George Clarke’s National Trust Unlocked is a recent Channel 4 series that saw Clarke (and occasionally his dog) take advantage of the country’s state of lockdown by visiting an array of National Trust properties while they were closed to the public.
Clarke’s a very likeable host – he has somehow wormed his way into my TV viewing via various vaguely architecture-related shows, and his north-east lilt and passion for almost everything he sees or sets foot in is infectious and makes for very pleasant, easy viewing.
This series – which would ordinarily be of quite some interest to me on its own – was brought to my attention thanks to a Google Alert I have set up for mentions of Charles Paget Wade.
I wrote a book on Wade, see, and it’s fun to learn when that book gets mentioned (rarely; usually just bot-led ebook piracy websites) or just Wade in general (of late, mainly his family’s connection to the slave trade).
In reality, Wade doesn’t come up very often. He’s occasionally mentioned in guides to days out in Gloucestershire, or perhaps as the holder of a unique collection of this or that. But it was interesting to see a Daily Mail piece on Wade and his house Snowshill Manor that he spent thirty years filling with stuff.
And why was the Mail talking about Wade? The episode of National Trust Unlocked that aired the previous night had featured Snowshill and its one-time owner.
Wade lived in London from 1906 to about 1919, during which time he worked under Parker and Unwin as an architect and illustrator supporting the new Hampstead Garden Suburb development. When he had done all he was really able to under that umbrella (as well as becoming obscenely rich following the death of his father), he branched out into more illustration projects until the First World War interrupted things. Towards the end of the War he spotted an advert for Snowshill in Country Life magazine and vowed to buy it if it should still be available on his return from the front.
It was, and he did.
He then spent the next few years restoring the buildings, and having the gardens laid out by M.H. Baillie Scott, before moving his already-vast collection of crafts, furniture and…stuff… into the house, and then opening the place up to visitors. Visitors who, as the TV show explains, Wade would lead around the shadowy corners of the house, before nipping into literal secret passages where he would don a theatrical outfit and re-appear somewhere else, making his guests feel even more certain that Snowshill was inhabited by ghosts.
It was really nice seeing the curator at Snowshill tell Clarke about Wade and his collection. It felt somewhat eerie watching someone else talk about something I have decided to become a sort of small-time expert on. Of course the Snowshill staff and curators are Wade experts, but I haven’t been to Snowshill for nearly a decade, and I don’t often find myself in conversations where I’m not the one who happens to know the most about Wade. It’s not that I’m possessive over him – I literally wrote a book about the man in hopes I can tell the world about this fascinating character! – but it’s always a funny feeling when you hear about something close to your heart discussed on TV or in a book.
Anyway, I can thoroughly recommend this episode of National Trust Unlocked, and the whole series seems to just be extremely nice viewing. It’s George Clarke poking around deserted National Trust properties, being delighted at absolutely everything he finds. It’s like a lovely warm, comforting blanket.
Well this was the week that things really changed, for me and those around me. It’s been interesting keeping abreast of how the spread of the virus and the reactions by different countries has rolled onward, in waves. Interesting and kind of horrifying, when you spend more than half a minute considering what it all means.
It has, in many ways, been good that the upheaval has kept us all so busy. Heaven forbid what will happen when we are all set up with our new routines and we stop for a second to get bogged down in the sheer existential woe of it all – and that’s before even considering the actual health crisis worsening any further, which each day it threatens to on a hitherto-unseen scale.
We have found ourselves unexpectedly buoyed by taping occasional news updates from Chinese state broadcasters in which they describe the recovery process. Life, while not returning to normal, per se, is returning to something approaching it. Or at least a healthy, post-virus world.
At work I have been extremely busy helping as far as I can to get the office set up for home working. A few months ago, working from home on the scale that we soon will be would have been completely unthinkable. But, as with so much of this escalating crisis, unthinkable things are now having to be thunk, and it’s funny what you can achieve when you have to.
In fact, the extent to which we’ve established a working-from-home policy means that it’s only really a few little issues and niggles we’ve found, rather than any flat-out business critical failure points.
We’re lucky in that a lot of what we do isn’t business critical. And where it is, the timelines and deadlines are those we set for ourselves and we are fortunate enough not to be beholden to many authorities or external/market forces. We have a job to do, and we do it however we can. This will not change, but the methods and timescales may.
Meanwhile, anything that isn’t related to work, or keeping ourselves constantly updated on news has, by necessity, been for the purposes of distraction, amusement or entertainment. The rest of this week’s note is simply some of that stuff that has kept me from losing my mind the past few days.
We had the first day of spring, and the weather this week has been cool but increasingly wonderful and bright. There is blossom everywhere, and the spring weather looks set to continue. This does mean that people who ought to be self-isolating are popping out more than they might if it had been tipping down all week, and I am concerned about that. But at the same time, the sight of spring springing is a huge boost.
As well as a brief trip to a nearby park (where I saw the woodpecker above), I also popped to Hampstead Heath on Saturday to get some fresh air. Unfortunately, so did a lot of other people, and I really should have known better. I was able to keep my distance from most people, and I found myself a secluded perch where I spent a happy hour or so playing with radios, and eating cold pizza.
On FM, my elevated position near one of London’s highest points meant stations came booming in loud and clear, and I found a good number of pirate stations giving shout-outs to the shut-ins.
I found that the signal on my little POP Nano radio was decent, but both my Tecsun PL-380 and my Motorola G7 Power logged 58 stations each on the FM band, with the Moto serving doubly useful as not only does it have an RDS decoder built-in, but it also neatly displays all logged stations in one big list, acting as a very useful results page for active stations complete with station IDs, where available.
I’ve written before about the pretty excellent FM radio software on an older Moto G device, and it’s just as good on my current G7 Power. It serves as an effective stopgap between idly tuning around with a normal radio and setting up some sort of portable SDR that will automatically log station IDs in a neat spreadsheet for me.
(A rainy day project I daydream of is a Raspberry Pi Zero-powered unit that I can just switch on, run an autoscan, and log all active stations in a spreadsheet. Might have a little screen and possibly audio out.)
The subsequent list generated by the Moto is displayed as you can see to the right: it’s a neat list of station IDs and frequencies and I only wish I could quickly and easily export this data into a spreadsheet. I suspect there’s an OCR capture that could do a half decent job. But even in its present form, the FM radio software gives me a decent overview of what’s around in a given session.
One surprise, beyond the ever-present London pirates, was decent reception of a station apparently broadcasting to Greenwich on 96.5fm. A later dig around uncovered this as Maritime Radio, with the always-helpful mb21 giving more information about where this station broadcasts from. Not a bad catch at a distance of approximately 20km.
It’s hard to tell where the pirate stations themselves broadcast from – obviously – so it’s never easy to known whether you’re getting fabulous reception across a vast distance, or merely being blasted from the nearest rooftop. I suspect it’s usually the latter, though there is usually a good range of signals when tuning in from a high point in north west London, with some sounding stronger and others weaker.
The variability in the tech used by each pirate could give rise to this, of course, but it all makes it feel as though you’re picking up signals from all over London.
On DAB, my position near London’s highest point meant great reception of a huge range of stations. The POP Nano picked up 148 stations without issue, and I noted down that I was getting reception of the following multiplexes on top of those I’d expect to get in London: Kent, Herts Beds Bucks, Surrey NSussex, and Essex. On the one hand, these extra muxes simply bring in local stations or local variants of commercial stations. But it’s still pretty cool to pick these all up along with the ones which are meant to cover my area.
Of note, the Kent multiplex coverage map [PDF] does show parts of Hampstead as able to pick up occasional offshoots of the signal over high ground:
So it’s perhaps not that unexpected, but still vaguely interesting to me.
I also had a scan around on shortwave and aside from the usual national broadcasters who have mastered dominating the waves, I was pleased to pick up two pirate(?) stations on 5780kHz and 6205kHz – possibly Laser Hot Hits and Euro Radio. (This was at approximately 1445 UTC on Saturday 21 March.)
Nothing else really of any note on the radio, although I did spot this new addition to the London Trial multiplex – Health Info Radio, which launched a week ago on various other local muxes, and whose sole purpose is to play a looped recording of coronavirus-related public information.
On the YouTube front, beyond the usual tech videos I tend to gorge myself on, the algorithms threw me a wonderful bone in a series of aviation videos by a chap named Matt Guthmiller. I’m not sure what YouTube thought it was doing, but I was absolutely enthralled by this four-part series on flying a 1930s DC-3 from the US to Duxford.
Spoiler alert: it’s not quite as simple as hopping across the Atlantic. In fact, it involves hopping to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland, before hopping down to Duxford.
At times, the serenity and majesty of early to mid 20th century flight is intoxicating, and at others you are hit with the nauseating concept of hurtling through the air in nothing much more than a 1930s bus with temperamental moving parts and a hell of a lot to understand about how to get it airborne and keep it there.
The four parts are available in this playlist, or just watch the first one below:
Pro-tip: use the ‘Watch later’ button to save these kinds of YouTube clips to a… Watch later playlist.
And finally, I’ve recently seen a few good links to online collections of stuff and wanted to share some and add one of my own.
And finally, the National Trust’s ‘Collections’ image database is staggering in its scale – they have photographed countless objects held within their collections at the various properties they look after. You could find yourself lost for weeks on this website, whether searching across the entire collection by keyword, exploring the contents of one particular property, or paging through the works of one artist.
By the collection’s very nature, this is not a greatest hits, but a snapshot of all that is contained within it: from sketches on the backs of letters, to glorious watercoloured ink sketches like that shown below, of the Great Wall at Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Wade worked with Raymond Unwin and Barry Parker to design some of the Suburb’s most significant buildings, including the Great Wall which seperates ‘town’ and ‘country’ where the Suburb meets Hampstead Heath, and the Club House with its great tower, sadly lost to bombing in the Second World War.
Charles Wade’s career as an architect was, however, short lived.
He is now best known for his collection of interesting objects that fill Snowshill Manor, a National Trust property. But as well as collecting items of beauty and great craftsmanship, Wade was himself a highly skilled craftsfman, artist, illustrator and draughtsman.
Three years ago, along with the publication of my book, I led a walking tour around Hampstead Garden Suburb in an attempt to cover Charles Paget Wade’s early life as an architect and his work on Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Fast forward to this summer and I was bitten by the bug to refresh my book with a new, expanded edition containing some more details I had come across in the meantime. I was also invited by the Proms at St Jude’s team to do another walk on Wade, and this inevitably led to me finding myself immersed in his life work once more.
There are a few other books about Charles Wade which cover the subject of his restoration of, and the collection held at, Snowshill Manor, but my intention has always been to shed a little bit more light on Wade’s life before Snowshill: touching on his childhood, his education and qualification as an architect, and his life in Hampstead Garden Suburb both professional and social.
In particular, I have always found it so interesting that despite only working on Suburb architecture for four years, he actually lived on the Suburb for more than ten years. And a number of the hobbies he picked up and nurtured while living on the Suburb would serve as an introduction to the magical world he would go on to create at Snowshill.
I had always wanted to expand on the text of my book on Wade, and to slightly alter the format of the paperback, and I am thrilled to have the use of a photograph from the collection of the Hampstead Garden Suburb Archives Trust which I think makes for a great cover image for this new, expanded edition.
In the process of researching this second edition, I visited Gloucestershire Archives again, as well as paying a couple more visits to the London Metropolitan Archives, which meant I was able to breathe some more life into the descriptions of the documents held there and to better decipher the clues they gave me about the man himself.
The staff at both these institutions were very obliging, and I must thank those at Gloucestershire Archives particularly for their assistance in identifying which packs and bundles of documents contained what items. It can be quite nerve-wracking only giving yourself a few hours at an archive to pore over hundreds of documents, but their help and assistance meant I got through everything I hoped to see with no added time pressures.
I’m also grateful to the curators of the RIBA’s Drawing and Archives Collection, and in particular to Lauren Alderton who kindly helped me get access to Wade’s RIBA nomination papers, as well as those of his mentors, which filled in some interesting and crucial biographical gaps about his transition from student to qualified architect.
I should also thank my partner Megan for putting up with me, particularly over the last few months, wittering on about Wade, my walking tour, and this book. It’s nice to have finally finished it.
It was always going to be tricky going in and expanding a ‘finished’ text, in much the same way as a first draft being much easier to bash out than to go back and edit. I had to pick apart my original text and insert new sections and details in a way which, I hope, is seemless to the reader. But I had been itching to add new details which had come to light in my studies of Wade and his career and life, so I knew I would have to scratch that itch and finally produce a new second edition. So that’s what I have done.
When I was starting to get deeper into my research of Charles Paget Wade for my book on his life at Hampstead Garden Suburb, I quickly realised one thing: Wade didn’t keep a diary. Not everyone does. But it’s always a disappointment – a tiny one, anyway – to find out that someone I’m researching didn’t keep a diary.
With a diary to use in collaboration with other forms of biographical research, so much more can be gleaned about a person. Without a diary, letters often fill in the gaps, and this is true for Wade, and it’s a big part of why I went to Gloucester Archives (although the majority of the holdings are letters to Wade, not from him).
Wade did write memoirs in later life, which have been hugely helpful in discovering more about the enigmatic man himself. But retrospective recollections can often be misleading, so first-hand documents are always helpful. With Wade, we have a number of these, including receipts for a great many of the shopping trips he went on, picking up antiques around the country. Using these, I’ve been able to piece together journeys and timelines.
But perhaps the most helpful of these records have been Wade’s own drawings, paintings and illustrations. As a draughtsman, Wade very diligently noted the date on his work, usually with the year, and quite often with the date or even the location. Naturally some were done on-site and others later, from memory. But these records go a long way to filling in other blanks in his movements.
Wade’s architectural work was often exquisitely detailed, while his illustrations – a number of which were used for a children’s novel – are more artful and fantastical. Alongside these he also did paintings – some of real locations, and others of imaginary worlds.
Thanks to the National Trust’s staggering Collections database I was thrilled to discover that Wade had painted several scenes at the south Buckinghamshire market town of Amersham – my home town.
Whilst living at Hampstead Garden Suburb (1907-1919), Wade went on a number of travels and tours around England, visiting quaint villages, churches and pubs, as much to trawl the antiques shops as to use the vernacular architecture as inspiration for his own works, both built and imagined.
At Amersham, Wade’s eye was clearly drawn to the 17th century town hall as well as the Crown hotel opposite, one of a number of historic coaching inns that line the high street.
Having discovered that Wade had painted some scenes centring on these buildings, I was pleased to have the opportunity this weekend to try and photograph them from roughly the same perspective. Thankfully, Amersham’s old town has changed very little since Wade visited in 1907-8 and, despite my rough positioning, it’s not hard to see the same scenes that Wade found compelling enough to paint.