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Chapter TitleNotes

Corsham

Title :The Church Rambler (2 volumes) (Volume 2, pages 477 – 500)
Author :Harold Lewis
Book Type :Churches
Publisher :Hamilton, Adams & Co.
Date :1878
ISBN :
Full Text :St. Bartholomew's, Corsham

No parish that has been spoken of in these articles has claimed such high lineage and peculiar respect as Corsham. It has been necessary heretofore to speak of royal gifts and royal visits not a few, but in this place there is much more. Here has been a regular abiding place of royalty, and it is proudly called by its people "this ancient royal manor." It still enjoys many peculiar rights and ancient privileges which have survived those swept away in the abolition of feudal tenures. The history of the church in all cases involves so much of the history of the parish that some of the history of Corsham is necessary to elucidate the mute record of the past which is written in the stones of its ancient church. Very often the incidents thus to be told are food for the curious few and nothing more, but in Corsham this is not so. The past is not a shadow but a living influence, moulding the lives and feelings of the people. They understand the ancient dignity of the place, and while they feel that it raises Corsham to the dignity of a town they look to others to respect it according. At the re-opening of the restored parish church the Ven. Archdeacon of Bristol, in the innocence of his heart and in his desire for a striking antithesis to adorn a singularly eloquent speech, referred to it as "this humble village church" and the disturbance among the laity was almost enough to interrupt the speech. I must own that I admire this feeling; it is a healthful and honourable one. The people of Corsham thereby enjoy the chief advantage of the English municipal system of local self-government without any of the responsibilities, pecuniary and otherwise, which weigh upon ratepayers in boroughs; they have a strong local feeling, the value of which it is difficult to overrate. They have a warm affection for the place of their birth, they are proud of belonging to Corsham, they are proud of their venerable church which they have recently restored with striking unanimity, and they are proud of the noble and enlightened family which presides at Corsham Court. It is not always that pride is so well and justly grounded.

Corsham was a royal manor from the earliest record that we have of it in the time of the early English kings, and it, continued in the hands of their Norman successors till the time of King John who granted it to his second son, Richard Plantagenet, Earl of Cornwall, a brave and gallant English prince who was elected King of the Romans and who but for his early death would probably have been a distinguished wearer of the Imperial diadem, which in these our days has been revived for the Kaiser Wilhelm.

On the death of his grandson Edmund in 1299 the property reverted to the Crown, but the succession of famous owners did not fail. Two years after it was settled upon Princess Mary, daughter of King Edward I., when she entered Ambresbury Nunnery. In 1307 King Edward II gave it to his favourite Piers Gaveston. In 1358 King Edward III and Queen Philippa spent the summer in this neighbourhood and divided their time between Marlborough and Corsham. The king afterwards settled it upon his daughter Isabella who married Ingebram de Courcy, one of the French hostages after the battle of Poitiers who remained in England with the King. He was created Earl of Bedford. Corsham after this formed part of the dower of several Queens and hence is justly called Corsham Regis or Corsham Reginæ. In the reign of Queen Elizabeth the lands called Corsham parts were granted to a well known favourite, Sir Christopher Hatton. In 1575 however the manor was sold to Thomas Smyth, an ancestor of Lord Strangford. He farmed the customs, hence Aubrey says- "the great howse at Corsham was built by Customer Smyth: he rented the customs then of Queen Elizabeth for twenty thousand pounds per annum." The date 1582 on the oldest part of Corsham Court tells when this work was done and how much of it remains. I may mention here with regard to the previous house that Leland says- "Mr. Baynton in Queen Anne's days pulled down by licence a pece of this house to help his buildings at Bromham." This Mr. Baynton seems to have been quite a Communist in his destruction of ancient buildings in this neighbourhood. In 1602 his son Henry sold Corsham to Edward Hungerford of Rowdon, who afterwards became Sir Edward of Farley Castle. In this family it remained till the time of the spendthrift Sir Edward of the Restoration. He disposed of the property to Richard Kent, esq., M.P. for Chippenham. Richard Lewis, esq., of Edington Priory, bought it in 1694 and dying in 1706 was buried in Corsham Church. In 1746 it was purchased by Paul Methuen, esq., heir to the great diplomatist of the same name.

This diplomatist came of a singularly ancient family, its founder having accompanied Eadgar Ætheling out of Hungary and settled in Scotland. Malcolm Canmore bestowed upon them the barony of Methuen in Perthshire, whence the family name. His descendants appear to have held high official positions in the northern kingdom and one them was created. Baron Methuen by King James V. They appear to have come to England in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and were kindly received by our Queen Elizabeth. Like many other good families in the west country a branch settled in Wiltshire and engaged in the clothing trade. Paul Methuen was the son of the Right Hon. John Methuen, Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Born in 1672 he early entered upon a diplomatic career, and held many important embassies in the course of his life, besides high offices in the home government. He was created a Knight of the Bath on the revival of the order in 1725. Voltaire styled him "one of the best ministers that the English ever employed in an embassy," but his name is chiefly associated in history with what is called the Methuen treaty, which he concluded at Lisbon to give the wines of Portugal an advantage over French in importation into England. The provisions of the treaty were not abandoned by our ally in 1836, so that his work lasted long and, as any student of our social history knows, had very important results. He made the splendid collection of paintings which is the glory of Corsham Court. He died without children, and the present owner, the Right Hon. Lord Methuen, is descended from his relative and successor another Paul.

Leland, who calls "Cosham, a good uplandish town," says that "old Mr. Bonehomme told me that Coseham appertained to the Earldom of Cornwall and that Cosham was a mansion place belonging to it where they sometime lay. All the men of this townlet were bond so that upon a time one of the Earls of Cornwall hearing them secretly lament their fate manumitted them for money and gave them the Lordship of Cosham in copyhold to pay a chief rent" The facts are much as the old gossip relates them. The grant which was made by the first Earl is still preserved in the manor chest, which contains some interesting documents and good impressions of seals. Canon Jackson says- "He granted to them the lands in fee farms free of those services paying annually to the lord 110 marks. From that time the farmers in fee held their lands to them and their heirs, elected a bailiff who was also coroner and sheriff of their own in lieu of the Earl's; had their lands tried in their own court by writ of right and not by the common law; were exempt from serving on juries except within their own manor, &c." Among the privileges which I have said are still in full force is this of electing a bailiff who is also Coroner for the liberty.

In 1285 Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, obtained a charter for a Wednesday market. This was discontinued, but in 1784 Mr. Paul Methuen built a new market house and endeavoured to revive the market but without success and the building now stands idle in the High street. It surely could be made to serve some use.

Within the liberty of Corsham there is also a Rectory manor which was granted by King William I. to the monastery of S. Stephen, Caen. Alien priories always held property in England upon a precarious tenure and their devices were numerous to avoid seizure, which the Crown was generally ready to practice upon a slight pretext. This perhaps helps to account for the way in which this manor passed about, being successively the property of different alien priors. At the Dissolution it was sold into lay hands. It now belongs to G. Goldney, esq., M.P. for Chippenham; hence his responsibility as lay rector for the restoration of the chancel of Corsham Church. The gift to the vicarage however passed from the priors to the lord of the manor, who is at present the patron. Britton says, "The Vicar of Corsham possesses very extraordinary privileges, having episcopal jurisdiction within the parish."

The name Corsham was anciently spelt Coseham and Cosham. The latter syllable is of course ham a dwelling. With regard to the former Canon Jones, the accepted authority on Wiltshire names, says- "I am inclined to think that the former portion of the name is from the Cornish cis a wood. It may however be from cors a marsh."

Before passing away from the history of the parish of Corsham it is necessary to refer to a native who was a very distinguished man in his time, though he is more remembered now by the gibes of his greater contemporaries, and by the notice that Johnson took of him by including him among the English poets whose lives he wrote, than by his own works. A gossiping topographical writer of the last century says—

The Church here is a handsome Edifice with a Spire Steeple and a Musical Ring of Bells. The Fields hereabouts instead of Hedges are inclosed with walls of Stone piled upon one another without any mortar. The Parish which is very large is sprinkled up and down with many pretty Seats. On the south east side of it is the Old House by the River where Sir Robert Blackmore famous both as a physician and a poet was born.

Blackmore took his degree of M.A. at Oxford in 1676 and after some experience as a schoolmaster entered the medical profession. His political sympathies gained him the office of Physician in Ordinary to William III. at the Revolution. He wrote in his prosperity many poems. Leigh Hunt says- "He composed heaps of dull poetry, versified the psalms, and by way of extending the lesson of patience wrote a paraphrase of the Book of Job." Swift referring to the title of two of his works said he

Undid Creation at a jerk
And of Redemption made d- d work.

Johnson however found merit in his verse and we may believe that though now forgotten his poems were read and admired in his own time. Cibber adds that he was "a worthy man and a friend to religion."

Corsham Church requires a two-fold description as it was and as it is, for it has just been restored and altered and the portion of chief interest to archæologists has been swept away. Still strongly as I object to change for the sake of change I must say I cannot view this work in the same light as would the poet Morris and his Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The parish church was built for public worship and the changes which are necessary to maintain it for that purpose ought to be made despite the longings of art that it may become a beautiful ruin. Granting the destructive necessities of the case I think they have done their task at Corsham as well as they possibly could. They have exchanged a cramped gallery-burdened, I may almost say unholy, building for a noble and handsome parish church in which the whole congregation can come as one to the mercy seat.

The church is of Norman foundation and the nave is still of this character. One or two of the original Norman piers and arches remain and these have formed the copies for restoring those which had been cut away. There are thus four arches on either side resting on cylindrical Norman columns with cushion caps. They are all with one exception semi-circular. Above a small Norman clerestory window was uncovered during the restoration, another proof that here the original fabric has not been disturbed. A timbered roof of the wagon beam form has just been uncovered from the plaster with great advantage to the church. There are both north and south aisles, and in the north aisle there is a good Norman doorway on which the chevron moulding has been restored. All the windows however are later, the demand for more light having doomed the originals. On the north side are three two-light windows, the head tracery being of the form which is compared to segmental triangles. The west window is a large three-light Perpendicular window but those at the ends of the aisles are Decorated windows, one of them particularly good. Somebody in the last century added a small portico of a debased classical character at the west end in connection with the galleries. It has been closed up now, but I am glad to say is not removed, for though its effect is quaintly incongruous it marks a passage in the history of the church. On the south is a small two-light Decorated window and a large three-light Perpendicular window. Between these is the large and handsome Perpendicular porch with embattled parapet. There is a parvise above the porch with a window on the south; on either side of this is

A little Gothic niche,
Of nicest workmanship that once had held
The sculptured image of some patron saint.

On the west side, from which the people come from the town, is also a large and richly carved tabernacle. The porch is vaulted within with the head of a king at the intersection of the ribs, and with crowned heads as corbels supporting it at each corner. Over the inner doorway a statue once stood, but now a tablet occupies its place, with the following inscription :-

IN THIS CHURCH PORCH
LYETH THE BODY OF WILLIAM
TASKER GENT 'VHO CHOOS
RATHER TO BE A DOOR KEE
PER TO THE HOUSE OF HIS
GOD THAN TO DWELL IN
THE TENTS OF WICKEDNESS
HE DEPARTED THIS LIFE
IVN THE 20TH AN 1684
AGED 89

All the porch burials with the like humble inscriptions were prompted by the celebrated example of S. Swithin, to whom we owe the forty days' rain which tradition maintains to be necessary to christen the apples.

The chancel is Perpendicular in character and has chapels on either side. The east window is a very late one in three lights with very flat head. In the wall on each side of it is a panel the height of the window, and at the bottom of this a pedestal for a statue. One of these is the original one brought back to its right position, the other is new. The reredos is a simple stone panelling copied from traces which remain of that which formerly went round the walls of the chancel. The wall below, as well as the floor, is covered with encaustic tiles. The roof is a flat panelled done and almost all new. There is a large Perpendicular window on the south side of the chancel now filled up with the monument of Elizabeth Harington, who died 31st December, 1791. On the north side there is a small window and beneath it a tablet with this inscription-

NEAR THIS PLACE LYETH THE BODY OF
MARTHA THE WIFE OF JOHN SMITH OF
CORSHAM ELDEST DAUGHTER OF
LEONARD SMITH OF CRANFIELD GENT
WHO DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE 20TH
DAY OF SEPTEMBER 1669
Short was my life, yet live I ever,
Death has his due, yet die I never.

Near it is the oldest monument which I could find in the building-

QUAE PER FEMINEVM
SPARSA EST PERFE
CTIO SEXVM
(LECTOR) IN HAC VNA
TOTA SEPVLTA IACET
EDW: REDE AR: HOC
DISTICHON IN MEMO
RIA ANNAE UXORIS
DE EXINCLYTA FAMILI
A BAYNARDORUM DE
LECHAM ORIVNDAE
HIC INCIDI CVRAVIT
QUAE OBIIT AVGVST 23
I6I5

Corsham is to be included among the Wiltshire towns which were once the seat of the English wool trade. An old writer says-

The Woollen Manufacture is the chief Employment and Support of the Place, here being not only some considerable clothiers but a Wool stapler of the same surname and very likely of the same Family as Mr. Stump the clothier of Malmesbury.

In connection with this the following lengthy inscription set up in the chancel by the then reigning family to the memory of two local worthies, is not without interest-

JOHN AND THOMAS
HVLBERT OF THIS TOWNE OF
COSHAM CLOTHRS YE SONNS OF JAMES
HVLBERT OF ESTON WITHIN THIS PRISH
CLOTHR DECEASED JOHN THE ELDEST AGED 49
HAPPILY EXCHANGED THIS LIFE YE 3D SEPTEMBR
1626 THOMAS YE YOUNGER AGED 53 FINISHED HIS
COVRSE YE I6TH OCTOBR 1632 OF WHOSE POWERFUL
PRAYERS UNTO GOD AND MOST CHRISTIAN DEPARTURE
WAS
WITNESS WH MANY OTHERS YT WERE THEN LIKEWISE
PRESENT

Two brothers neare interred here doe lye,
Whose love to each, whose trade, whose charitye,
Whose zeale to God whose tioth to all was svch;
As they seem'd one, of all admired mvch.
John was the eldest a man discreete and stovte
Faithfvll and jvst in all he went about
By seniority he first obtained.
The blessed port that Thomas since hath gained.
Thomas was endowed with such rare parts
He no wayes needed to be taught the Arts,
And thovgh he kept him to his trade of cloth,
Yet was he divine and a Covtyer both
A father strict, yet tender o're his childe,
A loveing neighbour and a master milde,
Who never did ye needy poore contemne,
And God enrich't him by ye hands of them.
Each like to other in ye choicest parts
Each brothers prayse speaks th'other his desarts;
O're whose dvst doeth this monvment remaine,
Scarce two such brothers hath ye world again.

SR ED. HUNGERFORD KNT. OF YE NOBLE;
ORDER OF YE BATHE AND YEN SHEFE OF THIS
COUNTY OF WILTS; WHO HATH CAUSED
THIS TO BE ERECTED IN
MEMORY OF THESE BROTHERS AS WELL
FOR THEIR PIOUS AND PROFITABLE
CONVERSATION TO ALL, AS FOR THEIR
CONSTANT FAITHFUL RESPECT TO
HIM IN PARTICULAR, AND ESPECIALLY
FOR THE PRAYSWORTHY SERVICE THAT THO
HULBERT DIED HIM IN THAT YEAR 1632

This is close to the south chapel which is separated from the nave by two panelled arches whose mouldings end without capitals in angels bearing shields. It has a flat oak roof, and is lighted by three large four-light Perpendicular windows - two on the south side and one at the east. At the east end is the vestry enclosed by a curious old wooden partition.

The north chapel or Tropenell aisle belongs to the manor of Neston in this parish, and is sometimes erroneously called the Hanham aisle from a family which once owned the property. It is now the most interesting part of the church and has been restored by the present squire of Neston, G. P. Fuller, esq., with due care for its ancient features. It is separated from the chancel by a broad arch such as is usually found over tombs, without any capitals. It is lighted by three Perpendicular windows, the east window being a very fine one. On the south side is a piscina still preserved. The stone screen on the western side is very beautiful, having in a modified form the fan tracery which is the glory of the roof of the Bath Abbey. In the middle of the screen is a good crocketed doorway. In the chapel are two altar tombs. The larger immediately under the arch is that of Thomas Tropenell, who died in 1490. The shields on the tomb are those of Tropenell and Ludlow, for his wife was Agnes (or Margaret) Ludlow, of Hill Deverill. There are traces of an inscription round the tomb, which was legible in Aubrey's time. I therefore copy his description of it-

About the limbe of this Monument is: An ox yoke, then this writing, Jhs. Chrs filius Del filus David, filus Marie Virginis salvet nos. A yoke. After every oxe yoake, which I suppose was the crest or cognizaunce, the same writing repeated again. Under that writing, in the next moulding, is, - A yoke - tira bellemenet -A yoke-tira, etc. i.e. "he will draw well." Under this monument is a little freestone vault, where he and his wife's bones lye.

This Tropenell was the projector of Great Chalfield manor house and in that connection I have spoken of their cognisance, the yoke and the motto, "le joug tira bellement," with the fatal meaning it had for the last of the race. There are modern tablets in the chapel to the memory of -

JOHN FULLER OF NESTON
BARRISTER AT LAW D.L.
A MAGISTRATE FOR MIDDLESEX AND WILTS
DIED MARCH 30TH 1839 AGED 74
ALSO TO THE MEMORY OF
JOHN BIRD FULLER
OF NESTON D. I BORN MARCH 6TH I801
DIED MAY 27TH 1872.

The additions which Mr. Street has made to the church consist in a broad chancel arch, allowing a proper connection between the two parts of the church, and a handsome tower forming a sort of south transept to the church. It is a square tower with a pierced parapet, above which rises a shapely spire. It is true to the tradition of the church to have a spire, and the tower altogether harmonises very well with the general appearance of the building. For this the parish is largely indebted to the liberality of Mr. Poynder, of Hartham.

But what has been removed? Things both good and bad. As I have said, the church had formerly an Early English tower, but the spire was taken down in 1812 because I suppose it had been allowed to become insecure. The Early English arches, interesting as they were, cut off the chancel from the nave, and therefore they and the tower which rested upon them have been removed. But there were other obstructions in Corsham Church, huge and hideous galleries blocking up the building and intercepting the sound in every direction, while the pews were some of the highest and ugliest box pews that I have ever seen. But even this was better than what it was forty or fifty years ago when the clerk's desk, pulpit and reading desk formed a bridge above the chancel arch. The desks were on either side, and the pulpit built up above them, so that the minister to go into the chancel went under the pulpit. At that time the clergy said the Communion service at the west end of the chancel because if they stood within the rails no one would hear them. Happily all this with its attendant train of evils has passed away.

The work of restoration was long in contemplation, but various circumstances in addition to its manifold difficulties delayed it. It would have been undertaken by the late Vicar, the Rev. J. Pym, but his sudden death frustrated his plans and took from his parish a beloved minister whose memory is still sweet among his people. At last the work was taken in hand in 1875 largely by the action of the Hon. Paul Methuen; at the vestry meeting which was then held large promises of assistance were given by Lord Methuen and the other landowners of the parish, funds have been forthcoming as they were needed, and the restoration has been completed without a debt. From the beginning to the end of the work the master spirit has been the Vicar, the Rev. George Linton, M.A., of Trinity College, Cambridge, who did not allow a long and wearisome illness to deter him from his heart's desire, and who is to be congratuleted on achieving that which will make his name long memorable in the annals of Corsham parish. A young and energetic man, devoted heart and soul to the duties of his office, and respected and esteemed by all classes and all opinions among his parishioners, I am sure all who know either the Vicar or his parish will join with me in the heart-felt hope that he may be spared for many years to minister in the noble building to which he has done so much to make it worthy to be the house of God.

Owing to the extensive nature of the alterations the church was closed for nearly two years, and during that time the services were held in the riding school of Corsham Court by the kindness of Lord Methuen. The parish church was re-opened on Thursday, 13th June, 1878, when the people of Corsham assembled in overflowing numbers in the beautiful building. They found instead of the old pews the nave fitted with pen oak seats and the chancel with stalls, and instead of the old joinery a handsome stone pulpit and an eagle lectern of oak. The opening service was a notable one, for the Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, the Ven. Archdeacon of Bristol and nearly forty of the clergy of the district were present. Morning prayer was read by the Vicar, the first lesson by the Hon. and Rev. B. P. Bouverie, the second by Canon Jackson, and the collects by the Rev. M. O. Alison (curate). The Bishop afterwards preached a controversial sermon from Matt. xii. 32: "Whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world nor in the world to come." Before doing so however his lordship expressed, in a few hearty and well-chosen words, his joy at the completion of a work which had done for the church what he feared at the outset was impossible.

Among the wise principles which have guided, the restoration of Corsham Church is the determination of the Vicar that the subjects of the stained windows which may be given to the church shall follow a plan which he has set down. It is a pity that this course has not been more generally adopted in large churches, it would greatly add to the charm of the beautiful productions with which the revived art of glass painting can now adorn them. The scheme selected by the Vicar of Corsham consists of subjects from the life of Our Lord and the Acts of the Apostles. Three windows have at present being inserted. The fine east window of the Neston Chapel is fitted with a representation of the Last Supper, while in the lower lights is shown Mary weeping at the Holy Sepulchre. The design is good in drawing, and a mass of very varied colour is well managed and modulated. The Renascence ornament with which the tracery is occupied, apparently after one of the old masters, is curious in effect. This window is erected by the High Sheriff, and in memory of John Fuller, who died 3rd March, 1839, aged 74; and John Bird Fuller, who died 27th May, 1872, aged 72. The east window of the chancel is, from its appearance, not to have a stained glass, and it is of course at the mercy of the lay Rector, but I hope that as the rest of the windows are filled individual feeling will give way, as it has done in many similar instances, such as the Bath Abbey Church, to save the general harmony of the building. The west window is already filled with a large and continuous representation of one subject - S. Peter in prison - "He smote Peter on the side and raised him up saying, Arise up quickly, and his chains fell off from his hands." This is a very successful attempt at a thoroughly realistic treatment and the large masses of colour, chiefly brown and blue, are very well handled. Beneath it is the inscription-"To the glory of God and in memory of their late master, Robert Torrens, esq., who died at Corsham December 23rd, 1874, this window is dedicated by Herry and Elizabeth Wass." The remaining window, the gift of Mrs. Pratt, is a smaller one in the south aisle and depicts the angel appearing to the disciples directly after the Asceusion- "Ye men of Galilee, why staud ye gazing up into Heaven?"

Corsham enjoys upon very good grounds the reputation of being a very healthy place. From its elevated situation its air is very bracing and its position on the oolite renders it healthy in other ways. Walpole's "British Traveller" tells the following story:-

Corsham stands on a dry stony soil, and therefore not very fertile; but it is a most pleasant village; and if we may credit the continuance of their lives and the monuments of their dead in the Churchyard it is the Seat of Health and Long Life. 'Tis common to see Inscriptions of 80 and 90 and some too of 100 Years and beyond on their gravestones; and not many years ago a Fellow of the College of Physicians was stopped at the Red Lyon here going to the Bath, to which it is a common halting place, being accosted by some aged Beggars of both Sexes and inquiring Their Age, one of the Men said he was above an Hundred and that another old fellow that stood by him was anigh Six Scour (in the Country Brogue) at which the Doctor expressing his Surprise the Mendicant added that the Christmas before Ten o'em danced a Morice-dance at a neighbouring Gentleman's House who among them all made above a Thousand Years.

My own examination of the tombstones in Corsham churchyard confirms this evidence as to the longevity of. the people, and in fact I do not know any village or town round Bath where you would meet so many people past the allotted space of human life- "three score years and ten, "still hale and hearty as in their youth. In the old churchyard is a very interesting tombstone, which I am glad to see someone looks after and maintains in a legible condition. It is to the memory of an old woman who stands out as a remarkable character even among the Methuselahs of Corsham. The stone is-

IN MEMORY OF
SARAH JARVIS
DEPARTED THIS LIFE THE
11TH DAY OF DECEMBER 1753
IN THE HUNDRED AND SEVENTH
YEAR OF HER AGE.
SOME TIME BEFORE HER DEATH
SHE HAD FRESH TEETH.

I am informed that this wonderful old lady was an inmate of the poor-house and that the overseers of the day were at the expense of this memorial. I do not know whether there is any physiological objection to her new set of teeth, but it must be understood that she cut them, and did not obtain them from a dentist, which the inscription may be thought to leave open. The case of Sarah Jarvis has not been investigated by Mr. W. J. Thoms.

On one tombstone bearing date 1853, I saw that the words spoken by Laertes of the dead Ophelia had been inscribed.

Lay her i'the earth and from her pure
And unpolluted flesh let violets spring!
A ministering Angel shall she be.

The old churchyard is on the north side of the building, contrary to the usual superstition, which avoids the aspect because I suppose the sun never shines upon it. The new part of the churchyard on the south side was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury on the 26th of August, 1794, the Rev. W. Lewis being vicar. The yew tree, which true to tradition stands in it, was planted by Mr. Benjamin Young, churchwarden, on the 27th of March, 1796. Mention may also be made of a vague tradition that in the south-east corner of the churchyard are buried a number of men killed in making Box tunnel. Some say fifty some say ninety! The Vicar, who has been good enough to search the register for me, finds three burials so distinguished. It would be interesting to know exactly how many lives were sacrificed in the long and dangerous work, and whether the Box registers can throw any light upon the subject.

The parish registers date from the year 1563. In one of them occurs the following curious entry -

Memorandum of Swete's Hole in Minty Mead, August 4th, 1606. Here William Swete and ----- Bricker fought with swords concerning a woman, and in Fray the former was slain and the latter acquitted; this Hole is open'd every year to perpetuate the memory thereof.

I believe the tradition still remains and the hole still pointed out. Curious in another way are the entries at a later date showing a system of trafficking in seats which reminds one of the auctions held at the Plymouth Church, Brooklyn. I find in1649 a Memorandum that John Wadman deceased late of the parish of Corsham hath by his last will and testament given unto John Haces of Wishop in the same parish and to his heires for ever one pew or seate lately erected or built and standing in the bell free of the parish church of Corsham which is approved of and acknowledged by the Vicar and Churchwarden now being.

This strange custom which generally went on in the way of sales or exchanges, continued at intervals down to the present century, though the entries mostly occur in groups. It appears to me from the wording of them that there was no idea of establishing troublesome and unlawful rights in the freehold of the church, but simply that householders put up at their own expense the cumbrous pews then in vogue - we read in 1738 of "the new deal seat belonging to Richard Fowell, Vicar"-and then retained the ownership of what they had made, and felt themselves at liberty to dispose of it as they pleased. Such ideas with regard to the House of God are happily gone in our day, we may trust never to return.

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

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