“What’s Corsham like?” I ask. Sally studies the blue tits gorging on a skyscraper of feeders in front of us.
Eventually she grins, more to the birds than me, and replies, “not as it seems”.
At first glance the Lady Margaret Almshouse had looked empty. Quaint and “quintessentially English”, as the guidebooks might say, the pale L-shaped building balanced uncomfortably at the intersection of the busy B3353. Below a plaque dated 1668, stone lions growled from its southern facade.
I crept round the side of the building trying to find a way in and entered what felt like a timeless inner sanctum.
Stretching away to my right was a terrace of six houses. Each identical with a heavy oak studded door, stone mullioned window and bench to the front. Joining each house was a covered walkway, about 10ft wide, and at the end, sitting on one of the benches, was a woman.
I walked towards her knowing instinctively I was trespassing but for some reason not caring. “Hi, I’m Jane. I hope you don’t mind but your building just sucked me in”.
She didn’t look in the least bit surprised. “Sure” she said, “I’m Sally, would you like to sit down?”. I nodded.
We’re both in our 50s, and we chat amiably. She talks about her life in a tiny ancient house, about coming to Corsham from London 18 years ago, being saved, and never going back, and about Maeve, her black and white cat.
“The Trustees changed 351 years of rules, so that I could rescue her,” Sally says. Maeve saunters past unaware of the trouble she’s caused, sits by the door and lets out a demanding yowl. “She wants food”.
I realise I’ve lost track of time and apologise for staying too long.
Sally follows me as I head away from her house, I can tell she doesn’t want me to leave. “Do you know Corsham has housed a refugee family from Syria?” she says, “the three boys play football in the local team”.
I didn’t know, and now I’m strangely pleased that I do. We’ve got to the end of the walkway. I want to hug her, but we’re British, so we shake hands instead.
Walking back through Corsham, I pass a drunk slouched on a bench surrounded by beer cans and realise I’ve probably got this town wrong. It goes deeper than quaint buildings, bunting and cobbles, it’s trying to rescue lost souls, black and white, but like most places it still has a long way to go.