Corsham Court lozenge

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Corsham Park is a registered Grade II* heritage landcape, and noted to be of "great quality".

There are three public footpaths crossing Corsham Park although, under the Environmental Stewardship Scheme, open access arrangements over the extent of land to the south of the lake prevail until end Jauary 2019.

DEFRA is the Government Dept. responsible for Stewardship Schemes as part of the England Rural Development Programme.

Click here to visit DEFRA's web site.

There is a car park especially for visitors to Corsham Park in Lacock Road. It is conveniently sited for a the permissive footpath on the opposite side of the road which leads through a narrow belt of woodland. The visitor emerges directly into the field on the south side of the lake, just a few hundred metres from the shore. Please remeber that Church Square is reserved for those visiting Corsham Court or attending the church.

Please do not drop litter, keep dogs under control at all times (and on a lead during the lambing season). Keep to the public footpaths where there are no open access arrangements in place. (Map boards are sited at all public entry points into the Park.) Cycling and horse riding are not permitted.

At certain times of the year (and after heavy rainfall) the land becomes waterlogged and may not be suitable for wheelchairs) The pasture is uneven and not suitable except for robust powered wheelchairs. No motorcycles are permitted.

Other "Capability" Brown landscapes to visit in Wiltshire include:

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Return home for Corsham Court contact details, opening times, admission charges and disabled access arrangements.

Click here to return to the home page

Return home for Corsham Court contact details, opening times, admission charges and disabled access arrangements.

Corsham Park

Corsham Park

A Brief History

Mr Paul Methuen was intent on improving his property at Corsham following his acquisition in 1745. From a family of wealthy Wiltshire clothiers, he had the means not only to enlarge the mansion house but further to buy land and property in the assimilation of a country estate. It is known, from William Simpson's map of 1770, that additional lands had been purchased by that time in the embryonic development of the estate centered on Corsham House. The improvement of this property and its setting was Methuen's priority and in doing so he engaged the best talents of the day.

Proposals for the reshaping of the landscape by Greening and Oram had been rejected when Lancelot Brown was first invited to Corsham in 1759. Like his predecessors, Brown was confined to a consideration of the lands extending immediately to the east, the house being sited on the west side of a deer park bordering the settlement of Corsham. Uphill views to the north precluded any scheme in that direction, as did the Elizabethan courtyard to the south.

Brown's intention was to create a pastoral scene at Corsham, incorporating the old deer park, with its principal view from the windows of his Picture Gallery. The plan of 1761 for laying out the Park was comprehensive and included:

  • A screen of trees around the park to define its parameters and obscure the roads and fields beyond. On the eastern boundary, the view was softened by the planting of a serpentine belt of trees.

  • A decision was taken to retain Elm avenues to the north and south of the house. These were supplemented with further planting to ensure their perpetuation whilst an established avenue to the east was severely thinned to make way for picturesquely grouped trees comprising mainly Ash, Oak and Walnut.

  • The division of the Park into two halves through the excavation of a sunken iron fence. This was to separate the cultivted pasture from the deer park without affecting the view from the house.

  • A plan to create a lake to the east. This was never accomplished under Brown's direction and instead stew ponds on the north east side of the Court were enlarged to form a pear-shaped lake.

Brown advocated the naturalisation of the landscape and integration of house, leisure grounds and Park beyond. From the gardens he had devised a panoramic walk to the north and east. This "Great Walk" (now known as the "North Walk") was planted with a dense screen of trees and shrubs concealing the views to the north and west, thereby focussing attention on Brown's park to the east.

Brown's dry arch

The private stretch of this path passes into Mynte Wood (planted as the northern fringe of Brown's park) and, at the point where it is crossed by a public footpath, an ornamental arch of "petrified" stone was built to allow the family and their guests to walk uninterrupted beneath the public right of way. The footpath still passes over the dry arch in the middle of the wood. It links Brown's park with the land to the north, later landscaped by Repton (see below).

Brown achieved a unity between the setting of the Picture Collection and the landscape view which was noted by Eighteenth Century connoisseurs who related Brown's landscape gardening prowess to the landscape paintings of Claud and Poussin.

Humphry Repton was a follower of Brown's school of landscape gardening and defended criticism of Brown's arcadian approach when commentators were promoting the idea of wild and rugged scenery towards the end of the Eighteenth Century. This conflicted with Brown's pastoral designs and Repton's stance probably secured his instruction at Corsham by Paul Cobb Methuen. By 1795, Brown's original plantings were nearing 40 years old and the benefits of his foresight would have been evident. Repton's instruction was therefore a logical progression for the Methuen's when contemplating further improvements to the Park. Indeed, his friendship with the family was to endure even the controversy consequent upon Nash's short-comings. (See "a brief history" of Corsham Court.)

Repton was contracted to plan and supervise the following:

  • The excavation of a lake in the south east corner of the Park.Repton's lake This was completed by 1778, although the basin was enlarged later to its present area of 13 acres. Repton planted a dramatic backdrop of trees (now known as Lake Covert) behind the lake. The reflection of trees in water was a favourite device of his and the effects can be particularly stunning in autumn. It is said that Repton regretted not siting the lake nearer to the house. It is, however, a prominent feature when viewed form the Picture Gallery windows.

  • The drainage of Brown's lake to the north. This was partially filled in and is noticeable as a slight depression.

  • The planting of several thousand trees, mainly in clumps and copses, to create views of the house from a carriage drive routed, by Repton, through the Park.

  • The extension of the Park by incorporating land to the north of Mynte Wood (Brown's earlier northern fringe).Repton's wall "hiding" the busy A4 behind This was achieved through the diversion of the London to Bath turnpike (now the A4). It involved the construction of a new boundary wall and provision of land drains. The wall is a familiar sight to motorists enroute between Chippenham and Corsham. It is approximately 1.25 miles long and affords beautiful views over the unspoilt meadow land that is Repton's North Park.

  • The construction of massive gate piers at the entrance to the carriage drive from a minor road to the south of the re-routed turnpike. This leads into private woodland but emerges into the southernmost parkland at its western extreme near Westrop.

The Partnership of Repton and Nash was, in theory at least, an excellent one. Nash's boat house as a cottage todayRepton, in particular, attempted to contrive a landscape that would display Nash's work to dramatic effect. Vistas of the re-modelled house were framed by clumps of trees across undulating parkland as spectators passed along the carriage drive. He did not lose sight, however, of Brown's objectives in perfecting the principal views from the Picture Gallery. In pursuit of this Nash was asked to site a small boat house at the far end of the lake as a focal point. It survives today as a cottage (the conversion having been made many years ago). The picturesque gable end is still clearly visible from across the lake, just as Repton had intended.

Tree shelter in Corsham Park

The Park Today

Corsham Park was transformed (as were so many English landscapes) on the demise of the elm tree. During the late 1970s, thousands of Elm trees were felled across the Corsham Estate as Dutch Elm disease took hold. Over the previous hundred years or so, the landscape had been in decline as the lake had silted up and many of the Oaks become stag-headed. All inland water bodies silt up over time and eventually become marshes without intervention. Oak trees are not particularly well suited to the shallow calcareous soils, prematurely dying back when their roots hit the impenetrable bedrock. Furthermore, many acres of sheep pasture had been lost to arable cultivation and the shallow rooted Oaks suffered in consequence. The late Sixth Lord Methen had replanted the north and south avenues with Lime, although it was not until 1998 that a co-ordinated and sustained programme of restoration was embarked upon.

A restoration and management plan was drawn up entailing proposals for the dredging of the lake and the re-establishment of pasture over the cultivated land. Additionally, more than 500 individually sheltered parkland trees were to be planted throughout the Park.

The project, supported by DEFRA, under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, got underway in 1999 when the lake was drained prior to some 90,000 tonnes of silt being dredged from its basin. This was allowed to dry out (over the ensuing 24 months) before being incorporated into the land to the north. Since this time all land, previously in arable cultivation, has been re-seeded with traditional grass species and there is a prohibition on the use of fertilisers and pesticides generally (with some limited exceptions).

Newly underplanted peripheral woodland The peripheral woodland is an important feature of the Park and, whilst not encompassed by the Stewardship Scheme, has similarly been the subject of restoration. The woods and copses have been thinned and underplanted with thousands of Oak trees and other native species. They will continue to form the backdrop of this pastoral (but entirely artificial) landscape for generations to come.

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