Visiting Corsham Court with Victoria

Corsham Court is near Chippenham in Wiltshire.  The website is here.

Corsham Court, which I photographed in 2009 on a visit to Hampshire and Wiltshire, was a Royal manor in the time of Saxon Kings. The core of the present house was built in the late 16th century by Thomas Smyth. In the 1740’s, the estate was purchased by a member of the Methuen family and eventually altered to house Sir Paul Methuen’s excellent collection of paintings.  Almost two centuries later, more fine pictures were added when the family inherited the collection of a relative who had resided in Italy where he acquired many old masters.  The initial impression of the house exterior reminded me of a previous visit to the Biltmore estate in Asheville, North Carolina.

Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina

Biltmore, the home of George Vanderbilt in North Carolina, opened in 1895, the creation of architect William Morris Hunt; he based his designs on the style of three 16th C French chateaux.

A closer look at the entrance of Corsham Court.

At Corsham Court, the Elizabethan house was altered significantly several times.  In 1798, architect John Nash followed in Capability Brown’s footsteps (see below) but could not keep up!  Sadly, Nash’s work was poorly executed and needed significant repair within a few decades.  So in the 1840’s, parts of the house  were rebuilt again, giving it the look it now has by architect Thomas Bellamy. I find both the Court and Biltmore rather forbidding in appearance.  However, the interior of Corsham Court could not be more different from Biltmore.  I felt Biltmore was dark, dreary, and altogether uninviting as a place to live (to visit, quite fascinating). 

An angled view of one wing. 

 Corsham Court is lovely, beginning with a handsome hall, that I would call a combination of neo-classic and baroque, as interpreted by Bellamy in the Victorian Age.

The Picture Gallery, a triple cube room, 72 feet long, was designed by Lancelot Capability Brown in the 1760’s.  Brown is renowned for his hundreds of landscape garden designs, but he is also responsible for a number of country houses, some fully, others remodeling projects.

Brilliant works by Van Dyke, Strozzi, Dolci, Reni, del Sarto, Rosa, and others fill the walls in the state rooms – an astonishing collection, mostly still owned by the Methuen family. According to the Blue Guide to English Country Houses, “The pictures themselves, still hung much as they were in the 18C, many of them in their original frames, offer an almost unparalleled insight into 18C artistic taste.” 
 From the house guide book, “In 1765 Morris & Young of Spitalfields supplied 700 yards at 13 s. 6d. a yard, and four years later a further 478 1/2 yards at 14 s. the latter amount for covering the furniture. As time went by, the damask on the chairs got worn, and so sections were cut from behind the paintings to patch them.”
Among the most renowned paintings in the collection is Van Dyke’s Betrayal of Christ, above, now actually owned by the City of Brisol Art Gallery.

Lady Boston, nee Christiana Methuen by George Romney

I love to look at the family portraits as well as the Old Masters since knowing the stories of the families who lived in the great stately homes is a big part of the fun. Christian Methuen died in 1832.

The Cabinet Room
Almost as renowned as the art collections at Corsham Court are the gardens, some dating from the days of Capability Brown and others developed in the last decades.

I had my usual luck with peacocks.  Despite my begging, they just weren’t interested in display!

In fact, this fellow just stalked away with a haughty expression. “Don’t bother me,” he seemed to say.

This charming structure leads to the bathhouse, originally designed by Brown but altered by others to its present neo-Gothic look.

Below is another view which shows the now-empty plunge bath, once a popular feature of country houses — and probably useful too.

It must have been lovely on a warm day to soak in the bath and gaze out on the beautiful garden blooms.
Corsham Court is as great country house, well worth visiting.
For a detailed history of the house:
More information on the collections and reproductions of the paintings can be seen here:

2 thoughts on “Visiting Corsham Court with Victoria”

  1. By chance, I had the pleasure of actually living in a part of Corsham Court in 1963-4, when as a lad I worked for a while for the Bath Academy of Art. I never saw the staterooms though. I would be a lot more interested in it if I were there now than I was then! I used to spend a lot of time tramping round the gardens and grounds. One day I came upon a scruffy old chap working in the shrubbery whom I took to be a gardener. Turned out he was Lord Methuen.

Leave a Reply