The outbreak and extended duration of the war will have had an impact on local business with the loss of labour, shortages of materials and changes in demand. It would though also have brought opportunities as reported by the Devizes and Wiltshire Gazette in October 1914.
A NEW INDUSTRY
Mushroom Culture at Corsham
Messrs. Agarric and Co. Ltd. have leased a disused portion of the quarries of Yockney and Hartham Park Co. for the purpose of cultivating mushrooms after the French methods. The area of the grounds consists of 25 acres, each section comprising three acres. It is under the local management of Mr. W. Pepler, assisted by Mr. Chibleur, and is supervised by Mr.Durbec, one of the Directors of the above firm. Large Towns such as Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Covent Garden (London), and the large liners will be supplied direct, and it is anticipated that a large amount of labour will soon be employed. The difficulty in the initial stages of the industry is to get a sufficient supply of manure from the farmers and others, but those who do co-operate in this way will be amply repaid later by the re-sale to them at a cheap rate of the manure. Already local men are employed.
While this was just a snippet from the newspaper about Corsham in 1914 our research has now been given life by an internet contact from France and the family of Monsieur Chibleur named in the article.
Gustave-Louis Chibleur came to Corsham in 1914 as a specialist in Mushroom farming – known as a ‘Champignoniste’ and worked with the Agaric Company who had taken ownership of underground space in Pockeridge Quarry. Gustave brought his family with him and they lived on Westwells. It is known that he was in Corsham during the whole of WW1 and until at least 1919.We have access to an underground map showing the location of the Agaric Quarry space under Pockeridge and know that the business did indeed thrive and remained in existence until 1928.
By 1923 there were 5 hectares in cultivation producing up to 136,000 kilos of mushrooms a year.[Victoria County History of Wiltshire, Vol IV, p.250] . The extensive warren of underground chambers even needed its own Narrow gauge railway and rudimentary ventilation system. Production ended in 1928 when the area became infected with a fungal disease. The trade ceased completely in 1939 at the start of WW2 and was transferred to Bradford-on-Avon.Newspaper reports from September and October 1915 indicate that residents who lived nearby the Quarry were less than happy with the regular routine of bringing in the fresh manure needed to nurture the mushrooms. The practice appears to have been that manure was brought in by train and carted to the Quarry via Pickwick Road where the smell was described as ‘something dreadful’. The Town Council were petitioned to do something about the nuisance which also included flies and hornets and were invited to live for a short time on Pickwick Road to witness the impact first hand.
In a linked and interesting story, later survey of the quarry area used by the Mushroom Company found that after the Company had moved out a local entrepreneur had moved in to take advantage of the space and the privacy – they discovered a die-press used to forge fake half-crown coins. Arrests were later made and it is now another aspect to Corsham’s underground story.
Thanks to the Chibleur family, Alan Payne, Julian Carosi and Nick McCamley for contributions to the Mushroom story.