All monked out after my trip down to Hailes Abbey, I headed straight off to Snowshill Manor in search of a more traditional NT property. But it wasn’t to be… Snowshill is far from being traditional, very far indeed! It was home to an eccentric collector Charles Wade, who spent his life gathering over 20,000 diverse objects and these are displayed in twenty oddly-named rooms in the manor house. It would seem that the only thing they have in common is that they are all hand-crafted but as you walk through the house, you’ll see various themes emerging. But it doesn’t feel at all like a National Trust house, that’s for sure.
I arrived around 11.30 and was given a timed ticket for the house that meant I could go in any time between 12.30 and 2.30. I imagine the timings are a little stricter in the height of summer when there are more visitors but this gave me plenty of leeway. As with many other properties, the restaurant, shop and main toilet facilities are some way from the manor (although this time there are some more toilets near the house) so a little planning is needed to ensure that you don’t have to traipse backwards and forwards too much. I decided to use the restaurant sooner rather than later and was the first customer for the day’s tureen of garden vegetable soup. It was fairly warm (the weather, not the soup, the soup was lovely and hot!) so I sat outside to eat, reading the introductory pages of the guidebook and occasionally taking in the views across the valley through the trees. Armed with some info about Charles Wade and his life, I set off to walk up to the house.
It takes about five minutes at normal walking pace but is quite a pleasant stroll under the trees with the valley on your right and lots to look at, including the occasional slate with one of Charles Wade’s quotes written on it, plus sheep in the fields bordering the path. At one point, there was a sign telling me that the large mounds of earth in a nearby field were anthills, built up over the years to their current inflated size. I’d rather not have known that as I was then itching for the rest of the walk!
Entering the manor grounds, there are toilets and a second-hand bookshop near the original gates to the house. The latter was closed while I was there so that saved me adding yet another brick to the Leaning Tower of Literature (aka my ‘to read’ pile)
.I started off in the gardens, which are on several levels so there are lots of steps to negotiate and you can easily get lost in the maze of garden ‘rooms’. I only realised I was walking around the back of the dovecote when I heard the cooing. There are many unusual things to see, though, so you may need to double back on yourself once or twice so as not to miss anything. Highlights include the armillary sphere on a pillar in the Armillary Court, a statue of George and the Dragon on the wall of the Priest’s House, the Nychthemeron (‘night and day’) clock in the Well Court, a Kitchen Garden (which you can see on the way out of the grounds), and the Sancta Maria cow byre that houses a few large items from Wade’s collection that don’t fit in the house. In another outbuilding, there is a display of some of the miniature buildings from Wolf’s Cove, a model village that Wade created for his young relations in 1901 while living in Hampstead and which he later moved to Snowshill, enlarging it to include a ‘port’ (alongside the pond!). The Trust is looking to recreate Wolf’s Cove in its former location in the gardens and there is a raffle being held to raise money for the project.
At 12.45 I joined one of the half-hourly talks about Charles Wade, which lasted just 10 minutes but gave some interesting info about the man and his collection. I then went to explore the Priest’s House next door; having filled his manor house with his collection, there was no room left for the man himself so he actually lived in this old building alongside the manor. There is no clearer indication of the man’s eccentric commitment to his collection than the Priest’s House, which is very dark and gloomy and would not have been the most comfortable of habitations. It is also crammed with tools so he could fiddle with his finds and make repairs where necessary.
I have to say, the more I learned about Wade, the more familiar he became as he seems to have shared many common traits with my own father. Dad is also a collector, albeit with greater focus on specific items, and like Wade, he can spend hours just tinkering with things and trying to fix or improve them. He is also reluctant to throw anything away, while Wade’s motto demonstrates the same character trait – ‘Nequid Pereat’ or ‘let nothing perish’ (as seen on his postbox, left). I imagine Wade would have viewed the modern world’s ‘throw-away’ culture with horror! Wade was also known for the turquoise-blue coloured paint – known as Wade’s blue – that he created to paint the woodwork in the manor gardens and Dad is also fond of this, having used it to paint his own front, back and garage doors. Mind you, to give my dad his due, although eccentric in his own way, he hasn’t yet taken to wearing 18th century costume around the house so he’s not quite at Wade’s level!
I entered the house about midway through my timed ticket’s range and embarked on my tour of the twenty rooms. Now, there is a certain type of person in this world who loves everything to be shiny, clean and shipshape… so this is a health warning for those people – for your own peace of mind DO NOT enter Snowshill Manor. You will be surrounded by random objects on all sides, often dusty-looking, and will struggle to obey the ‘Do Not Touch’ commands as you desperately try to stop yourself from tidying up. You have been warned.
I didn’t suffer in that respect but I did quickly suffer from object overload. It is simply impossible to pick out one or two items of note in the mass of things to be seen in the house, and in fact I’m ashamed to say that a lot of it simply looked like junk to me. With the whole collection to choose from, I struggled to find more than a few items that I would opt to have in my own home. The furniture offered the most for me, with a number of beautiful Chinese cabinets dotted around the house, including the one that belonged to Wade’s grandmother and whose contents started his obsession with collecting (although I was more impressed with the cabinet, not the contents). The Venetian-style cabinet inset with semi-precious stones which is alongside the door in the first room – the Turquoise Room – was also a highlight.
Wade’s original names for the rooms are painted above the door lintels in most instances and include the likes of Meridian (in the centre of the house), Admiral (full of nautical pieces), Green Room (painted green but most notable for its collection of scary Samurai warriors in armour), Occidens (with a westerly aspect), A Hundred Wheels (home to a collection of bikes, prams and model farm wagons), Seventh Heaven (full of children’s toys) and Music Room (need I tell you what’s in there?).
Other notable items spotted on my tour include a coach door (another one to match the one I saw at Hughenden a few days ago), various old drinking glasses (some similar to those I saw at Mompesson) and a couple of hideous pictures made out of beetles and moths (bleurgh). An example of quilling (a picture made of rolled paper) can be seen in Ann’s Room and made me wonder what kind of person would have the patience to make something so intricate. The room guide then told me that it was made my nuns… obvious really! Reading the guidebook, I also learnt why penny farthing bicycles were called penny farthings, something I’d never even wondered about before. I may be the only person in the world who didn’t know, but in case you’re like me and have never asked the question, it’s because one wheel is so much larger than the other, just as a penny and a farthing were very different in size.
I’ll conclude with another couple of snippets that interested me. Despite the international flavour of the house’s contents, only around 30 or 40 of the items in Wade’s vast collection were purchased overseas, with all of the rest being bought in this country. To satisfy my thirst for literary links, I also learned that John Buchan, JB Priestley, John Betjeman, Virginia Woolf and Graham Greene had all visited the house.
And I have to say that I’m getting a little bored with all the queens now! This is the fifth property in succession that was visited by a Queen, this time Queen Mary who was welcomed on two occasions. On top of that, the manor of Snowshill even belonged to a queen at one time as it was part of Henry VIII’s dowry to Catherine Parr. I’m off to Chastleton tomorrow so will have to see if I can break the queenly trend there.
Highlights: The eccentricity of Charles Wade
Refreshments: Garden Vegetable Soup, crisps