I finally had the opportunity to visit Snowshill Manor recently, the home of craftsman, architect and collector* Charles Paget Wade.
*and artist and photographer and poet and…
I developed a fascination for Wade during my time interning at Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust, the people responsible for the preservation of the north London suburb well-known for its beautiful architecture and layout.
Wade was one of the architects involved in the design of the Suburb (although admittedly he played only a rather small part in this), and I came across some of his drawings and illustrations in suburb architect Raymond Unwin’s book Town Planning and Modern Architecture at the Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Wade provided some of the illustrations for this book, including a wonderful map which shows the Suburb’s general layout. But while the map is at least mostly accurate, it is also embellished with wonderful little details, doodles and notes about the history of the area in which the Suburb lies.
It didn’t take long for me to discover that Wade was a rather interesting fellow, and I soon found that he had bought a large Tudor manor house in the Cotswolds after the end of the First World War and proceeded to spend the next thirty years of his life filling it with interesting objects and works of art from all over the world.
Wade was a magpie, spotting interesting and amusing objects at auctions and sales from the four corners of the globe, and his house, Snowshill Manor, became a sort of living museum, with Wade himself living in a nearby Priest’s cottage. The vast majority of the objects were procured in the UK, having been imported by previous owners over centuries. And although calling the collection eclectic would be an understatement, something all the items have in common is their craftsmanship. Wade was obsessed with beautiful, handmade objects.
The map in Unwin’s Hampstead Garden Suburb book, like many of his illustrations, was signed with the sweet epithet Charles Wade Made Me. Lisa and I recently borrowed this phrase for a couple of craft and photography projects, named Lisa Made Me and Lisa Took Me.
|Detail of a map by Wade from Town Planning and Modern Architecture at Hampstead Garden Suburb by Raymond Unwin|
Fortunately, Lisa wanted to visit Snowshill just as much as me, and so she drove us both from Milton Keynes to the Cotswolds where we found the most wonderful place.
Run by the National Trust since Wade left it to them prior to his death in the 1950s, Snowshill Manor sits in the pretty village of Snowshill amongst a large amount of land, and consists of the Manor House, beautiful gardens, and a few other buildings including the priest’s cottage Wade himself lived in.
The Wade family had a large sugar business based on St Kitts, and Charles Wade came into some of that money after the death of his father in 1911.
Wade first saw Snowshill Manor in a Country Life magazine he was reading in the trenches during the First World War, where it was advertised for sale by auction. The magazine he was reading was rather old by this point, and miraculously, by the time he got to Snowshill some time after the end of the war, the Manor was still for sale, by now derelict and engulfed in weeds. Wade snapped it up immediately, and he and a team of labourers set to work restoring all the various parts of the building which had been added to over its lifetime.
He also began filling it with interesting objects and art works, and that is how it exists today – not as a museum per se, but as a collection – a menagrie. Wade hated the idea of objects being locked away in glass cabinets, and wanted his items to be loved and enjoyed.
Wade certainly is a fascinating fellow. I’m very keen to learn even more about him, having seen some of his collections, read some of his diaries/poetry, and enjoyed some of his art work – including the photographs used to illustrate this blog post.
I was rather tickled, too, to read in an account of a trip to Snowshill on the website of The Lady magazine (of all places), that Wade was once arrested on Oxford Street for wearing a suit of armour in public. He simply argued that it was the only way he could carry it home.
This desire for collecting interesting objects and having them be used and available came from his childhood, and we were told an interesting tale by one of the curators at Snowshill that his old battle-axe of a granny would occasionally let him explore the contents of a beautiful oriental cabinet if he’d been a good little boy. The cabinet is on show at Snowshill, and contains various objects of eclectic origin, all of them beautiful and no doubt intriguing to a curious young boy.
Indeed, everything on show at Snowshill is fascinating in its own way. There’s a heck of a lot of Oriental objects, including many Samurai suits of armour and something I found very interesting: some Japanese pillar clocks, from before European methods of time-keeping were introduced. But it goes far beyond the Oriental: there are rooms stuffed with bicycles, musical instruments, books, and so on.
The Manor house itself provides a wonderful backdrop to the collection, leading visitors around its winding staircases and up and down unusual levels showing how the building was added to and extended over time. Touches of Wade abound everywhere you look, including most of the rooms having appropriate names painted above the doors – names like Zenith, Meridian and Seventh Heaven.
Just as fascinating was Wade’s living quarters – the neighbouring priest’s cottage, for he never lived in the Manor house itself – with its arts-and-crafts furniture and decoration and rather primitive features. His curtained box bed looked awfully cosy, and the swing-seat by his kitchen table just reeked of the small boy who seems to have existed in Wade for his whole life.
I came away from Snowshill Manor enchanted not just by the beautiful house, nor its extensive collection, nor its knowledgeable and enthusiastic curators, nor its picturesque Cotswold setting, but also by the charming story of a man who had a childhood dream and carried it through into his adult life.
That story is so alive and accessible today that you feel like Wade himself might just be hiding around the next corner waiting to jump out in fancy dress as he often did for his own visitors.
Snowshill Manor is owned by the National Trust, and more details about visiting can be obtained from their website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/snowshill-manor/. Images and details of the items that make up Wade’s collection (more than 15,000 of them!) can be found via the National Trust Collections website.
All images used in this post are from Wade’s own collection. You can click each image to purchase a copy, or to browse others in the same collection. Their use here is by kind permission of the National Trust. All Rights Reserved.