided and attended in the lord's interest.

THE THREE WEEKEN COURT was held, as its name implies, every three weeks, and formerly conducted the trial of all criminal and civil offences within the liberty.

THE CORONER'S COURT is still held as occasion arises and is presided over by the bailiff or coroner and there should be twelve jurymen appointed from twenty-four persons who are called. The proceedings of such a court held on the 5th October in the 36th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, may be mentioned as they caused considerable interest at the time owing to the position of the people implicated, and are thus recorded: -

Before William Snelling, coroner of our Lady the Queen within the liberty of her town of Cossam, on view of the body of Henry Long, Esq., there lying dead, on the oath of twelve men, presented that a certain Henry Danvers, late of Cirencester, Kt., and others not having the fear of God before their eyes, did on the 4th October, between the hours of 11 and 12 of the same day, at Cossam, with force of arms, viz., swords, &c., did assault the aforesaid Henry Long, and the aforesaid. Danvers voluntarily, feloniously, and of malice prepense, did discharge in and upon the said Long a certain engine called a dagge, worth 6/8, charged with powder and bullet of lead, which Danvers had in his right hand, and inflict a mortal wound upon the upper part of the body of Long, under the left breast, of which he instantly died, and that immediately after the felony they all fled. [Wilts. Arch. Mag. i. 320].

It is elsewhere recorded that:-

The said wilful murder was executed upon Henry Long, gent, sitting at his dinner in the company of Sir Walter Longe. Kt., his brother, Anthony Mildmay, Thomas Snell, Henry Smyth, Esquires, Justices of her Majesty's peace for the said county of Wilts; and divers other gents, at one Chamberlayne's house in Corsham, within the same county, by Sir Charles and Sir Henry Danvers, knights, and their followers to the number of seventeen or eighteen persons, in most riotous manner appointed for that most foul fact, on Friday, 4th October, 1594." [Wilt, Arch. Mag. i. 311].

Matters dealt with at the other courts are interesting: for fighting with weapons, if blood was drawn, the penalty was 9d. and the weapons were confiscated; ladies of unsound character were generally placed in the stocks and for a second offence were publicly whipped; other ladies who were too fond of using their tongue were placed in the cucking-stool and conveyed for immersion in the nearest pond, that at the top of Monks Lane being one of the usual places; drunkards were put in the stocks, sometimes for six hours; and for breaking down fences the culprits were whipped. On one occasion an inhabitant erected a cottage on less than ¼ acre of ground, contrary to the orders of the Court Leet, and he had promptly to pull it down again. No one was allowed to water horses or other cattle at any of the public wells in the parish. At one time it was ordered that no cottager was to make two fires at once in his house under a penalty of 40/-. [Court Books for Eliz and Jac. I].

The bailiff and tenants sometimes had trouble in maintaining their rights. In 1665 the exemption of tenants from sitting on juries outside the manor came before the high courts. One William Snelling, of Pickwick, had been summoned to attend on the jury of the assizes held at Warminster in that year, he refused to appear and was fined accordingly. It was shown that he held his lands, and none other in the county, of the manor of Corsham, and according to the custom of that manor should not have been summoned to the assizes, whereupon that being proved he was dismissed from the court and his fine returned. [Lett. pat. 28. xi. 20 C. II].

There was a great dispute in 1692, when Dame Dorothy Long held the lease of the lordship of the manor.

The bailiff, as he and his predecessors had always done, mowed the third part of Minty Mead, carried the hay and housed it for the lord, according to the grant of the Earl of Cornwall, and he incidentally made something out of the transaction, as he was perfectly entitled to do. Also it belonged to his office to keep the fairs and receive the profits, for which he and his predecessors paid the crown or the lord 20/- yearly.

The lady, wishing to claim what she considered her rights, insisted on the bailiff rendering an account of his profits for the mowing of Minty Mead and of the fairs, or she would appoint someone else. This demand, as it had not been the custom, he refused. The year following, the lady caused her servants to mow the mead, when, after they had finished and gone home, the bailiff entered the mead and carried off the hay, and as no one was there claimed that it was done in a peaceable manner. The matter was referred to counsel, who gave it as his opinion that the entry by the lady was unlawful, and that the removal by the bailiff was lawful, but that she cannot displace the bailiff; and if there is any further trouble he is advised not to go to club law. [Copy of opinion by Sergeant Darnel in possession of Mr. W. H. Barrett].


In 1285, Edmund, the son of Richard, Earl of Cornwall, procured from the king the privilege for the tenants of the manor of holding a weekly market on Friday, [Rot. Cart. 13 E.I. m. 32] but this was altered in 1302 to Thursday, by the request of Princess Mary. [Rot. Cart. 30 E.I. m. 31].

On the establishment of a market, if not before, a cross would be erected, and this stood in the open space at the west end of Church Street, which was apparently larger than it is now and included the area of the market hall, if not also that of the building between it and Prior's Lane.

The repair of this cross is mentioned more than once in the records of the courts, and in 1615 Johane Rolphe, widow, left in her will 40/- towards building a covering over the market cross for the benefit of the market. [Corsham Wills, 1615].

The shambles consisted of a pentise on the north side of the church house and the rents were received by the churchwardens for standing in the pentise. [Churchwardens' Accounts, 1624-1652].

The market cross was standing until 1776, when in the night time came John Dalmer and John Evans with others and pulled down the cross with violence and so damaged the materials that it could not be replaced. In consequence of which the feoffees, who had constantly repaired the cross, called a meeting of the parish to be held in the church, when it was decided that the steward of the manor should demand of Dalmer and Evans the sum of £30, as a satisfaction for the damage perpetrated by them, and expend that sum on the erection of some other building on or near the site of the cross for the same purpose. [Contemporary statement of the case in possession of Mr. W. H. Barrett]. In 1783 a new market hall was erected at the expense of Paul Methuen and was a spacious building having five open arches towards the street, with a pediment over the middle bearing the Methuen arms (Plate III. 2).

In 1815 it was suggested and approved by the vestry that the open arches be closed up and the interior fitted as a Sunday school: an indignation meeting was then held at which it was resolved that,

The market house be not inclosed, forasmuch as it would not only be greatly detrimental to the interest of the parish, but illegal as every person is undoubtedly entitled to the use of the said market house for exposing his commodities and wares to public sale, under the charter granted in the thirteenth year of King Edward I. for a weekly market on Wednesday. [Vestry Minute Book I. The charter of 13 E. I., says the market was, to be on Friday and this was altered to Thursday, but when it was again altered to Wednesday is not known].

The market gradually fell into disuse and the hall was only occupied by a few permanent stalls. In 1882 the building was raised a story to form the present town-hall; but the old arches, though filled in, were left standing and the old cornice, pediment and coat of arms were re-fixed at a higher level.

The southernmost arch of the market contained the blind-house or lock-up and its little window of two lights still remains in the south wall. The stocks stood immediately outside [These are shown in an old print (Plate III. 2) and disappeared apparently when the new hall was erected.


Fairs were formerly held on the 8th March and the 11th September and as no licence for their institution has been met with they were probably of very early origin.

The autumn fair is mentioned in the inquisition taken after the death of Earl Edmund in 1300, as certain fairs in the feast of St. Bartholomew and they are worth (to the lord) 40s. St. Bartholomew's day is the 24th August and after the change of the kalendar in 1751 the fair continued to be held on old St. Bartholomew's day, eleven days after the new reckoning. The village revel was usually held on the day of the patron saint of the church, so this autumn fair was the successor of the revel of earlier days. This fair was done away with in the last century, and in consequence of the March fair becoming little more than a circus it was abolished about 1895.


As already stated there is in Corsham a second manor known as the rectory manor, which embraces the two hides of land which were returned at Domesday as belonging to St. Stephen's abbey, at Caen; but subsequently given by King Henry I. to the abbey of Marmoutier by Tours. [Rot. Pat. 10 E. III. p. 2, m. 80., Inspeximus].

This manor was valued at 40 marks and as it belonged to an alien house in France it was liable to be seized by the king when at war with that country. During these times the property was put out at farm and the king should have received the rent. In consequence of none being received for some years there was a law suit in 1344-45 between the king and the prior of Tickford, in Buckinghamshire, who claimed the church of Corsham as part of his priory; but as the prior only paid 50 marks for the farm of his priory it was obvious that the claim could not be established. [Rot. Claus. 19 E. III. p. 1, m. 17]. The result was that the prior should be allowed to hold the church of Corsham if he paid up the arrears and 40 marks for it yearly in future. [Rot. Claus. 19 E. III. p.1, m 6].

In 1408 the rectory manor, during the war with France, as well as the king's manor, were given in dower to Queen Joan. [Rot. Pat. 9 H. IV. p.2, m. 15].

In the second year of the reign of king Henry V. all alien possessions were given into the king's hand by act of parliament [Mon. Ang. VI 986]: but as the rectory manor was of the dower of the queen it could not be claimed by the crown until after her death. However the reversion was given by the king to his newly founded abbey of St. Saviour and St. Bridget of Syon, in Middlesex [Rot. Cart. 2 H V. p 2, m. 28]: but in spite of this, king Henry VI. granted the church to his newly founded college of St. Nicholas, in Cambridge, [Rot. Pat. 20 H. VI. p. 4, m. 3], though Syon had actually come into possession on the death of the queen in 1437. [Rot. Pat. 16 H. VI. p. 2, m. 14]. After considerable dispute the college relinquished all claim to the property, [Rot Claus. 1 E. IV and Rot. Pat. 1. E. IV. p 5, m.14] which remained in the hands of Syon till the suppression of that monastery in 1538, when the rectory manor again reverted to the king.

In 1572 the queen separated the advowson of the living from the Rectory and gave it to Sir Christopher Hatton, [Lett. pat. 12. vij. 14 Eliz] after which it passed with the demesne property until it came into the hands of Paul Methuen, in 1745, and has since remained in the hands of his successors.

The rectory had a different story: at the suppression it remained in the hands of Richard Bellott, the farmer of the manor under the abbess of Syon, who held it in lease for a term of years and left house-room in the manor-house or parsonage for his wife, Alice, "during the terme of the lease thereof." [Corsham Wills, 1558].

A fresh lease was made by the queen with Bellott's son-in. law, John Smyth, who died about 1570. [P.C.C. Syon, 36]. It is next found included in the property of Henry myth, nephew of John, and was then stated to be held "of her Majestic by lease of one life, who is now about 38 years of age, and 50 years in reversion after that life at the yearly rent of £26 13s. 4d." [Survey of Henry Smyth's Lands, v.p. 516, ante].

Though the term of this lease had not expired, it was granted in 1608 to two men who were, presumably, mortgagees for the Smith family, [Lett.pat. 8. xj. 1608, to Francis Phelipps and Richard Moore] and it actually came into the hands of Thomas Smith, the son of Henry, in 1626. It was divided on the death of Richard, the grandson of Thomas, in 1685, between his two sisters, Letitia and Dorothy.

These two ladies, though both married, left no issue, and demised their shares to their half- brother, George Downes; after whose death, in 1738, the Rectory manor was sold to Robert Neale, of Corsham. [Abstract of title of Rectory Manor, in possession of the lay rector]. It remained in the Neale family until 1857, when it was again sold and was bought by Mr., afterwards Sir, Gabriel Goldney, and is now in the possession of Mrs.Harold Robinson.

The rectory manor had a bailiff of its own whose office was to take surrenders of the tenants of that manor and perform all other offices that belonged to a court baron and nothing else. The customs of the rectory, tenants were the same as those of the king's manor, and they owed their suit and service at the king's court, and were eligible for all the offices of that manor. [Document in possession of Mr. W. H. Barrett]. In the rectory manor were twelve yards land.

In connection with the rectory manor was a house known as the parsonage, which was of considerable size, and was equally divided to form separate residences for the co-heiresses of Richard Smith in 1701. [Abstract of title of Rectory Manor and in possession of the lay rector]. This house was sold by Robert Neale in 1776 to one Henry Pullen or Pulleine, of Bath, who immediately pulled down the old house and erected the present house, called "the Priory," in its stead. [Title deeds of "the Priory" in possession of the Lord Methuen]. This was bought by the second Lord Methuen in 1851.

In consequence of the church of Corsham being given to a foreign abbey, it has been stated by even such authorities as Tanner and Dugdale that there was one, if not two, alien priories at Corsham. There were certainly men of Marmoutiers here in 1244, [Rot. Pat. 21. H. III. m. 9] and the leader called himself prior of Corsham, [Grant of manor by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, v.p. 512, ante] but it was in no sense a regular priory or cell. After the alien possessions were taken into the king's hand in 1294 there were not even men of Marmoutier at Corsham.

The statement that there was a nunnery on the site of the Methuen Arms has even less foundation in fact, and may be dismissed as pure imagination.


Had there been no mention of a church in Domesday Book the building itself clearly shows that there was a Saxon church on this site, by the narrowness of the nave, the thinness of the walls, and the fact that the walls of the tower, before it was destroyed, were no thicker than those of the nave.

In Norman days aisles were added to the nave, and the church was lengthened westward by the addition of another bay. At the end of the twelfth century a new chancel seems to have been built, larger transepts were erected, and the second stage of the tower was either added or re-built.

In the thirteenth century the special veneration of our Lady became general, and even the smallest churches had new chapels erected in her honour. At Corsham such a chapel was built at this time on the north side of the chancel, and a little window that was originally in its west gable, still shows at the end of the north aisle

In the early years of the fourteenth century a large north aisle was added, in place of the narrow Norman one, and this was extended eastward to include the site of the north transept. The old Norman north doorway was re-set in the new wall. The windows of this aisle are so like the clerestory windows in the abbey church of Malmesbury that they must have been wrought by the same masons. Quite at the end of the century the south aisle was re-built and the tower was raised another story.

In the fifteenth century there were no fewer than five different sections of building operations. The first was the insertion of the present window in the west gable with the curious little turret to the south. The second was the Lady chapel (Plate V.I), re-built by Thomas Tropenell, of Chalfield and Neston. He erected a magnificent altar tomb (Plate V. 2) therein during his lifetime to receive the remains of himself and his wife; he endowed the chapel with a charge of ten marks on his estate, two oxen, and two cows, [These charges were willed 19th December, 1514, by Ann, the widow of Christopher Tropenell, the son of Thomas, to be maintained by her executors.(P.C.C. Holder, 36) to maintain a priest to celebrate therein as long as the bones of himself and Margaret his wife should rest there; also he left for the chapel three suits of vestments, a silver gilt pax, two silver candlesticks, a silver chalice, two sets of silk altar cloths, a missal bound in red leather, and a breviary. [P.C C., Milles, 7]. The third work was the lengthening of the chancel one bay to the east. The fourth work was the building of a large chapel, on the south side of the chancel, embracing the area of the south transept; and the fifth work was the erection of the present south porch in place of an older one.

When these works were completed the church consisted of a Lady chapel, a south chapel including the area of the south transept, a central tower and spire, a nave with aisles, of which that on the north included the area of the north transept, and a south porch (Plate IV. 1 and 2).

In 16313 [Date on the staircase] Dame Margaret Hungerford, the founder of the almshouses, added a gallery in the south aisle, to light which two dormers were inserted in the roof and a staircase of access embellished with the arms of her family, was added on the east side of the porch.

In 1810 the steeple was pronounced to be in a most dangerous and dilapid-ated state and the upper part was taken down.

In 1813 a committee was appointed to consider the best means of repairing and improving the church and reported that as the necessary repairs could not be done for less than £2,500 they recommended the acceptance of an offer made by Mr. Methuen to erect a new church.

Two years later the remains of the spire were taken down, buttresses were erected to the north wall, a gallery was put in the north aisle, and one of the columns on either side of the church was removed, throwing two arches into one, to obtain a better view from the galleries.

In 1848 it was stated that the accommodation in the present church was insufficient for the parish and that suitable accommodation could only be obtained by the erection of a new church. Fortunately it was found impracticable to raise the necessary funds "seeing that the fabric of the ancient parish church is not ruinous or sufficiently unsound"; after which it was proposed to remove the central tower and do other works. The removal of the central tower was then abandoned and considerable opposition was made to the re-seating and removal of a gallery but this was overcome by a visit, from the chancellor who granted a faculty in 1851 for re-seating the church and removal of the gallery over the pulpit. [Vestry Minute Books of the various dates].

In 1874 the church underwent the process called restoration; it was no doubt sadly in need of repair and the whole building was filled with galleries, some of them very unsightly; but in addition to doing what was necessary, the central tower, which had been threatened before, was taken down and a new one was erected on the south side of the church, and the Methuen pew was built on the north side.

THE CONSISTORY. At the east end of the south chapel is a small room of the same date as the chapel itself; now used as a vestry, and over it is a gallery with a richly decorated front, approached by a circular stair. This was where, the consistory court of the vicar was held. A consistory, or peculiar, was a privilege conferred on very few places, and nothing is known of the origin of this at Corsham, but it was under the concurrent jurisdiction of the bishop of Salisbury and the archdeacon of Wilts. [Arch. Journal.,lvj. 115]. The advantages of possessing a peculiar were, the exemption from visitation and consequent fees for the archdeacon, the power of testamentary and sometimes of matrimonial jurisdiction; so that the vicar was virtually a bishop in his own parish.

Peculiars were abolished in 1857, and at that time there was a book of wills at Corsham, dating from 1712, which was sent to Salisbury, and is now at Somerset House with the other wills from Salisbury. In connection with the peculiar the vicar of Corsham possessed a seal, and that last used was oval in shape with the device of three budding trees in the middle and a legend round the edge of ANTIQUA ECCLESIA DE CORSHAM; it was apparently made for Latimer Crosse, who was vicar from 1713-19. [There was an older seal of somewhat similar character, but only imperfect impressions have been met with, which was used by Humphrey Paget (1587-1638), and as the earliest extant will proved in this court is dated 27. ix 1462 there must have been still earlier seals].

REGISTERS. The registers of births, marriages, and deaths, have been regularly kept since 1563 and are contained in 15 volumes. up to 1851. In one is a register of pews, beginning in 1710, from which it appears that the pews were bought and sold, made and repaired, as copyhold property, with the consent of the vicar and churchwardens who always witnessed the sale.

CHAINED BOOKS. There are still two chained books belonging to the church, which were ordered by the archbishop in 1602 to be set up in churches; they are both bound alike in stamped leather and still retain their original chains whereby they were fixed to desks for the laity to read. One is Bishop Jewell's works published in 1611, and the other is the third volume of Foxe's Book of Martyrs, of the edition of 1631-32.

CHURCH CHEST. The church chest of the seventeenth century has recently been replaced in the church; it is made of oak planks, some of which are 4in. thick, and bound together with iron straps. It had three locks, one of the keys of which was kept by the vicar and the others by the churchwardens; one lock has been cut out which shows that the key was lost on some occasion when it was urgent to open the chest.

CHURCH PLATE. There is a number of pieces of church plate but none is very ancient, and the only piece of any archæological interest is a silver paten, 8½in, in diameter, of the date 1719, given by the vicar, Latimer Crosse.

THE BELLS. The earliest reference to the bells is in an inventory of church goods made in the first year of King Edward VI. when there were five.

The 4th bell was re-cast at Potterne in 1608 and the casting was witnessed by the churchwardens.

The tenor bell was re-cast in 1611 and the rest were apparently re-hung on a new frame. The bellhanger and Thomas Moxham, the smith, were each paid 44s., from which it is not unreasonable to suppose that this bell was re-cast at Corsham by Moxham.

In 1752 the six bells were out of repair and a contract was entered into with James Burrows, of Devizes, to re-cast them but this was so badly, done that they had to be again re-cast. A fresh contract was made with Thomas Bilbee, of Chewstoke, for £50, the bells having to be delivered to him and brought back again by the churchwardens. [Churchwardens' accounts for the respective years. VOL. XLIII.-NO. CXLYI.]

The 6th, 4th, 3rd, and 1st of this ring still remain. The 5th bell was re-cast by James Wells, of Aldbourne, in 1820 and it and the 2nd bell were re-cast again in 1902.


In former days the vestry was an important institution in a parish, every parishioner had a right to attend the meetings: it was presided over by the vicar, the churchwardens were his executive, and there was a clerk to keep the records. The existing minute books at Corsham do not begin until 1794, but even these show the importance of the matters that had to be dealt with; which, in addition to those connected with the church, were virtually what the district council and board of guardians now have to transact.

The meetings began in the vestry of the church and were usually adourned to the "Pack Horse" inn, which seems formerly to have been the church house, [The Pack Horse, now adjoining the Town Hall, is in the rectory manor. The church house was near the market cross (Ch. wdns. acc. 1638) and 8d.a year was paid to the king's manor in connexion with the church house for new rent which was obviously for the encroachment of the pentise, already referred to, on the lord's waste], wherein the church ales and other parochial meetings were wont to be held.

All the roads in the parish, not governed by the turnpike trusts, were in the charge of the vestry, who appointed a surveyor to look after them, and in 1831 a foreman was appointed at a wage of 10s. a week, the labourers with children received 7s. a week, and single men 5s.

There was a public fire engine as early as 1810 when it was ordered to be taken out and used at least once in three months.

The whole charge of the poor was in the hands of the vestry, as was also the poor house. The vestry had the power to levy rates for the relief of the poor, the maintenance of the highways and for the upkeep of the church.

It is not known when the paupers were first housed in a poor-house; but it: 1728 [Rectory court book of that date] a new poor-house or workhouse was provided at a cost of over £400 by converting four cottages on the east side of the High Street to that purpose. This house was used until 1836 when "it appeared expedient hat a new workhouse for the Chippenham Union should be built in a airy situation in preference to purchasing those at Corsham and Lacock" and the old poorhouse was then transformed back again into cottages. [These stand at right angles to the street on the south side of the" Royal Oak" hotel and still retain an ornamental gable that was put up when they were made into the poor-house (Plate VI. 1.). They are the successors of a house belonging to 1½ virgates of land in the rectory manor and were parcel of the original endowment of the feoffee charity

The price of bread was apparently fixed by the vestry, and this varied from 8½ to 7½ lbs. for a shilling, but in 1795 owing to the scarcity of wheat it was admissible to admix one third part of barley.

The care of the poor was farmed out to a contractor but this abuse was done away with about 1798. The poor-house children when old enough were put out to a trade. In 1799 it was resolved that the poor in the poor house shall be employed in spinning and weaving, and the year following a master and mistress of the poor-house were appointed at £12 a year, and were to receive 2d. out of every shilling of the earnings of the inmates.

In 1832 a sum of £200 was ordered to be borrowed for helping paupers to emigrate and 16 men, 10 women, and 27 children were selected for assistance. They were conveyed to Bristol in two covered waggons where someone was appointed to meet them, purchase any small things they required, and see them safely on board their ship. [Vestry minute books of the respective dates].

Considering the former prosperity of Corsham there are very few charities in connection with the church; but there are some, and one is an important one.

FEOFFEE. This latter is known as the Feoffee charity or our Lady's lands. The origin of the endowment is not known, but in the survey of chantries in 1549 it is recited that it consisted of Landis gyven by ffeoffmente to the ffynding of a preeste within the parishe churche of Cosseham for ever, that William Lewys of the age of 1x yeres stypendarye. The rents of the tenauntis ...yerely to be paid iiij". xxd where of reprized for an yerely rent goynge out of the premisses to the quenes manor of Cosseham vij.s viijd and so remaynyth clere, lxxiiijs. jd.

Memorandum, the said Incumbent is a verey honest man, albeit not able to serve a cure by reason of his age, and furthermore a verey poore man and bath none other lyvinge be syde the said chauntrie.

Also the sayd parisshe of Cosseham is a great parisshe wherein be Dlxvij people which receyve the blessed Communion and no preeste beside the vicar to help in administracon of the sacramentis savinge the said stypendary preeste; which landes were gyven for that intente bicause the vicarage is so small a lyvinge that he is not able to hyrea preeste to help hym.[P.R.O. Chantry Certs. Wilts 58, No. 44.].

In consequence of the peculiar manner in which the endowment was held it could not be claimed by the crown as that of an ordinary chantry and in consequence a commission was appointed, when it was found that the lands were copyhold of the two manors and that the revenue was spent "to suche uses and intentes as they thought most convenyent for the welth of the said parisshe and not to the fynding of any priest."

It was therefore ordered that "his maiesties hand shalbe removed from the possession of the said messuages, landes, tenementes, and other premises ontill better matter shalbe shewed in the said Courte of the Kynges highnes in that behalfe." [Lett. pat. 10. v. 8 E. VI].

This was inspected and confirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1571, [Lett. pat. 10. v. 13 Eliz.] but in spite of this she tried to dispose of the property in one of her generous grants in 1574, [Lett. Pat. 22. ix. 17 Eliz] but as the tenants of the feoffees refused to move an action was brought against them, when it was found that the queen had no power to demise the property. [Lett. pat. 1. vij. 18 Eliz]. From that time the feoffees have been left in possession but they took care in all subsequent surrenders of the premises to specify that the use of the income was for the repair of the church and the implements thereof, the relief of the poor, and the repair of decayed bridges in the liberty.

In 1894 the charity was taken out of the hands of the feoffees and vested in the parish council, which has to pay one third of the income to the vicar and churchwardens for the repair of the church. [Charities Report, 1904. 15, 16].

MRS. ROLPH'S CHARITY. Mrs. Johan Rolphe, widow, made her will in 1615, and left the sum of £10 to the overseers of the poor of the parish of Cosham "to remayne for evermore whole in a stoke...for the benefitte of the poore" [Corsham Wills, 1615]. This gift was confirmed by an indenture between the overseers and churchwardens and their successors in those offices, [Indenture in parish chest dated 13. iv. 16 Jac I] but has long since been lost sight of.

WILLIAM MOXHAM'S CHARITY. William Moxham, of Corsham, yeoman, left in his will in 1621 "the sum of ten powndes of lawfull English money to remayne in stocke for ever in the bands of the churchwardens of Corsham and in the hands of the overseers of the poore of the same pariche by them and by their successors successively from yeare to yeare to be kept and to bee duely imployed to the best use of the poore of the same parishe for ever." [Corsham Wills, 1621]. This charity has also disappeared

.KIRBY'S CHARITY. Richard Kirby bequeathed in his will 9. viii. 1672, the unexpired term in a public house in Dublin, after the death of his brother and his heirs, to the intent that the rent thereof should be laid out in purchasing lands in Corsham and that the profits of those lands should be divided between eight decayed poor of the parish of Corsham as Sir Edward Hungerford, the bailiff of Corsham, and others should deem fit. [Charities Report, 1904. 5].

LADY JAMES CHARITY. Dame Ann James, who was a co-heiress of Edward Goddard, of Hartham, by her will dated 16, vi. 1798, bequeathed £1000 to the poor of Corsham, Pickwick, and Biddestone, but the execution of her will not being completed until 1815, the interest had amounted to £590. This sum with the capital was paid into the bank in the name of the accountant-general in trust and the interest was to be applied by the vicars, churchwardens, and overseers of the parishes of Corsham and Biddestone in purchasing coal to be distributed to the poor of those parishes. [Ibid, p, 3].

THE ALMSHOUSES. Dame Margaret, the widow of Sir Edward Hunger-ford, the owner of the Corsham House property at the Rebellion, purchased land at the town's end [Court Book, 19. iii. 1665] and erected thereon a free school and almshouse, which was finished in 1668: she willed that from her estate of Stanton St.Quintin there shall be paid each year the sum of £20 for the master of her school, the sum of £30 to the six poor people in her almshouse, and a further sum of £10 out of which gowns for the poor people should be found and the remainder kept in stock for the repair of the premises.

She made 45 orders for the government of the foundation some of which are interesting.

The poor people had to lay in a stock of fuel at Michaelmas; they were to have three yards of broadcloth each third year for a gown, on the left sleeve whereof each should have sewn a silver badge with the crest of the foundress; that they should, if able, constantly attend church, twice on Sundays and on week days whenever there should be a lecture; they should receive the Holy Communion three times a year at least, and for every such default, save by sickness, should forfeit 12d; they should come to church together in their gowns and sit in the place appointed; that they be present twice every week day at prayers in the schoolroom; that they must at their own costs amend windows, casements, doors, locks, and chimneys and everything belonging to their part, and that they weed their own gardens and help cleanse what was common. That the two women in the west (?east) end of the almshouse should attend any sick person from Corsham House, and that the woman next the school house should be at the command of the master, and that the house, where Jane Angle then lived should be for a man and his wife, which man should make clean the free-school and they were to be each rewarded for these respective services. That if any of the poor people have any income or pension falling to them to the value of £5 a year or more they should remove from the almshouse.

That the schoolmaster should go to church with the poor people and see that they go and return together; that he should visit the poor people in their sickness, and when his leisure should best permit instruct them in religion, especially in the articles of the Christian faith, the Lord's Prayer, and the Commandments, and exhort them to live holily and righteously. Also that in consideration of the yearly stipend he should, during the life of the foundress, teach so many scholars without any salary as she should recommend, and after her death 10 poor children; that he keep in repair at his own cost the windows, casements, doors, and chimneys, to all housing allotted to his use; that he should twice a year, at Lady Day and Mlichaelmas, in the chapel of the schoolhouse read over these ordinances in the presence of the poor people. [Charities' Report, 1904, p. 1,2]

The first master was the vicar, Edward Wells, as recorded on his monument in the church.

The buildings (Plate VI. 2), except for a re-arrangement of the master's house in the eighteenth century, remain virtually as Dame Margaret built them. They are in the form of the letter L, of which the long stroke is to the north, and contains six houses, and the short stroke to the west contains the master's house and the free-school. The house is entered through a stone porch, on the front of which is a fine achievement of the lady's arms and beneath is an inscription recording the foundation as follows :-

1668. This freeschoole and almshouse was founded and endowed by the Lady Margaret Hungerford relict of Sr Edwd Hungerford Knt of the Honble order of the Bath Daughter and Coheire of Willm Halliday Alderman of London and Susan his wife Daughter of Sr. Henry Row Knt and Alderman and Lord Major (sic) of London.
The inscription and arms are repeated in the middle of the north front. There is a detached building to the south of the school for stabling and offices, and now used as the parish room.

In the Charity Report of 1834 it was stated that no boys had been taught in the school for 40 years, but that the master at that time was willing to teach 10 children which were to be appointed according to the regulations. [Charities Report, 1904, p. 3.]. This was apparently not done and the charity was conducted in an irregular way until 1894, when a new scheme was formed by the Charity Commissioners and the master's stipend was to be paid in awards to children in the elementary schools of the parish.


In a large parish, like Corsham, it is usual to find one or more chapels, either of a private nature or chapels of ease to the parish church, and though none has left any remains above ground there is documentary evidence of three of the former and one of the latter in Corsham.

PAVESHOU. At Domesday there was a church at Paveshou, which adjoined the manor, held by Edgar, a Saxon, and his father before him, and it was worth 6/-[Dom. Wilts 11]. This was obviously a church and not a chapel in connection with a private house. Its site has not been identified, but it was probably at Pittars, or St. Peter's Farm, now in the modern parish of Pewsham.

ST. JOHN'S CHAPEL. In 1428 there was a chapel of St. John Baptist attached to a holding of 1½ virgates in Gastard tithing, which was surrendered in 1453 to Thomas Tropenell, of Neston, who re-surrendered the land, but kept the chapel with a close of one acre. [Tropenell Cartulary, i. 22.]. He seems to have restored it to its proper use and it remained in the hands of his successors until 1637, though it had doubtlessly been desecrated many years before. In that year it was surrendered by Sir William Eyre to one Walter Helps who converted it into cottages, [Court Book]. It was at the top of Velly Hill.

THE PARSONAGE. There was a chapel in the Rectory manor house or Parsonage, as "the chapel-end" and "the two chapel chambers" are mentioned in the division of that house in 1701. [Rectory Manor Deeds].

CORSHAM HOUSE. There was also a chapel in the old house which preceeded the present Corsham House, which is referred to in the inquisition of 1562, [Vide p. 516 ante] when its walls were standing though shorn of their freestone.


At Domesday, as already shown, there were two mills in the manor worth 8/6, and in 1300 these mills are again referred to as two water mills worth 106s. 8d. by the year, but are at farm in the hands of the tenants but the lord shall find the large timber for the repair of the same. [I.P.M. Wilts (1908) 263].

In the middle of the 18th century it is stated that there were evidences of a mill on Lodbrook water, near Thingley Bridge, and if this was the case it was doubtless the site of one of the Domesday mills. This mill was apparently taken down in the time of King Edward III., when one Bettering, of Thingley, is stated to have made Byde mill or Betterings mill on his own ground, [Tropenell Cartulary, i. 29] and it is obvious that this brook could not have served two mills. The new mill was claimed by the king and remained in the hands of the crown until the time of King James I. when he granted the water mill with all its appurtenances in Corsham parish to Edward Ferris and Francis Phelips, of London, subject to the yearly rent of 26s 8d. [Lett. Pat. 30. ix. 1609]. In the 18th century Bide mill was surrendered as ordinary copyhold land.

The site of the second mill is difficult to trace -and it must have disappeared at an early date. There are still indications of a mill leet behind the house of what is now called Court Farm, at Thingley, which may mark its site.

The farm at the extreme north-east angle of the parish bears the name of Millbourne, which suggests that a mill stood at some time on Pudding brook which flows past this farm.


One of the most interesting features in Corsham at the present time is the number of old houses distributed over the parish; but before considering the reason of these it will be necessary to go back to Saxon times.

It has already been stated that to the Saxons we owe most of our country institutions, the feudal tenure of land, and the divisions of manors, hundreds, and counties. Counties were alluded to in the laws of King Ina (701), and hundreds are of even earlier origin as the names of the majority of those in Wiltshire show that the hundred court was held at some specified place which was not even a village. The ancient town of Malmebury was originally in two hundreds which is hardly likely to have occurred if the town was in existence when the hundreds were formed. Manors, though the actual name is French, certainly existed long before the Conquest with their attendant courts. A manor consisted of three types of land, demesne lands held by the lord, enclosed lands, and common lands.

Land measures are also of Saxon origin, and manors were generally computed in hides, thus at Corsham were 34 hides of which 11 hides were in demesne. A hide varied in extent apparently in consequence of the nature of the land; but may be reckoned for practical purposes at about 128 acres. The enclosed lands held by the tenants were computed in virgates or yards land, one yard land being ¼ hide; and cotsettles, one cotsettle being ¼ virgate.

These enclosed lands were held at Domesday by villans who were later called virgators from the nature of their holding; and cosets who similarly became cotsettlors. Both classes were free tenants holding their lands of the lord by customary services. [At Domesday was a third class called cottars who were said to have held from the lord as a loan for life; but there were only nine of these in Corsham and they do not appear later].

At Corsham at Domesday were 65 villans and 48 coscets, [Dom. Wilts. 11] and these occur again in 1300 as 62 virgates of land of villanage in Corsham and 9 virgators likewise of villanage in Stratton, and there were also 46 customars who were apparently the same as the coscets. [I.P.M. Wilts. Ed. I. 264].

About 1600 there were in the king's manor, excluding Stratton, 70 virgates of land but no return was made of the cotsettle holdings except 32½ cotsettles belonging to our Lady's lands. [Roll of the customs of the Manor c. 1608, in possession of Sir F. H Goldney, Bt.].

The first list of lords' rents that remains (1649) [P.R.O. Parl Surveys, Wilts 35] shows that there were 111 customary tenants in Corsham and 9 in Stratton, but the villans and coscets were not definitely separated, though by calculation the respective numbers agree very close1y with the Domesday survey.

The land reckoned in virgates and cotsettles in Corsham did not include all the common lands but were distinct if not actually enclosed holdings in themselves and each had a house which was called a headhold.

The surrender of any part of a holding was allowed, but until the house itself was disposed of the headhold remained nominally intact and was computed for the purpose of fines and heriots at its original land value. [Customs of the Manor].

Certain headholds were grouped together to form tithings, these at first should have, as the name implies, contained ten holdings; but the list of lords' rents referred to above shows that the number of headholds and virgates varied considerably in the various tithings. The formation of tithings was obviously for the purpose of mutual protection and most of the headholds in the respective tithings, besides being adjacent to each other, were usually along the line of ancient roads.

A great number of these headholds has been swept away and even the sites of some cannot be identified. On the other hand a number remains and it is interesting to remember that in these cases the spot where they stand has been the site of a human habitation for over a thousand years. In spite of the antiquity of the site of the house in only some half-dozen cases is any building remaining earlier than the seventeenth century, which is apparently due to the prosperity of the district, consequent upon the wool trade, which enabled their respective owners to build new houses from time to time as the mode of living changed.

Some of the most important of these headholds which are still represented by houses on their site are:-


WINTERS' COURT. Belonging to one yard land, was from the early years of the fifteenth century in the hands of the Nott family, who also owned other property in the parish. Edward Nott died in 1732, when it went to his sister Elizabeth, the widow of one Webber, who was succeeded about 1771 by her daughter Christian, after whose death it was surrendered to Paul Methuen in 1779. It was a public house in 1608, and known as the Red lion in 1637. The old medieval house was standing in 1805 [Buckler Collection, Devizes Museum] (PlateVII.), but must have been taken down shortly after to make way for the present Methuen Arms Hotel.

TEDBURYS. The northernmost house on the east side of the High Street belonged to ½ yard land, which was owned by a family of Humphrey in1560, whose heiress married (1) Philip Smyth, of Thingley, (2) William Hancorne, and (3) William Tedbury. The Tedburys began to build the present house in 1632, when it was presented that William Tedbury had encroached on the lord's waste and over the street by making part of his house further out than he had the right to do, which encroachment was obviously made by the two bay windows (Plate VIII. I). His builder was one William Bollen, who lived in a house in Church Street, now removed. Widow Tedbury died after 1647, when the property passed to John Wallis, who received the surrender in reversion some years before. It was afterwards sold to Richard Fowell, the vicar, in 1735, and was bought from his descendents by Paul Methuen in 1777.

BOLTONS. On the opposite side of the street is the oldest house now remaining in Corsham tithing, and dates from the fifteenth century. It belonged to ½ yard land which at the end of the reign of King Henry VIII was owned by a family of Bolton, otherwise Tomson, who were in possession till 1597, when it was surrendered to Lawrence Kington, who in 1606 surrendered it to William .Moxham, in whose family it remained till it passed through a daughter to John Wilshire, after whose death it went to Grace Hampton, widow, a daughter of his sister, and in 1762 her son sold it to Paul Methuen.


PICKWICK FARM. This holding contained one virgate of land, the house of which has for many years been called the "Manor House," and contains some work of the fourteenth century. In the early days of Queen Elizabeth it was in the hands of one or the branches of the Keynes family; they seem to have got into financial difficulties and surrendered the house in 1639 to William Wastfield. His family came to Corsham in the latter years of Queen Elizabeth and gradually acquired a considerable estate in the manor.

The present house appears to have been built by the first William Wastfield, after the Restoration, and is on a more ambitious scale than most of the virgate houses (Plate VIII. 2). The second William built the dining room block in 1711. The property remained with the Wastfields until about1774 when it was surrendered to Robert Neale, of Corsham, in whose family it remained until recent times, when after a series of short tenures it now belongs to Mrs. Harold Brakspear. There are remains of a square dove house in the garden, which was in existence in 1637.

LEYCETERS. This holding also contained one yard land and was held by a family of Leyceter until 1614 when it was surrendered to the Sadlers who held it till 1611; when, after sundry surrenders, it came in 1691 into the hands of Edward Bayly, at whose death a survey was made of his property whereon is a sketch of the house as it then appeared (Plate IX.1). It afterwards passed to Thomas Bennett and the Rev. John Law Willis, who pulled down the old house and erected the present one further to the west (1794-1799). It then passed through various hands and now belongs to Sir Frederick H. Goldney, Bt.

SNELLINGS. This holding of one yard land and another in Easton of one and a. half yards land belonged to a family of Snelling. They appear to have lost money and all the estate was dispersed. This house was surrendered in 1678 to Edward Bayley and is also shown on the survey of his lands, from which it would seem that the house was rebuilt by him (Plate IX. 2). [Map on vellum in possession of Mr. W. H. Barratt]. The facade now remains at the back of the house now erroneously called" Guyers." It passed to the Bennetts and was surrendered to the Dickinsons and was parcel of the Hartham estate until bought a few years ago by Captain Handford.


MONKS. The estate now called Monks is formed of six ancient head holds, namely the virgates of Monks, Boys, Goods, and Snippets, and the half virgates of Capps and Whores. In 1357 Monks belonged to a family of hat name, it was surrendered to Thomas Tropenell, of Neston, in 463, [Trap. Cart. I. 49] passed to his descendents, the Eyres, whose representatives surrendered it in 1616 to John Danvers, of Sherston parva, who bought Snippets in1600; in whose family both holdings remained till 1711, when they were surrendered to Caleb Dickinson, and were in 1865 bought by Mr. Gabriel Goldney. The present house was erected by the Dickinsons about 1780.


EASTON COURT. The holding, now called Easton Court Farm, consists of two and a half virgates formed of three ancient headholds, Brays, Thurstons, and Osbornes. It was in the hands of a family of Hulbert in the early years of Queen Elizabeth and remained with the same family till 1800 when it was surrendered to Thomas Bruges. It afterwards belonged to Walter Long, Esq, and was bought by the late Lord Methuen. The house has a fifteenth century chimney and apparently an open timber roof of the same date over the hall. There is a cross wing at the higher end of the hall of the sixteenth century (Plate X. 1).

WESTROP. The house of this holding is of the seventeenth century, and has three good fireplaces of that date; it belonged to two virgates of land owned by a family of Balden or Baldwyn from the early years of Queen Elizabeth to 1689. It was surrendered shortly after to William Guy in whose family it remained until the beginning of the last century and now belongs to Lord Methuen.


NESTON. This estate was built up by Thomas Tropenell (1436-1461) by the acquisition of various old headholds that adjoined one another, namely, Eyres in Neston and 1 virgate, Colyns and ½ virgate, Deraunts and ½ virgate, Coppys and ½ cotsettle and Comyns and ½ cotsettle. He also acquired sundry closes adjoining. [Trop. Cart, I. 5-28]. This estate passed by his great grand-daughter, Anne, to the Eyres and remained in that family till 1692, when it passed with their heiress, Jane, to the Hanhams who held it until 1790 when SirWilliam Hanham surrendered it to trustees who sold it to John Fuller.

Tropenell built a new house at Neston between 1442 and 1453, [Ibid I. 12] and Wm. Eyre in 1675 removed certain coats of arms of stained glass from the Lady chapel in Corsham church to the windows of the great parlour. [Wilts Coll. 81]. Before1680 150 acres were walled round to form a park. The present house was built by John Fuller shortly after he acquired the property.

JAGGARDS. This interesting house belongs to a holding of two virgates and has the distinction of having the earliest extant reference to it of any of the ancient holdings, namely, at an inquisition at Chippenham on Monday after the feast of Holy Cross, 1340, it was found that "it would be no damage to the king or any others to allow Cicely who was wife of Andrew le Goude to enfeoff Henry of Cosham with one messuage and two virgates of land, six acres of meadow, and five acres of wood in Cosham. The premises being held of the King as of the manor of Cosham by service of paying 14s. 5d. yearly to that manor." [I,P.M. Ed. III. 141]. The property referred to is identified by the rent or 14s. 5d. which is that payable by the holder of the two virgates now called Jaggards.

In the early days of Queen Elizabeth the premises belonged to the family of Kyneton or Kington and remained with them till 1766 when it passed to a distant relative Jane, wife of John Shore, of Warminster, from whom it went to the Leirs and was sold in 1866 to John Bird Fuller.

Part of the house contains a Tudor wing but the main block was built by Richard Kington (1641-1680) as is shown by the initials R. K. and I. K.,1657, on the fireplace in the drawing room (Plate X. 2). There is a large square dovehouse in the grounds.

LYPYATE. The holding now called Great Lypyate contained one virgate of land, and was in the hands of the Hancock family in the fifteenth century with whom it remained till 1764 when it was surrendered to Paul Methuen. The house is mostly of the seventeenth century and contains a contemporary staircase.

The holding now called Little Lypyate also contained one virgate of land; from the beginning of the fourteenth century it was in the hands of a family who took their name from the place; [Trop. Cart. I. 39-45.] it passed before 1453 to the Keynes with whom it remained till 1603 when it was surrendered to John Thrift. His great grandson, Edward, surrendered it to William Gibbons, and it was surrendered in 1696 to the Hulberts of the Ridge, in whose family it remained until the middle of the last century. The house is mostly of the seventeenth century.

OVERMORE. This house belongs to one virgate of land and dates mostly from the seventeenth century; adjoining it is a barn with a gable studded with pigeon holes. In the early years of Queen Elizabeth it was in the possession of a family of West, who surrendered it in 1609 to the Longs, who held it till 1677, when it was surrendered to Sir George Speke, of Hazelbury, and passed with that property to George Petty, who surrendered it in 1697 to Samuel Edwards, of Horton, in whose family it remained till1913.

LONGS. This fine house of the early years of the seventeenth century (Plate XI. 1) belonged to a half virgate of land. In the early years of Queen Elizabeth it was in the hands of a family of Keynes, but was surrendered by them in 1597 to Osmund Bushnell, in whose family it remained till 1694, when it was surrendered to William Mountjoy, of Biddeston. In 1738, it was surrendered to Richard Hancock, of Nethermore. It then passed through various hands and was surrendered in 1861 to John Bird Fuller, of Neston.


GASTARD COURT. This house dates mostly from the seventeenth century, though it possibly retains portions of earlier work (Plate XI. 2). It belonged to 1½ virgates of land, and was in the hands of the Jones family in 1560, but passed with their heiress in 1605 to Richard Sherfield, and he and his wife surrendered it in 1631 to Tristam Colborne, and it stayed with that family till 1744 when it was bought by Edward Mitchell in whose family it remained till 1876 when it was surrendered to Robert Fowler, of Elmgrove.

WHITMANS. This important holding was in early days two holdings of one virgate but united before 1389. Owing to the felony of John Whitman before that date it was granted by the lord to sundry persons whom upon the appearance of Walter Whitman, the son of John, were deseized, and Walter surrendered to John Pyppyng and Alice, his wife, who surrendered to Thomas Tropenell when there was an inquisition as to ownership, and judgment was given in the favour of Tropenell in 1454. [Trop. Cart. I. 29-38]. It passed with the Tropenell estates to the Eyres, and after various surrenders it came in 1670 to William Hulbert and Martha, his wife, in whose family it remained till the beginning of the last century when it was surrendered to Robert Neale. It is now represented by two fields of about seven acres.


This tithing is made up of various parcels in different parts of the manor and includes the detached portion of the manor called Pittars, now in the parish of Pewsham. It is suggested that this tithing originated with property described in 1300 as belonging to Robert of Gatesturd, a free tenant who held 3 virgates of land by socage, paying for the same 40s. per annum and that he shall give heriot relief when it shall happen and shall make suit at the court of Cosham from three weeks to three weeks. [I.P.M. Ed. 1.264. Little tything contained only three virgates for which the lord's rent was 47s. 11d.].

PITTARS. In this detached holding was apparently the church of Paveshou, of Domesday, but no further record of it has occurred. The holding was computed at two half-virgates, so it was originally of two headholds. In 1567 it belonged to one Roger Fynemore, who surrendered it to his daughter, Mary who had married Michael Ernle, and it has remained in the hands of that family and their descendants until a few years ago.

THINGLEY. This holding, now called the Court Farm, was in the hands of the Smyth family in the early years of Queen Elizabeth and remained in their hands until 1734, when Catharine Smith, who had married William Dawes, surrendered the property to Robert Neale. [The information given in connexion with the various ancient holdings is taken from the Court Books of the respective dates unless otherwise stated].

In conclusion the writer wishes to tender his grateful thanks to :-Field Marshall the Lord Methuen, for ready access to the valuable documents in his possession; to Mrs. Harold Robinson, for the same privilege with those of the Rectory manor; to the officers of the Court Leet of Corsham, for access to the court books, and most particularly to Mr. W. H. Barrett, of Cbippenham. Mr. Barrett has for many years spent much time and labour in collecting every detail he could find bearing upon the history of Corsham, and has now placed the whole of his valuable collection at the disposal of the writer, on the understanding that when the opportunity offers he shall publish in detail that which is now summarized in this paper, an obligation he will be only too glad to fulfil as soon as the necessary funds for such a publication are available.

Abbreviations used:
  • WAM Wiltshire Archaeological & Natural History Magazine
  • WNQ Wiltshire Notes and Queries



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