In July we had a splendid outing to Hilmarton, linked to Corsham by the Poynder family. It was a beautiful evening and the local history society had very kindly arranged to show us around both
the church and the village. Richard Broadhead and Geoff Proctor, along with Richard’s wife, looked after us very well. The village is off the main Calne to Lynham road, so is not one you would normally pass through. But it is delightful and well worth a slight deviation.
At our September meeting James Methuen-Cambell told us how the main collection was put together by his forebear Sir Paul Methuen (1672 – 1757). Sir Paul had attended a Jesuit school in Paris, a rather unusual step as the family were not Catholic, but his father wanted him to have a rounded education. At the age of 20 he stood in for his father as an envoy in Portugal when his father had to return to England. It was whilst he was in Spain in 1715 that he purchased his first large painting —the central square of Mexico City painted in 1695 by Cristobal de Villalpando, which hangs in the Library at Corsham Court. Sir Paul became a distinguished diplomat, and was made Knight of the Bath in 1725. He bought 34 Grosvenor Street, London to provide room to hang his paintings. He purchased mostly contemporary 17th and early 18th century pieces, generally buying paintings that were more sombre than decorative and which were considered as “noble”, the intention being to give people subjects on which to think deeply rather than just an attractive picture to look at.
Sir Paul chose his god-son and cousin as his heir and young Paul Methuen bought Corsham House, as it was then called, in 1745 and the idea of a gallery was conceived to house the large collection. The Picture Gallery was added after Sir Paul’s death. It is designed as a triple cube, 72 feet in length. The pictures are hung symmetrically and generally all the large pictures have remained where they were first hung.
Eighty paintings remain of the 220 bought by Sir Paul. Some were sold to pay for the rebuilding of the North front of Corsham Court between 1846 – 1849 and some sold to pay death duties. The other paintings at the Court were mostly inherited in the mid-nineteenth century by the marriage of Frederick Methuen, later the second baron, to Horatio, only child of the noted collector Reverend John Sanford (1777-1855).
In October we had a full house for Alan Macrae’s reminiscences of his time working underground as an RAF officer from 1989 until 1994. His duties included Health and Safety Officer and Radiation Officer and he was able to give an insight into the life of those who spent their entire working day underground. Conditions below ground, with constant temperature and humidity, are good for storing goods, particularly ammunition and explosives. He regaled us with stories of the CD1 fan, some 160 inches in diameter, which provided 4 complete air changes a day, generating winds up to 30mph.
The meeting was also used to launch Pat Whalley’s latest book Corsham Memories Part II The Pre-fab Years 1930-40. Copies were presented to those whose stories appear in the book.