The day after our trip to Hidcote we decided to drive back over to the north Cotswolds to visit another National Trust property – Snowshill Manor. We’d read that it had another Arts and Crafts style garden but that there was also a manor house to visit. We didn’t know quite what to expect.
There’s been house on this site since Tudor times but at the beginning of the 20th Century it had been used as a farmhouse and was surrounded by muddy fields. Then in 1919 it was bought by Charles Wade who’d heard was up for sale while he was serving in the trenches. Wade wrote that
the whole property was in a most deplorable state of ruin and neglect, but it had not been spoilt…in spite of the gloom of the day…I could visualize it as a delightful home…’
Charles Padget Wade came from a wealthy family who had made their money from sugar plantations in the Carribean. Of course, that would had meant that originally they would have been slave owners (who were very comprehensively compensated when the slavery was banned in the British Empire by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833). When his father died Wade inherited a share in his father’s business, including property on the island of Saint Kitts. He’d originally trained as an architect, but his inheritance allowed him to devote his time to other pursuits, in particular his passion for collecting, and Snowshill manor became a home not for himself, but his growing collection of diverse objects and curiosities. He also decided to create a garden from the farmyard and messy fields behind the house, designed by the Arts and Crafts architect Hugh Baillie Scott – who amongst other creations design our favourite Blackwell in the Lake District.
After a 30 minute drive we arrived at the property. As the house isn’t very large they operate a timed entry ticket policy and we had about 40 minutes to wait for our turn. There was a lengthy walk along the drive to reach the house and gardens – it was another fine day so we were quite happy to start to explore the gardens before our turn.
At the back of the house there’s another smaller building Wade named the “Priest’s House” – said to be haunted by ghosts including a monk. Wade spent most of his time elsewhere but when he was at Snowshill this is where he lived – the main house was exclusively the home of his collection. We were able to look inside
This was his kitchen – notice the candles, there was no electricity. Cooking wasn’t allowed and he had his meals brought in by his housekeeper who lived in a nearby cottage. He did, however have a spirit stove that he used to boil water for his brew and to cook boiled eggs.
and this was his bedroom with it’s Tudor box-bed and spooky religious statue and decor..
Yes, a real eccentric character.
We had a quick look around the garden, but then it was time for our turn to enter the house.
It was a “self-guided” tour through a series of rooms that were packed to the rafters with an amazing collection of all sorts of objects. Nothing was labelled but there were the usual NT room guides who were extremely well informed.
Wade’s obsession for collecting was inspired by his “Grannie’s cabinet”. When he was seven years old he was sent to live with his maternal grandmother in Great Yarmouth. She was a strict woman, apparently, but on treat she allowed him was to explore her “cabinet of curiosities“
Every Sunday she would allow Charles to open the cabinet with its ‘magic key’ and to marvel at its collections, hidden within drawers and recesses. The cabinet contained old ‘family treasures’, like a little wax angel with golden wings, musical boxes, shells, compasses, butterflies and silver spoons.NT Snowshill website
There were literally thousands of diverse objects in the house, which is effectively a giant “cabinet of curiosities”, and it was difficult to take everything in. By the end of the tour we were mentally exhausted!
Wade married late – in his 60’s – and had no heirs so before he died, approached the National Trust and arranged to leave Snowshill to them to safeguard the future of his collection.
Having spent a good hour in the house we emerged into daylight to explore the garden. But this pot has been long enough. I think the garden deserves its own!