Hidden in the gardens at Corsham Court in Wiltshire is a delightful and rare Georgian bath house. It dates from circa 1761-3.
In 1761 Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown (1716-1783) laid out the plan for the grounds at Corsham Court. The grounds were completed by Humphrey Repton (1752-1818) who started there in 1799. Brown’s design and works included a cold-water bath house, tucked away in the gardens. It was altered in 1797 and 1802 by John Nash (1752-1835). It is a small building with what is really a plunge pool, with steps into it. There is a changing room on the first floor. The front of it is an open loggia. It was clearly meant to be a place of privacy that was far away enough from the house and not overlooked. Even someone strolling through the gardens could miss it.
It is a curious mixture of Gothic revival, leaning with towards Gothik. Not quite Strawberry Hill and possesses some definite Gothic revival features. It forms an eclectic style that suits a garden folly with a function.
Notice the roof line with battlements and crocket finials. The latter coming from Perpendicular Gothic. There is an imposing ogee pediment, which is repeated on all 4 sides.
There are 2 canopied niches built into the first-floor wall.
An Early English Gothic-style window provides light to the changing room. It is of Y shaped tracery with a quatrefoil. The stained glass has a playful and colourful design with blue and yellow glass.
Historic England suggests the battlements were an addition by Nash. The ground floor was remodelled from Brown’s original by Nash.
This period was too early for Thomas Rickman’s An Attempt to Discriminate the Styles of English Architecture (1817) which became the standard reference (and still is) for medieval church architecture – Norman, Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular. Previous attempts to categorise the medieval styles for Georgian architects, working in revival styles and restoring buildings, had been made throughout the 18th century. The initial work was Batty Langley’s Ancient Architecture Restored and Improved (1741).
Nash’s work at Corsham incorporated the Gothic in his designs. The sham ruin (a pretend ruin) at the front of the house is by Nash circa 1797. It incorporates Gothic stonework, some possibly from the work done by Brown on the bath house, when Nash remodelled the ground floor. Possibly parts of another demolished garden building were also used. There are ogee-headed openings with hood mouldings in the sham ruin that are similar to those in the side of the bath house.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get into the sham ruin to take photos of the ogee-openings for comparison. I did, however, photograph the ruin from the road. On that side a Gothic window can be seen with arch and tracery very similar to the bath house window on the first floor. I have put the images together below for comparison. Whether the window in the ruin came from another building or was constructed at the time is something to consider (it may also, in part be a restoration).
The two doorways behind the bath, flank an implied archway which surrounds a blank wall. The arches are constructed as moulding into the vaulted ceiling. It implies the medieval idea of a screens passage with 3 entrance arches or an entrance to a Gothic cathedral, such as Salisbury. It echoes the three arches of the loggia.
The Bradford Porch
The Bradford Porch is a reclaimed porch from a 15th C manor house in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, which was demolished in 1938. It was constructed at Corsham in 1967. The bath house roof can be seen behind the wall.
The bath house at Corsham is an appealing addition to the park and pleasure gardens of the house. I find myself wanting answers to more questions. For instance, how was the bath filled and emptied? How did the house occupants use it? Why are their two entrances? It is a rare survival that deserves its Grade I status and worth a walk through the grounds to find it.
In my next post I will be investigating the Georgian practice of cold-water bathing and the health benefits.
Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, 2nd edn, rev. by Bridget Cherry (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002), p.194
‘The Bath House’, Historic England List Entry 1182390, (1960), <https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1182390> [accessed 1 December 2019]
‘The Sham Ruin’, Historic England List Entry 1284571, (1986), <https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1284571> [accessed 1 December 2019]