With a history dating back to Saxon times, Corsham is a delightful little town, just three miles west of Chippenham. Reputed to have been the country palace of Ethelred the Unready, the Royal Manor formed part of the dower of the Queens of England from the 14th century. The present house was built in 1582 by Thomas Smythe, a local man who, realising London was the place to make his fortune, married well and returned to the village in his later years.
In 1745, Paul Methuen bought Corsham Court specifically for providing a storage place for the great family art collections he was due to inherit. Paul Methuen's ancestral family (Methven) can be traced back to the 11th century. Throughout the middle ages many were great Ambassadors to the Royal courts, some held important Government posts and then, during the 17th century when the wool industry was booming, they were extremely successful clothiers.
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was primarily responsible for redesigning and enlarging the house and parklands during the 1760s, but at the beginning of the 19th century John Nash completely remodelled the north fašade in the 'Strawberry Hill' Gothic style. Nash further embellished other areas of Brown's external building works, as well as reorganising the internal layout to form a grand hall and a library, resulting in well-lit, spacious areas to display the important works of art to their best advantage. Unfortunately, less than 50 years later, most of Nash's work was destroyed and replaced with a more solid structure which served to improve the maintenance of a house that suffered constantly from damp.
Due to the interests and foresight of a subsequent Paul Methuen (1886-1974), Corsham Court and it's abundance of art treasures, has been secured and preserved for generations to come. As a keen painter himself, he held many recognised honours in the art world, and was dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings. He worked relentlessly on the restoration of the pictures, re-hanging and re-cataloguing them, and ensuring that essential repairs were undertaken to the soft furnishings. Paul also found great joy in the gardens, and his lasting memorial is the reconstruction of the beautiful medieval porch from Bradford-on-Avon, which has been placed close to Brown's Gothic Bath House in the grounds.
What the visitor sees today is an exquisite array of furniture and paintings collected by the Methuens - or acquired through notable marriages - and boasting a host of famous contributors, such as Adam, Morris, Young, Cobb and Chippendale. Every room oozes fine craftsmanship and elegant styling to provide a perfectly harmonious setting for the important Italian and Flemish Masters adorning the walls.
Aside from the obvious splendours that will inevitably draw the visitor to Corsham Court, there is a refreshing and relaxed air around the house. Able to roam freely, unhindered by the usual rope barriers, protective coverings and prohibitive notices, the visitor is encouraged to be inquisitive and, with the informality and enthusiasm of the room guides, it is possible to learn a great deal about the house's history and contents. With a little gentle persuasion, some of the guides will be happy to relate one or two incidents of a lesser known and more intimate nature, albeit with a certain amount of poetic licence and theatrical embellishment.