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Corsham is a small medieval town in northwest Wiltshire, England. It is at the southwestern extreme of the Cotswolds, just off the A4 which was formerly the main turnpike road from London to Bristol, between Bath and Chippenham ().

Corsham was historically a centre for agriculture and later the wool industry, and remains a focus for quarrying Bath Stone. It contains several notable historic buildings, such as the stately home of Corsham Court. In World War II and the Cold War, it became a major administrative and manufacturing centre for the Ministry of Defence, with numerous establishments both above ground and in the old quarry tunnels. The early 21st century saw some growth in Corsham's role in the film industry.


Corsham apparently derives its name from Cosa's hām, "ham" being Old English for homestead, or village. The town is referred in the Domesday book as Cosseham; the letter 'R' appears to have entered the name later under Norman influence, when the town is reported to have been in the possession of the Earl of Cornwall.

One of the towns that prospered greatly from Wiltshire's wool trade in mediæval times, it maintained its prosperity after the decline of that trade through the quarrying of Bath stone, with underground mining works extending to the south and west of Corsham.

Numbers 94 to 112 of the High Street are Grade II* listed buildings known as the "Flemish Weavers Houses", however there is little cogent evidence to support this name and it appears more likely to derive from a handful of Dutch workers who arrived in the 17th century.

There was once a priory in Corsham, which was destroyed, then replaced with a Georgian house (now Heywood School) located on Priory Street. Corsham also contains the historic Georgian house, The Grove, opposite the high street, a typical example of upper middle-class Georgian architecture.


Corsham's small town centre includes the Martingate Centre, a late 20th century retail development, which also houses offices and a small teaching facility for Wiltshire College, a further education institution.

The stately home of Corsham Court can also be found in the town centre. Standing on a former Saxon Royal Manor, it is based on an Elizabethan manor home from 1582. Since 1745, it has been part of the Methuen estate. The house has an extensive collection of Old Masters, rooms furnished by Robert Adam and Thomas Chippendale, and parks landscaped by Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. The house is open to the public all year round excluding December and is famed locally for its peacocks, which freely wander about the streets. The owner of Corsham Court in the mid-seventeenth century was the commander of the Parliamentarian New Model Army in Wiltshire. His wife built what came to be known as the Hungerford Almshouses in the centre of town; they were featured on the BBC's Restoration television series in 2008.

Corsham is the site of the disused entrance to Tunnel Quarry, which used to be visible off Pockeredge Drive.


The town has its own festival. Corsham also started a jazz festival (separate from the town festival) in 2004, which included a performance by the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. The event however was not as successful as the organizers would have hoped, bands across the seven venues had to compete with each other and turnout was lower than expected. In 2005 the festival was reduced to just two venues and a much reduced lineup. In 2006, the festival reduced in size once again, with only the Royal Oak Pub hosting the event, and the Stan Tracey Trio as principal headliners.

The local association football club, Corsham Town F.C., were founded in 1884. They finished first in the Western Football League Premier Division in 2007.

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


Pickwick itself was once a separate settlement and now forms the north-western part of the town. The name derives from Anglo-Saxon pic (meaning a peak or pointed hill) and wic (village). The Wiltshire Hundred Roll of 1273 refers to a "William de Pikewicke".

Corsham was the inspiration for Charles Dickens' novel The Pickwick Papers; it is thought that he borrowed the name from Moses Pickwick, a coachman who was born in Pickwick, lived in the "Hare and Hounds" inn, and ran coaches between Bath and London.

Pickwick Manor was noted by architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner as an "unusually impressive example of a late 17th century manor house", having remnants of a 14th century wing. More recently it has been the residence of architect Harold Brakspear and his descendants.

Beechfield is a late Georgian house in Middlewick Lane, and was used by the Bath School of Art and Design, formerly the Bath Academy of Art, moving there during the Second World War. It was extended in the early 1970s to provide additional accommodation and the Academy moved back to Bath in 1986. The house itself was split into residential accommodation while part of the grounds were split off in 2002 under the auspices of the Town Council to provide a Nature Area where local flora and fauna can be seen.

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

Pickwick is also noted for "The Two Pigs", a real ale pub which is a Grade II listed building. Formerly named "The Spread Eagle", it is now known for live blues bands, but at the end of the nineteenth century Pickwick did not have a mortuary, and the dead were laid out on the bar of the pub until they could be transferred to Corsham mortuary.

Neighbouring villages

Corsham Town Council's boundaries include several neighbouring settlements: Biddestone, Chapel Knap, Easton, Gastard, Hartham, Leafield, The Linleys, Neston, The Ridge, Thingley, part of Rudloe, and a small part of Chippenham south of the A4 road.

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

Neston village was established around Neston Park, a country estate whose house was built c.1790. Neston Park is home of the Fuller family, who give their name to the Fuller, Smith and Turner brewery in London, known for Fuller's London Pride cask ale.

Local Government

Since the Local Government Act 1972 came into force on 1 January 1974, Corsham has been within the areas of Wiltshire County Council and North Wiltshire District Council. It elects one County Councillor and three District Councillors, who also represent Lacock. From 1 April 2009 Wiltshire will become a unitary authority and the district councils will merge with the county council. It is proposed that Corsham will elect three councillors to this authority, to represent Corsham Pickwick, Corsham Town and Corsham Without & Box Hill.

Corsham's lowest level of government is Corsham Town Council, which was founded as a Parish Council in 1895. Although Corsham never had its own town charter, in May 2000 it voted under Section 245 of the Local Government Act 1972 to become a Town Council. There are currently twenty Councillors, and the four Council committees are

  • Finance and General Purposes - general policy, finances, Christmas lights and "Corsham in Bloom"
  • Leisure - children's play areas, recreation grounds and allotments
  • Amenities - Town Hall maintenance, cemetery, footpaths etc
  • Planning - the Council is not itself the Planning Authority for Corsham but makes recommendations to North Wiltshire District Council on applications.

Normally regarded as largely apolitical, Corsham made headlines in April 2007 when a British National Party candidate, Michael Simpkins, was elected unopposed to the council. The following year, the party's candidate came fifth in a by-election.

Population and demographics

The first official census of 1801 showed Corsham having 2402 inhabitants, while the most recent of 2001 lists 10,780. No census was taken in 1941 due to the Second World War, but the rise in population (from 3754 in 1931 to 9268 in 1951, a rise of 147%) is attributable to the influx of military personnel. The increase shown for 1840 is due the influx of stone workers and the arrival of the Great Western Railway.

The 2001 census demographics of the SN13 postcode area, of which Corsham comprises the major part, do not differ markedly from national figures; the unemployment rate is 2.0% compared to a national 3.2%, and there is a marginally higher rate of retirees (at 23.3% as against 22%). 23% of adults are educated to degree level, against a national average of 20%.


The education authority for Corsham and its surrounding area is Wiltshire County Council, which maintains seven primary schools and one secondary school. The primary schools, catering for students up to age 11 are

  • Box Church of England Primary School, High Street, Box. Founded in 1875 as an elementary board school, it now has about 170 pupils.
  • Corsham Primary School, split between Pound Pill, and Broadway Avenue, Corsham, was formed from the origins of Lady Methuen’s School for Girls (founded 1816), The National School for Girls (c.1840s) and Corsham British School For Boys (c. 1840). These schools came under the aegis of the Corsham School Board in 1893 and were finally merged in 1923. It now provides for about 540 students.
  • Corsham Regis School, Kings Avenue, Corsham, opened in 1943 for the children of incoming military workers. It became specifically a junior school in 1955 when older children transferred to the Corsham Secondary Modern School, and now has about 180 students.
  • Lypiatt Primary School near Neston, to the south of Corsham itself, and was opened in 1951 to cater for children of Ministry of Defence employees; it now has about 16 students.
  • Neston Primary School, Church Rise, Neston, was founded in 1861 as Corshamside School. It now provides for about 170 students.
  • Shaw Church of England (Controlled) Primary School in Corsham Road, Shaw, Melksham, takes pupils from Corsham. Founded in the 1840s, it expanded over the years as an elementary school until 1953, when a secondary school opened in Melksham and Shaw became a primary school. It now has about 185 students.
  • St Patrick's Catholic Primary School, Lacock Road, Corsham, opened in 1966 and now has about 200 pupils.

Corsham School, The Tynings, is Corsham's only secondary school; it was opened in 1972 as a comprehensive school and is now a specialist Visual Arts and Maths and Computing College with approximately 1400 students. Catering for students from 11 to 18, its DCSF educational statistics are generally better than for Wiltshire as a whole. Its most recent Ofsted inspection, in 2005, assessed it as Good or Outstanding in all areas.

The Heywood Preparatory School, Priory Street, is an independent school providing education from ages 2 to 10, and has about 190 pupils. It achieved a favourable assessment when last inspected in June 2008, being described as "successful in meeting its aims and outstandingly so in many areas. It meets the needs of all pupils who are well educated in the widest sense".



The town and surrounding villages are within the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Bristol.

Roman Catholic

  • St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church was originally Pickwick School, then a glove factory, before becoming a gas mask factory during the Second World War. It was converted into a church to provide for incoming military workers. It did not have a resident priest between the Reformation and 1957.

Free Church

  • The Baptist Chapel, Moor Green, was founded in 1833.
  • The Congregational Church, Pickwick Road, originally met in a malthouse, and a new building was commenced in 1790. In 1971 it closed and is now used for offices.
  • Ebenezer Baptist Chapel, Velly, was founded in 1857.
  • Ebenezer Chapel, Priory Street, was formed in 1822/3 when some members of the Congregational Church split over doctrine. The present building opened in 1829 and has been extended since then.
  • Monk's Lane Chapel, built in 1662, was formerly a Quaker meeting-house and was transferred to the Congregational church in 1690.
  • The Particular Baptist Chapel, Pound Pill dates back to about 1824.
  • The Brethren met in several locations, beginning in the mid nineteenth century at Pockeridge Lodge, moving to Neston, while another group met in Pickwick. By 1903, both were meeting in Neston and in 1925 they bought the Primitive Methodist Chapel, Station Road.
  • Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Pickwick Road, replaced a cottage in Easton, and a house in Middlewick Lane, before the present chapel was built in 1903.
  • Zion Hill Baptist Chapel was built in 1859 by a group who separated from the Priory Street Ebenezer Chapel.


Corsham is connected to Bradford on Avon by the B3109 road, to Melksham by the B3353, and to Chippenham and Bath by the A4 Bath Road, a former turnpike from London to Bristol. Four public car parks in the town centre are operated by North Wiltshire District Council for a small fee. Bus companies, including Coachstyle, Faresaver and FirstGroup plc, operate local services, as well as buses to all nearby towns.

The Great Western Main Line railway from London to Bristol passes through Corsham, though the local station closed in the 1960s. Nearby stations, and most passenger trains, are operated by First Great Western. Some local services call at the nearest station at Melksham (4.5 miles, 7.2 km) while Chippenham station (4.7 miles, 7.5 km) offers frequent express services and connections. The eastern portal of Box Tunnel, built as the longest railway tunnel of its time, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Railway, is at Hudswell on the western edge of the town. Corsham Railway Cutting carries the main line westward through Corsham to Box Tunnel; in 1971 of land in the cutting were designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for notable geology.

Town twinning

Corsham holds an annual twinning event in which musical and charity events occur, accompanied by French food and wines. There is also a boules competition for the Peter Henderson trophy which is named in memory of a local doctor and former chairman of the twinning association. As part of the 2008 event, a mock Storming of the Bastille was staged to celebrate Bastille Day, Corsham Town Hall standing in for the Parisian prison.



The Ministry of Defence has operated a number of locations in the vicinity of Corsham since the First World War and employs approximately 2000 people:

Basil Hill site

The Basil Hill Site is in Park Lane and comprises the former Basil Hill Barracks; approximately 800 personnel are employed there, rising to 2,100 in 2010 as part of a major modernisation programme named "Corsham 09". It is home to the Directorate General of Information Services and Systems (DGISS) and will be known as Global Operations Security Control Centre (GOSCC). Completion of Corsham 09 will see the Rudloe and Copenacre sites relinquished by the armed services.

Rudloe Manor site

The Rudloe Site was formerly RAF Rudloe Manor, which was established during the Second World War as a non-flying station for administrative and command & control purposes. It was home to HQ Number 10 Fighter Group, RAF Regional Command, Headquarters RAF Police & Security Services, No 1 Signals Unit, Controller Defence Communications Network and 1001 Signals Unit. By 1998 it had become mostly administrative, housing the RAF Provost and Security Services, which dealt with security and criminal investigation services, the Defence Communication Services Agency, while the detachment of 1001 Signals Unit of the RAF remained. It closed as an operational site in about 2000.

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

Copenacre site

The Copenacre Site was originally an underground stone quarry below land formerly part of the Hartham estate; this was taken over by the Ministry of Defence in 1937 and became the Royal Naval Stores Depot, Copenacre. It closed on 30 September 1995.

Hawthorn site

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

Other units

A number of defence contractors are either co-located or in the vicinity of the MOD sites, such as Chemring Energetics UK Limited and Serco Defence, Science and Technology.

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


Underground extraction of Bath Stone continues in Corsham on a smaller scale than previously. Hanson plc operates Hartham Park Quarry in the Hudswell district, southwest of Pickwick, and Monk's Park Quarry near Gastard.

Disused quarries have been redeployed for other purposes; apart from defence usage, there is a wine storage facility at Eastlays, near Gastard, and storage of magnetic media for off-site data protection at Neston.

Film and television

Another use for the quarries is the film industry. Underground scenes from the first episode of Blake's Seven were filmed at Eastlays, and disused tunnels form part of the studio complex of Corsham Media Park, a specialist business park that opened in 2001 adjacent to RAF Rudloe Manor.

Early 21st century growth of period drama location filming followed the examples of neighbouring Lacock and Atworth parishes. Neston Park hosted major outdoor film sets for the 2008 BBC television adaption of Lark Rise to Candleford, and the BBC also filmed scenes for a 2008 version of Tess of the D'Urbervilles in Church Street and Corsham Court grounds.

Notable residents

Images of Corsham

See also

Neighbouring civil parishes (anticlockwise from the north):

  • Biddestone – small village north of Hartham
  • Colerne – medium-sized village northwest of Corsham and Pickwick
  • Box – village west of Corsham; parish includes part of Rudloe
  • Atworth – Neston Park Estate extends south beyond Atworth village
  • Lacock – historic village and abbey, largely owned by the National Trust, east of Gastard
  • Chippenham and Chippenham Without parishes – market town northeast of Easton


Further reading

  • McCamley, Nick (2000) Secret underground cities : an account of some of Britain's subterranean defence, factory and storage sites in the Second World War, Pen and Sword Books Ltd , ISBN 0-85052-733-3

External links

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