John Hannavy visits Corsham, which inspired Charles Dickens
PUBLISHED: 16:44 26 April 2010 | UPDATED: 17:05 20 February 2013
With its own annual festival, a thriving Civic Society, a busy Arts Centre, and long associations with the worlds of art and music, Corsham does indeed seem to offer a very active social life
They werent wrong: Tell your readers, said the helpful man in the Tourist Information Centre, that if they move to Corsham, they wont have time to watch television! There is just so much to do clubs, societies, social events and much more. And the WI, chipped in the lady sitting next to him. And with its own annual festival, a thriving Civic Society, a busy Arts Centre, and long associations with the worlds of art and music, it does indeed seem to offer a very active social life.
Art figures strongly and in quite unexpected places: four stained-glass windows were commissioned for the Town Hall to mark the Queens Golden Jubilee, based on features of several of the towns historic buildings. Art even turns up outside Somerfields in the Martingate Shopping Centre, where a tree stump has been carved into a swirling sculptural cornucopia by local artist David Johnson.
Corsham is a compact town built of Bath stone around its now partially pedestrianised High Street. Its wealth came from the quarrying of Bath stone and from the wool trade 17th-century weavers cottages still dominate the High Street.
When it becomes fully operational next year, the MOD site at Basil Hill will eventually employ nearly 2,000 people near the historic Corsham Tunnels, stone quarries originally but subsequently used for a variety of military purposes. While some of the MOD workforce will live on site, the population growth will fuel demand for more housing, and the current military complex will be cleared to make way for new properties. Part of the complex is today used as Corsham Cellars, keeping fine wines in perfect condition.
Somewhere beneath Box Hill is a radiation-proof bunker, a small town, complete with a street lined by government departments, and its own pub called the Rose & Crown. While the facility is mothballed and maintained by a small staff, it would be wonderful if it could be opened to the public.
Like so many small towns, Corsham no longer has a railway station, although the Great Western line from Chippenham to Bath passes through it. The station closed in the 1960s, and passengers now have to join trains at Melksham or Chippenham, both less than five miles away. The continuing growth of the town has prompted much local support for the re-opening of a station.
Bath, with all its visitor attractions, is only a short drive away, as are Lacock, Bradford on Avon, Melksham and Chippenham. With the A4 skirting the town, and the north-south A350 only a few minutes away, most other parts of the South West can be reached from Corsham relatively easily.
Around and about
Corsham Court, the home of the Methuen family, with its rich collection of paintings and furnishings, is just at the end of the High Street, and the 600-acre park is open daily except Mondays and Fridays, offering some lovely walks.
Isambard Kingdom Brunels famous Box Tunnel on the Great Western line is not far away. It is said that when it was being built (at the time the longest railway tunnel in the world), the shops on Corsham High Street stayed open until midnight to serve the needs
of the navigators or navvies.
Corsham has a number of primary schools and a real high-flier of a secondary school. Recently graded as exceptional across the board by Ofsted, Corsham School has specialist Visual Arts College status, and also offers exceptional facilities for the study of IT and mathematics.
Entertainment & Eating Out
The Pound Arts Centre hosts numerous groups and societies offering dance, drama, art, crafts, and regular specialist workshops in such things as jewellery-making and puppet-making to name just two! Theres no shortage of places to eat and drink: Corsham Deli and Cinnamon in the High Street and The Flemish Weaver and Methuen Arms Hotel being cases in point.
No one is quite sure whether or not Charles Dickens ever visited Corsham, but local tradition has it that he either stopped in the town for a meal one day or stayed overnight at the Hare & Hounds coaching inn in nearby Pickwick. Local man Moses Pickwick, owned and operated the coach business. Dickens may simply have pinched the name in passing for his famous character, but the local story has much more romance!
WG Grace lived nearby and is believed to have been bowled out for a duck by a local man!
From the world of music, Sir Michael Tippett lived on the High Street throughout the 1960s and, in more recent times, Camilla Parker-Bowles lived at Middlewick House in Pickwick. That property was subsequently owned by Pink Floyds Nick Mason.
What can I get for my money?
With three-bedroom properties available from around 125,000, and two-bedroom bungalows costing not much more, Corshams house prices seem reasonable with two-bed apartments as low as 100,000. A three-bed modern semi on the popular Katherine Park development costs around 250,000, and four-bed modern detached houses come in at 300,000-350,000. Local estate agents Hunter French report that the property market is reassuringly buoyant at the moment.
Could you live here?
Little Notton farmhouse, a 16th-century Grade II Listed period residence with business potential and a stream meandering through the garden is situated on the former estate of the Audry family in the pretty parish of Lacock. It is on offer at Hunter French, 3 High Street, 01249 715775, for 795,000.