Two Hundred Years of Country House Visiting – Corsham Court

IMG_2875_3 Hello! This is Nicola with a post for everyone who enjoys a virtual tour of a historic house! I have to admit that country house visiting is one of my favourite pastimes. Luckily I can claim it as research so I don't feel as though I am playing truant but instead am virtuously doing something work-related! One of the most famous country house visitors in literature is Elizabeth Bennet, of course, whose tour of Derbyshire with her aunt and uncle in Pride and Prejudice leads to an unexpected meeting with Mr Darcy at Pemberley. Whilst my own visits to historica houses have not been quite as momentous, I have seen some wonderful places and met some eccentric, endearing and very interesting owners over the years. My favourite was at castle Matrix in Ireland (shades of Monty Python), where we staggered in on a wet afternoon and the owner made us a pot of tea and a sandwich before giving us a personal tour of the castle and spinning a marvellous tale about her late husband, whom she claimed had been a modern day Knights Templar! 

IMG_2857_4 So one never knows quite what to expect, which is part of the fun, and last month I went to a house that I have wanted to visit for a long time. It is called Corsham Court and it is near Bath. It houses a world famous collection of Old Master paintings and has stunningly beautiful gardens and pleasure grounds, as well as a troupe (is that the correct collective noun?) of peacocks who can be found wandering into the town, sitting beside you in the gardens or even perching on the roof!

The village of Corsham itself has a wonderfully historical atmosphere. It is recorded that King Ethelred the Unready had a summer palace there and that in 1244 Richard Earl of Cornwall, one of the sons of King John, built himself a Manor there. The estate was given to both Katherine of Aragon and Katherine Parr, but it is said that by the end of Henry VIII's reign the medieval manor house was in ruins. It is reasonable to speculate that the current house, which was built in 1582 might well have been on or near the site of the medieval manor and the earlier palace. Sir Paul Methuen, a wealthy diplomat, bought Corsham Court in 1745 and it has remained in the Methuen family ever since. It was Sir paul who accumulated the grand collection of Old Master paintings that still hang in the house today.

IMG_2885_1 The first guidebook to Corsham Court was produced in 1806. At the time the general public were permitted to view all the staterooms including the State Bedroom. These were where most of the portraits were hung and the early guidebooks provide a detailed description of the collection, making it clear how proud the Methuen family were of displaying them. Two hundred and three years later I followed in the footsteps of those early visitors! One of the things that I particularly liked about Corsham Court was that much of the house has remained architecturally unaltered since the 1760s and so walking through the staterooms was like stepping back into the eighteenth century in all its opulence.

Many of the paintings are displayed in the picture gallery against a background of crimson silk damask. In the eighteenth century this was considered to be the optimum material for displaying paintings in gilt-wood frames. The chairs and sofas were covered in matching material, which meant that a huge order was put in to Morris and Young of Spitalfields. In 1765 they supplied seven hundred yards of damask at thirteen shillings and sixpence a yard. Four years later that provided a further four hundred and seventy eight and a half yards of material for the furniture. The price had gone up to fourteen shillings a yard. I loved the fact that when, over the years, the damask furniture inevitably became worn, pieces were cut from the material behind the paintings in order to patch them up!

Paul Methuen Of the many magnificent portraits on display in the house, my favourite was this painting of Paul Cobb Methuen and his sister Christian by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Paul has such a vivid little face and a naughty twinkle in his eyes and I adored Christian's hat!

Such a picturesque house is bound to be in demand as a flm location so it was no surprise to me that Corsham has featured in the BBC adaptations of Tess of the D'Urbevilles and Wives and Daughters and also in the film Barry Lyndon.

Boat house and cottage The splendours of the house are matched by the gardens and pleasure grounds (I love the idea of pleasure grounds – it conjures up lazy days strolling under the plane trees or riding about the estate!) There is a wonderful view of the deer park and grounds from the Picture Gallery windows. This pastoral scene was the vision of Capability Brown who re-designed the park with a vew to integrating the landscape paintings indoors with the view outdoors. He created a "Great Walk" with panoramic views of the estate, and a romantic wilderness woodland complete with a little ornamental bridge of petrified stone. In the early years of the nineteenth century Humphrey Repton developed the Corsham vision further by creating a lake from the medieval stew ponds and planting specimen trees such as the American Oaks and Oriental Planes that look so magnificent today.

Sham castle As always with historic houses it was the little nooks and crannies that intrigued me the most and my favourite bit of my visit was discovering the bathhouse. This was the work of Capability Brown and it was intended to provide an invigorating cold dip for the family, friends and visitors. The bath was sunk into the arcaded ground floor and a flight of steps led to a dressing room above. The style of the bathhouse was gothic, with arched windows, niches and pinnacles on the roof. It was absolutely charming but possibly not sufficiently so to temp me to shed my clothes, even in an English summer! Close by was another building that caught my fancy – the Sham Ruin. Built as a folly in the late eighteenth century and intended only for decoration, it did contain some of the stonework from the medieval house demolished in the sixteenth century.

 

IMG_2880_2 Those of you who have read the “Regency Authors Go Wild” page on my website will know that one of my most pressing requirements for country house visiting is that there should be a tea shop close by so I was thrilled to discover that whilst there was not a teashop at Corsham Court itself, there was a lovely little pavement café in the village where we sat in the sunshine and enjoyed tea and cake.

I hope that you have enjoyed this “virtual tour” of Corsham Court! I wondered what it is about a trip that makes it special to you? It needn’t be to a historical place, although it could be – anywhere that you love or that is important to you. Do you have special places that you visit or things like my country house afternoon tea ritual that you particularly like?

75 thoughts on “Two Hundred Years of Country House Visiting – Corsham Court”

  1. What a fascinating post, Nicola. As an artist, I loved the little detail of displaying gilt frames against red! A fun fact to know.
    I love visiting places I have read about in novels or history books. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled onto St. George’s Church in London. I dissolved into a fit of squealing delight, and the people I was with thought I was absolutely nuts. When I explained that it was THE place for Regency weddings, they smiled politely, but I could see they still thought I was a little weird.

    Reply
  2. What a fascinating post, Nicola. As an artist, I loved the little detail of displaying gilt frames against red! A fun fact to know.
    I love visiting places I have read about in novels or history books. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled onto St. George’s Church in London. I dissolved into a fit of squealing delight, and the people I was with thought I was absolutely nuts. When I explained that it was THE place for Regency weddings, they smiled politely, but I could see they still thought I was a little weird.

    Reply
  3. What a fascinating post, Nicola. As an artist, I loved the little detail of displaying gilt frames against red! A fun fact to know.
    I love visiting places I have read about in novels or history books. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled onto St. George’s Church in London. I dissolved into a fit of squealing delight, and the people I was with thought I was absolutely nuts. When I explained that it was THE place for Regency weddings, they smiled politely, but I could see they still thought I was a little weird.

    Reply
  4. What a fascinating post, Nicola. As an artist, I loved the little detail of displaying gilt frames against red! A fun fact to know.
    I love visiting places I have read about in novels or history books. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled onto St. George’s Church in London. I dissolved into a fit of squealing delight, and the people I was with thought I was absolutely nuts. When I explained that it was THE place for Regency weddings, they smiled politely, but I could see they still thought I was a little weird.

    Reply
  5. What a fascinating post, Nicola. As an artist, I loved the little detail of displaying gilt frames against red! A fun fact to know.
    I love visiting places I have read about in novels or history books. I’ll never forget the first time I accidentally stumbled onto St. George’s Church in London. I dissolved into a fit of squealing delight, and the people I was with thought I was absolutely nuts. When I explained that it was THE place for Regency weddings, they smiled politely, but I could see they still thought I was a little weird.

    Reply
  6. Nicola, thank you so much for this wonderful virtual tour. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Visiting historic houses for me is a marvellous mix of history, art and sheer curiosity about how people live(d.) I love hearing the various tales of the family and the people who lived there.
    I must admit that I also enjoy a visit to a tea shop or cafe after visiting a stately home. It’s thirsty work, but someone’s got to do it 😉

    Reply
  7. Nicola, thank you so much for this wonderful virtual tour. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Visiting historic houses for me is a marvellous mix of history, art and sheer curiosity about how people live(d.) I love hearing the various tales of the family and the people who lived there.
    I must admit that I also enjoy a visit to a tea shop or cafe after visiting a stately home. It’s thirsty work, but someone’s got to do it 😉

    Reply
  8. Nicola, thank you so much for this wonderful virtual tour. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Visiting historic houses for me is a marvellous mix of history, art and sheer curiosity about how people live(d.) I love hearing the various tales of the family and the people who lived there.
    I must admit that I also enjoy a visit to a tea shop or cafe after visiting a stately home. It’s thirsty work, but someone’s got to do it 😉

    Reply
  9. Nicola, thank you so much for this wonderful virtual tour. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Visiting historic houses for me is a marvellous mix of history, art and sheer curiosity about how people live(d.) I love hearing the various tales of the family and the people who lived there.
    I must admit that I also enjoy a visit to a tea shop or cafe after visiting a stately home. It’s thirsty work, but someone’s got to do it 😉

    Reply
  10. Nicola, thank you so much for this wonderful virtual tour. I’ve enjoyed it immensely. Visiting historic houses for me is a marvellous mix of history, art and sheer curiosity about how people live(d.) I love hearing the various tales of the family and the people who lived there.
    I must admit that I also enjoy a visit to a tea shop or cafe after visiting a stately home. It’s thirsty work, but someone’s got to do it 😉

    Reply
  11. I think you would like Corsham, Alison. It’s a very different proposition from your own Castle Fraser but impressive in its own way. The variety in places to visit is one of the things I like about historic houses. What will it be – castle or manor house, stately home or hunting lodge… The agonies of choice!

    Reply
  12. I think you would like Corsham, Alison. It’s a very different proposition from your own Castle Fraser but impressive in its own way. The variety in places to visit is one of the things I like about historic houses. What will it be – castle or manor house, stately home or hunting lodge… The agonies of choice!

    Reply
  13. I think you would like Corsham, Alison. It’s a very different proposition from your own Castle Fraser but impressive in its own way. The variety in places to visit is one of the things I like about historic houses. What will it be – castle or manor house, stately home or hunting lodge… The agonies of choice!

    Reply
  14. I think you would like Corsham, Alison. It’s a very different proposition from your own Castle Fraser but impressive in its own way. The variety in places to visit is one of the things I like about historic houses. What will it be – castle or manor house, stately home or hunting lodge… The agonies of choice!

    Reply
  15. I think you would like Corsham, Alison. It’s a very different proposition from your own Castle Fraser but impressive in its own way. The variety in places to visit is one of the things I like about historic houses. What will it be – castle or manor house, stately home or hunting lodge… The agonies of choice!

    Reply
  16. LOL, Andrea, you really have to be a Regency author or reader to appreciate your excitement about St George’s! Anne, so glad to find a kindred spirit on the tea shop front. This research business is hard work!

    Reply
  17. LOL, Andrea, you really have to be a Regency author or reader to appreciate your excitement about St George’s! Anne, so glad to find a kindred spirit on the tea shop front. This research business is hard work!

    Reply
  18. LOL, Andrea, you really have to be a Regency author or reader to appreciate your excitement about St George’s! Anne, so glad to find a kindred spirit on the tea shop front. This research business is hard work!

    Reply
  19. LOL, Andrea, you really have to be a Regency author or reader to appreciate your excitement about St George’s! Anne, so glad to find a kindred spirit on the tea shop front. This research business is hard work!

    Reply
  20. LOL, Andrea, you really have to be a Regency author or reader to appreciate your excitement about St George’s! Anne, so glad to find a kindred spirit on the tea shop front. This research business is hard work!

    Reply
  21. Lovely post. As a semi-reformed former Realtor, I will never get over my curiosity to see how other people live. Of course, I vividly remember asking the owners of one of my listings to remove the nude portrait of the wife they had in their bedroom!
    There’s nothing I like better (aside from a museum visit) than to visit a historic home. Tea after is just icing on the cake! I visited Athelhampton in Dorset a few years ago and was absolutely wowed by the gardens.

    Reply
  22. Lovely post. As a semi-reformed former Realtor, I will never get over my curiosity to see how other people live. Of course, I vividly remember asking the owners of one of my listings to remove the nude portrait of the wife they had in their bedroom!
    There’s nothing I like better (aside from a museum visit) than to visit a historic home. Tea after is just icing on the cake! I visited Athelhampton in Dorset a few years ago and was absolutely wowed by the gardens.

    Reply
  23. Lovely post. As a semi-reformed former Realtor, I will never get over my curiosity to see how other people live. Of course, I vividly remember asking the owners of one of my listings to remove the nude portrait of the wife they had in their bedroom!
    There’s nothing I like better (aside from a museum visit) than to visit a historic home. Tea after is just icing on the cake! I visited Athelhampton in Dorset a few years ago and was absolutely wowed by the gardens.

    Reply
  24. Lovely post. As a semi-reformed former Realtor, I will never get over my curiosity to see how other people live. Of course, I vividly remember asking the owners of one of my listings to remove the nude portrait of the wife they had in their bedroom!
    There’s nothing I like better (aside from a museum visit) than to visit a historic home. Tea after is just icing on the cake! I visited Athelhampton in Dorset a few years ago and was absolutely wowed by the gardens.

    Reply
  25. Lovely post. As a semi-reformed former Realtor, I will never get over my curiosity to see how other people live. Of course, I vividly remember asking the owners of one of my listings to remove the nude portrait of the wife they had in their bedroom!
    There’s nothing I like better (aside from a museum visit) than to visit a historic home. Tea after is just icing on the cake! I visited Athelhampton in Dorset a few years ago and was absolutely wowed by the gardens.

    Reply
  26. Love the anecdote about the nude portrait, Maggie! I vividly remember viewing a house once and spotting some very hardcore books on the coffee table. Serves me right, I suppose, for being so nosy about other people’s reading matter!
    I haven’t been to Athelhampton but I’ve added it to the list now!

    Reply
  27. Love the anecdote about the nude portrait, Maggie! I vividly remember viewing a house once and spotting some very hardcore books on the coffee table. Serves me right, I suppose, for being so nosy about other people’s reading matter!
    I haven’t been to Athelhampton but I’ve added it to the list now!

    Reply
  28. Love the anecdote about the nude portrait, Maggie! I vividly remember viewing a house once and spotting some very hardcore books on the coffee table. Serves me right, I suppose, for being so nosy about other people’s reading matter!
    I haven’t been to Athelhampton but I’ve added it to the list now!

    Reply
  29. Love the anecdote about the nude portrait, Maggie! I vividly remember viewing a house once and spotting some very hardcore books on the coffee table. Serves me right, I suppose, for being so nosy about other people’s reading matter!
    I haven’t been to Athelhampton but I’ve added it to the list now!

    Reply
  30. Love the anecdote about the nude portrait, Maggie! I vividly remember viewing a house once and spotting some very hardcore books on the coffee table. Serves me right, I suppose, for being so nosy about other people’s reading matter!
    I haven’t been to Athelhampton but I’ve added it to the list now!

    Reply
  31. I’d go with “a passel of peacocks,” but that would surely be an Americanism. 🙂 A wonderful virtual tour, Nicola! Like you, I am deeply fond of those wonderful castle tea shops!
    Mary Jo, who liked the detail of the damask background for the paintings.

    Reply
  32. I’d go with “a passel of peacocks,” but that would surely be an Americanism. 🙂 A wonderful virtual tour, Nicola! Like you, I am deeply fond of those wonderful castle tea shops!
    Mary Jo, who liked the detail of the damask background for the paintings.

    Reply
  33. I’d go with “a passel of peacocks,” but that would surely be an Americanism. 🙂 A wonderful virtual tour, Nicola! Like you, I am deeply fond of those wonderful castle tea shops!
    Mary Jo, who liked the detail of the damask background for the paintings.

    Reply
  34. I’d go with “a passel of peacocks,” but that would surely be an Americanism. 🙂 A wonderful virtual tour, Nicola! Like you, I am deeply fond of those wonderful castle tea shops!
    Mary Jo, who liked the detail of the damask background for the paintings.

    Reply
  35. I’d go with “a passel of peacocks,” but that would surely be an Americanism. 🙂 A wonderful virtual tour, Nicola! Like you, I am deeply fond of those wonderful castle tea shops!
    Mary Jo, who liked the detail of the damask background for the paintings.

    Reply
  36. Nicola
    Thank you so much for the tour I loved it one day I will get there and tour these wonderful places.
    I have done a great tour here in Sydney around what we call the Rocks where the first settlers came and some of those buildings are so old and lovely and listening to the tour guide tell us all about them was fantastic and then yes Hubby myself and two of our daughters had afternoon tea in a little cafe it was a great day must do it again soon. Another place I love to visit is the Blue Mountains here in NSW they are so beautiful especially (I think) in winter and they have lots of little teas houses that have the greatest devonshire teas.
    Have Fun
    Helen

    Reply
  37. Nicola
    Thank you so much for the tour I loved it one day I will get there and tour these wonderful places.
    I have done a great tour here in Sydney around what we call the Rocks where the first settlers came and some of those buildings are so old and lovely and listening to the tour guide tell us all about them was fantastic and then yes Hubby myself and two of our daughters had afternoon tea in a little cafe it was a great day must do it again soon. Another place I love to visit is the Blue Mountains here in NSW they are so beautiful especially (I think) in winter and they have lots of little teas houses that have the greatest devonshire teas.
    Have Fun
    Helen

    Reply
  38. Nicola
    Thank you so much for the tour I loved it one day I will get there and tour these wonderful places.
    I have done a great tour here in Sydney around what we call the Rocks where the first settlers came and some of those buildings are so old and lovely and listening to the tour guide tell us all about them was fantastic and then yes Hubby myself and two of our daughters had afternoon tea in a little cafe it was a great day must do it again soon. Another place I love to visit is the Blue Mountains here in NSW they are so beautiful especially (I think) in winter and they have lots of little teas houses that have the greatest devonshire teas.
    Have Fun
    Helen

    Reply
  39. Nicola
    Thank you so much for the tour I loved it one day I will get there and tour these wonderful places.
    I have done a great tour here in Sydney around what we call the Rocks where the first settlers came and some of those buildings are so old and lovely and listening to the tour guide tell us all about them was fantastic and then yes Hubby myself and two of our daughters had afternoon tea in a little cafe it was a great day must do it again soon. Another place I love to visit is the Blue Mountains here in NSW they are so beautiful especially (I think) in winter and they have lots of little teas houses that have the greatest devonshire teas.
    Have Fun
    Helen

    Reply
  40. Nicola
    Thank you so much for the tour I loved it one day I will get there and tour these wonderful places.
    I have done a great tour here in Sydney around what we call the Rocks where the first settlers came and some of those buildings are so old and lovely and listening to the tour guide tell us all about them was fantastic and then yes Hubby myself and two of our daughters had afternoon tea in a little cafe it was a great day must do it again soon. Another place I love to visit is the Blue Mountains here in NSW they are so beautiful especially (I think) in winter and they have lots of little teas houses that have the greatest devonshire teas.
    Have Fun
    Helen

    Reply
  41. Oh, I like a passel of peacocks, Mary Jo! Helen, your tour of the Rocks sounds wonderful (as does a visit to the Blue Mountains!) One day when I get the chance to visit Australia I will be writing down all these recommendations. Interesting that so many of us enjoy our afternoon tea!

    Reply
  42. Oh, I like a passel of peacocks, Mary Jo! Helen, your tour of the Rocks sounds wonderful (as does a visit to the Blue Mountains!) One day when I get the chance to visit Australia I will be writing down all these recommendations. Interesting that so many of us enjoy our afternoon tea!

    Reply
  43. Oh, I like a passel of peacocks, Mary Jo! Helen, your tour of the Rocks sounds wonderful (as does a visit to the Blue Mountains!) One day when I get the chance to visit Australia I will be writing down all these recommendations. Interesting that so many of us enjoy our afternoon tea!

    Reply
  44. Oh, I like a passel of peacocks, Mary Jo! Helen, your tour of the Rocks sounds wonderful (as does a visit to the Blue Mountains!) One day when I get the chance to visit Australia I will be writing down all these recommendations. Interesting that so many of us enjoy our afternoon tea!

    Reply
  45. Oh, I like a passel of peacocks, Mary Jo! Helen, your tour of the Rocks sounds wonderful (as does a visit to the Blue Mountains!) One day when I get the chance to visit Australia I will be writing down all these recommendations. Interesting that so many of us enjoy our afternoon tea!

    Reply
  46. My husband has a business trip to London in September, and (praise be) we’ve enough frequent flier miles for me to accompany him. I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that we’re also going to Bath, and I’ve now added Corsham to the list — just need to figure out how to get there from Bath.
    As for peacocks, I did the 21st C thing and Googled collective nouns. AskOxford.com gives 3: muster, pride, and ostentation, although it says the last is probably fanciful. I rather like it as it is so appropriate.

    Reply
  47. My husband has a business trip to London in September, and (praise be) we’ve enough frequent flier miles for me to accompany him. I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that we’re also going to Bath, and I’ve now added Corsham to the list — just need to figure out how to get there from Bath.
    As for peacocks, I did the 21st C thing and Googled collective nouns. AskOxford.com gives 3: muster, pride, and ostentation, although it says the last is probably fanciful. I rather like it as it is so appropriate.

    Reply
  48. My husband has a business trip to London in September, and (praise be) we’ve enough frequent flier miles for me to accompany him. I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that we’re also going to Bath, and I’ve now added Corsham to the list — just need to figure out how to get there from Bath.
    As for peacocks, I did the 21st C thing and Googled collective nouns. AskOxford.com gives 3: muster, pride, and ostentation, although it says the last is probably fanciful. I rather like it as it is so appropriate.

    Reply
  49. My husband has a business trip to London in September, and (praise be) we’ve enough frequent flier miles for me to accompany him. I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that we’re also going to Bath, and I’ve now added Corsham to the list — just need to figure out how to get there from Bath.
    As for peacocks, I did the 21st C thing and Googled collective nouns. AskOxford.com gives 3: muster, pride, and ostentation, although it says the last is probably fanciful. I rather like it as it is so appropriate.

    Reply
  50. My husband has a business trip to London in September, and (praise be) we’ve enough frequent flier miles for me to accompany him. I’ve told him in no uncertain terms that we’re also going to Bath, and I’ve now added Corsham to the list — just need to figure out how to get there from Bath.
    As for peacocks, I did the 21st C thing and Googled collective nouns. AskOxford.com gives 3: muster, pride, and ostentation, although it says the last is probably fanciful. I rather like it as it is so appropriate.

    Reply
  51. “An ostentation of peacocks” is exactly right, isn’t it. All that preening and displaying! So glad I have persuaded you to visit Corsham Court, Susan. And I’m sure you will have an utterly fabulous time in Bath.

    Reply
  52. “An ostentation of peacocks” is exactly right, isn’t it. All that preening and displaying! So glad I have persuaded you to visit Corsham Court, Susan. And I’m sure you will have an utterly fabulous time in Bath.

    Reply
  53. “An ostentation of peacocks” is exactly right, isn’t it. All that preening and displaying! So glad I have persuaded you to visit Corsham Court, Susan. And I’m sure you will have an utterly fabulous time in Bath.

    Reply
  54. “An ostentation of peacocks” is exactly right, isn’t it. All that preening and displaying! So glad I have persuaded you to visit Corsham Court, Susan. And I’m sure you will have an utterly fabulous time in Bath.

    Reply
  55. “An ostentation of peacocks” is exactly right, isn’t it. All that preening and displaying! So glad I have persuaded you to visit Corsham Court, Susan. And I’m sure you will have an utterly fabulous time in Bath.

    Reply
  56. Corsham Court has been on my list of most see houses for a long time. You description has my me want to even more.

    Reply
  57. Corsham Court has been on my list of most see houses for a long time. You description has my me want to even more.

    Reply
  58. Corsham Court has been on my list of most see houses for a long time. You description has my me want to even more.

    Reply
  59. Corsham Court has been on my list of most see houses for a long time. You description has my me want to even more.

    Reply
  60. Corsham Court has been on my list of most see houses for a long time. You description has my me want to even more.

    Reply

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