ACOUSTIC TRIANGLE 2005 TOUR
ST. BARTHOLOMEW'S, CORSHAM, WILTSHIRE
A Corsham Festival event.
The earliest recorded entry regarding Corsham is in the Saxon Charter,
which refers to the area as Cosa's Farm. Inhabitants would have lived in
timber and wattle houses and their lives must have revolved mainly
around the church.
The Saxon Church at Corsham probably consisted of a chancel and a
nave, with a chapel on each side. The walls of the nave are fixed by the
present structure, and the original west end is marked by the break in
the arcade on either side. This church was probably sacked and burned
during the Danish Invasion of Wessex. When the country became more
settled, the first church seems to have been enlarged by the addition of
a central tower, transepts on both sides of it, and a new chancel.
With the arrival of the Normans came the first census. The Domesday
Book records, as part of the entry for Corsham, that there was land for
fifty ploughs. There were sixty-five bonded peasants who paid
'labour-service' to the local Lord, and had a share in the common
fields. Serfs (slaves) numbered ten, and there were thirty-two acres of
meadow. The church owned land enough for five ploughs, valued at £7.
The Normans made extensive additions to the second church described
above. A north aisle was added to the nave in the second quarter of the
twelfth century, the nave itself was lengthened, and before this work
was completed a south aisle was also added. At the end of the twelfth
century there seems to have been a general rebuilding of the eastern end
of the church. Much of the tower was also rebuilt at this time.
A great deal of additional work took place in the thirteenth, fourteenth
and fifteenth centuries. In 1531 King Henry VIII claimed the title of
Head of the English Church in addition to that of Defender of the Faith,
which had been given to him by the Pope ten years before. King Edward VI
came to the throne in 1547 and further demolition occurred. Images in
churches were destroyed, stained glass windows smashed, rood lofts
demolished, and a commission established to suppress all colleges,
chantries and free chapels, after which the altars themselves were
pulled down. In rich parishes these fanatical destructions were partly
made good during the reign of Queen Mary, but Queen Elizabeth I should
be given credit for insisting that the churches throughout the land were
again made decent for public worship.
It was in 1745 that the church, together with Corsham Court, which lies
next door, and the Lordship of the Manor, passed to Paul Methuen of
Bradford-on-Avon, in whose family it has remained ever since.
On two occasions the church has been under threat of demolition. In 1831
a committee set up to consider the best means of repairing and improving
the church, reported to the vestry committee that the necessary repairs
and alterations could not be accomplished at an expense short of £2,500.
They therefore recommended that "application be made to Mr. Methuen
thanking him for the very liberal offer made by him last year to erect a
new parish church, and assuring him of the cordial disposition of the
Parishioners to accept his proposal". What transpired at the subsequent
meeting with Mr. Methuen does not matter, but fortunately Mr. Methuen
did not build a new church and the old church was not destroyed. Thirty
years later, the church was again threatened. In September 1848, the
vestry meeting unanimously agreed that the present church accommodation
was insufficient for the wants of the parish, and that the best mode of
providing additional accommodation was by building a new church,
Subsequent vestry records reveal that it was impracticable to raise
sufficient funds to build another church, and over the next three years
many suggestions were put forward as to how best to improve the interior
of the existing building.
The rage for restoring churches was at its height in the late nineteenth
century. Corsham joined the fashion in 1874. Many changes were proposed
by the architect Mr. George E. Street and on 13th July 1875, a license
was granted for services to be held at the riding school at Corsham
Court whilst the church was closed for renovation. The work was
completed at the beginning of 1878, and the church was re opened for
service on 13th June 1878. And so it has stood, without major change, to
Thanks to Edward James for his help with this research.
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