by Margaret Powling
SNOWSHILL MANOR in Gloucestershire was the home of architect, Charles Paget Wade (1883-1956). Inspired by his grandmother’s Chinese cabinet, at the age of just seven, he began saving his pocket money in order to buy curios of his own. It is said that from dusty attics and narrow back alleys he rescued the forgotten mementoes of another age. Such items were carefully restored and cherished.
The death of his father in 1911 presented Wade with a substantial private income at a time when the Cotswolds were becoming a destination for traditional English craftsmen. A passionate enthusiast for all things handmade, he found Snowshill Manor on a hillside above the Vale of Evesham. It had been owned by the Abbey of Winchcombe until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. The main part of the house dates from c1500 but by 1919 was in “a ruinous state amid a jungle of nettles.”
Undaunted, Wade–the-architect foresaw what it could become. With a gang of 28 workmen he embarked on a complete restoration of the house and then set about filling it with his extraordinary collection.
So, be prepared to be astonished when you visit Snowshill Manor. Wade’s family motto, ‘Let nothing perish’ couldn’t be more appropriate for a man who spent his life amassing a spectacular collection of everyday as well as extraordinary objects from around the world. Indeed, he filled his house with so many object that he decamped to the adjacent cottage, thus reserving the Manor for his collections and for entertaining.
According to the National Trust, Wade devoted his life to amassing a collection of over 22,000 items - including clocks, bicycles, automatons, toys and even suits of Samurai armour – but he had strong views on how the Manor should be presented, and did not want to label his collection, or even the plants in his garden. Respectful of this wish, neither does the National Trust. Wade gave the collection, with the Manor, to the National Trust in 1951.
A LA RONDE in Devon was the home of unmarried cousins Jane and Mary Parminter. The elder, Jane, was the daughter of a Barnstaple wine merchant. The younger Mary was orphaned at 16. Following the death of Jane’s father, in 1784 they set out on a Grand Tour of Europe, a tour which lasted the best part of ten years, during which time they visited France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland (and possibly Spain and Portugal.) On their return they decided they would build a house for themselves and their various collections and souvenirs in Exmouth, Devon.
To say A la Ronde is unconventional is an understatement: said to have been inspired by the 6th century Byzantine basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna (although it is not round) it is a 16-sided cottage orne, 192 feet in circumference, with red-bordered diamond-shaped windows.
If the exterior is unusual, the interior is a delight. Eight doors radiate around a central octagon, each leading to a reception room. Benches in these doorways can flap down, providing extra seating when required in a house where space is at a premium. At the top of the octagon (35 feet from floor to ceiling) is a gothic fantasy, one of the most accomplished of its kind in Britain. Here Mary and Jane encrusted the walls with shells, feathers, stones, mica, pottery, twigs, lichens, bones, mirror and quartz.
Other things to see in the labyrinth of wedge-shaped rooms – it’s rather like a doll’s house for grownups – include a cabinet of curiosities, shells, beadwork, cut-paper work, silhouettes, tables inlaid with marble, and engravings by Piranesi. It is a place where summer appears not to have lasted for a season, but forever.