Corsham Regis (St. Bartholomew)

CORSHAM REGIS (St. Bartholomew), a parish, and formerly a market-town, in the union and hundred of Chippenham, Chippenham and Calne, and N. divisions of Wilts, 4 miles (S. W. by W.) from Chippenham; containing 3842 inhabitants. This place is of very considerable antiquity: it is recorded in the Saxon Chronicles that, in 1015, "King Ethelred lay sick at Cosham, and Alderman Edric collected an army there." According to the Norman survey it was held by Tosti, Earl of Northumberland, and at the Conquest became part of the royal possessions; and from the Malmesbury Chronicle, preserved in Leland's Collectanea, it appears that, in 1358, the king and queen spent all the summer at this place and at Marlborough. It comprises the royal manor and the manor of the rectory: the former was granted in the reign of Henry III., by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to the tenants as farmers in fee, on condition of their paying the annual sum of 110 marks; and the original charter, which is deposited with the court rolls, is in excellent preservation. The bailiffs of this manor are chosen by the tenants from among themselves; they are invested with the powers of sheriff and coroner within the parish, and the tenants of the rectory manor owe suit and service to their court leet.

The town principally consists of one long street, the houses of which, built chiefly of freestone, have a very neat appearance: its situation is dry and healthy, and the free access which the inhabitants have to Corsham Park renders it desirable as a place of residence. Corsham House, the seat of Lord Methuen, lord of the manor, who was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Methuen, of Corsham, July 13th, 1838, was built on the site of the ancient palace, in 1582, and was considerably enlarged by the late Mr. Methuen, in order to receive the extensive gallery of pictures which had been collected by Sir Paul Methuen. The manufacture of woollen-cloths was formerly carried on, and in the last century had obtained some degree of celebrity, but it has since that period altogether disappeared. The market has been discontinued; but fairs for cattle are held on March 7th and September 4th. A new markethouse, which is also a court-house, was built with a view of reviving the market, in 1784, in the centre of the town. The Great Western railway runs in the vicinity. The parish comprises 6498a. 3r. 14p., of which more than 2200 acres are arable, nearly 3800 pasture, and 228 woodland: the peasantry are partly occupied in raising stone from the numerous quarries in this parish and that of Box.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 16.; patron, Lord Methuen; impropriators, the landowners. The vicarial tithes have been commuted for £299. 10.; the vicar enjoys some peculiar privileges, and possesses an official seal. The church is an ancient structure, with a tower rising from four massive piers and arches in the centre, between the nave and the chancel, and formerly surmounted by a lofty spire, which, being deemed insecure, was taken down in 1812. The aisles are separated from the nave by low Norman pillars and small arches: in the north aisle is a small chapel, divided from it by a stone screen of handsome design; and on the north-western side is the ecclesiastical or consistory court of the incumbent. There are places of worship for Baptists and Independents. At the south-east entrance to the town is a free school, with an almshouse for six aged poor, built and endowed by Lady Margaret Hungerford, in 1668, and both under the superintendence of a master, who occupies a lodge adjoining the schoolroom. The first master, appointed by Lady Hungerford, was the Rev. Edward Wells, vicar of the parish, and father of the learned author of Sacred Geography; and Mr. Hasted, the historian of the county of Kent, who died here in 1812, held the same appointment. Some valuable lands are vested in trustees for repairing the church, sustaining the poor in the parish-dwelling, and for the repair of the bridges. Richard Kirby, of Islington, in 1672 bequeathed his interest in an estate near Dublin, to be distributed among eight poor persons; and Lady James' charity, producing £57. 8. per annum from the three per cents., of which the parish receives two-thirds, is appropriated to the distribution of blankets and coats.

Bishop Tanner states that here was an alien priory, and that William the Conqueror gave the church of this place to the abbey of St. Stephen, at Caen, in Normandy, the monks of which held it until, as parcel of the late possessions of that foreign house, it was assigned by Henry VI. to King's College, Cambridge; but he is at a loss to reconcile this fact with the gift of the church and other possessions by Henry II. to the Benedictine monks of Marmonstier, in Tourrain, who had a cell here. During the wars with France, this priory was in the custody of the Bishop and Chapter of Exeter. It was given, in the 1st of Edward IV., towards the endowment of the monastery at Sion, and as parcel thereof was granted by James I. to Philip Moore; the revenue was £22. 13. 4. There was also a nunnery, which occupied the present site of the Methuen Arms inn.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.