More about The Court, Corsham village and the surroundings.
When my father and I first arrived in Corsham it was obvious what a beautiful village it was. The warm ochre colour of the local stone in nearly all the buildings made an idyllic scene. We had come from the White Horse Valley with it’s thatched cottages. There was something very permanent looking about the stone.The ground underneath Corsham and the surrounding area is riddled with Bath stone mining tunnels, the stone had been excavated under ground and brought to the surface. We were once taken on a days drawing expedition to the place underground where they were still working. We climbed into small trucks which moved down an inclined railway to the face on which they were still cutting. Because there are miles of disused tunnels it was used and still is used as a safe place. One of the tunnels is a safety exit, it connects up with a smaller one which comes out in Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Box tunnel. In the wartime there was a factory down there and it was a massive store for ammunition. During the Cold War it provided a safe nuclear bunker, I believe it is still used to store documents. We didn’t know anything about this of course, I can remember it being quite pleasantly warm at the bottom, it remains the same temperature all the time. We drew in the surface quarries too. In later years I went to the Portland quarries to carve stone sculptures.
Corsham Court grounds.
The fact that this stately home was almost integrated into the village makes it somewhat rare. Another example I suppose would be Blenheim. The building is the ancestral home of the Methuen family. During the last war most of the building had been taken over as a hospital for wounded troops. Lord Methuen was an artist himself, he and his family continued to live in the wing to the left of the front door as you looked up the main drive. We rarely saw the family, though at one of the parties to which he was invited a palanquin was made, he sat in it and was carried by students ceremoniously to the centre of proceedings in the barn. He had known the Ellis’s in the days when the art school was in Bath. There were rumours that he had offered the use of part of the building to pay for repairs to the roof…who knows…it must be a continuing nightmare to keep such a place going. The staterooms are open to the public but I don’t suppose that brings in a huge amount.
In 1951 to 1954 there was relatively little traffic on the road in comparison to the present day. Cycling was quite safe and we made expeditions to surrounding villages and towns. Lacock was only a short distance away, it’s a picture perfect stone village. It is no wonder that both Lacock and Corsham have been used for so many film sets, including Poldark, Lark Rise to Candleford, Tess of the d’Urbevilles and The Remains of the Day amongst others. Lacock Abbey was the home of Fox Talbot , the scene of his early experiments with photography.
We went to Chippenham and Devizes, the long ladder of locks on the canal at Devizes appeared in many paintings and drawings. Not long after I got to college I met a young farmer at a dance in Devizes, he couldn’t dance and wanted to go to dance lessons but he wouldn’t go without me. For several weeks I rode to Devizes for those awful lessons, he was never going to learn to dance in a month of Sundays. He came from a wealthy farming family and was very keen on me, I wasn’t bad looking in those days, but he was so boring, he had no conversation whatsoever. It wouldn’t work. Just think if I had stuck it out I might have been the wife of a very rich farmer, even if I was bored to death. The photo below shows Corsham village as it is now, pedestrianised. In our day there were cars, how good it looks now.
If you were approaching Corsham along the great west road (as it used to be in 1951) from Chippenham to Bath your first glimpse of the Court would be at the end of this great avenue of trees. They were elms and sadly we all know what happened to elms, it must have been heart breaking felling these beautiful trees. A certain number of students were billeted in the village , mainly students on the NDD course.William (Bill) Brooker led that course. William Scott was also teaching painting but I never encountered him, he was quite austere but on the other hand it was William who forged the link with America, with Rothko and other great abstract expressionists.