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History of Charles Paget Wade at Snowshill

A close up on part of the Wade family coat of arms, found in the Entrance Hall at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire
Wade family coat of arms at Snowshill Manor | © National Trust Images / Stuart Cox

Charles Paget Wade created Snowshill's magical and eclectic house and garden in the Cotswolds. Wade's upbringing with his grandmother and his education in art and architecture certainly influenced his eccentric life. This is reflected in Snowshill Manor and Garden, where his grandmother's 'magic' cabinet can still be seen here today.

Family history

Until the 1860s, Charles Wade's ancestors lived on the island of St Kitts, which was then a British colony in the West Indies. Charles’ grandfather, Solomon Abraham Wade (1806–81), was born on the island and built a career as a dry-goods merchant.

The abolition of slavery

When slavery was abolished in parts of the British Empire, Solomon Abraham received compensation through the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

His first child was born with his unmarried partner Mary Jones (1817-1914) in 1844. She was a black woman thought to be his housekeeper, although she was recorded as a 'huckster'. They married in 1855, having purchased the first of several sugar plantations in 1850, but had moved to Kent, England by 1861.

The painting, View of Nevis from St Kitts with Palm Tree, by Charles Paget Wade from 1883. It shows a palm tree and boat on a beach, sailing boats on the water and a mountain in the background, and is found at Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire.
Painting by Charles Paget Wade at Snowshill Manor | © National Trust Images

Sugar estates

In 1879 Solomon Abraham gifted his son Paget Augustus Wade (1849–1911) money to purchase sugar estates in St Kitts, and further established his own business as a ‘West India Merchant’.

Grannie Spencer

Paget Augustus married Amy Blanche Spencer (1858-1943) in 1882, and the following year their only son Charles was born in Kent. When Charles was seven years old, he was sent to live with his grandmother, known as Grannie Spencer, in Great Yarmouth.

Grannie's magical cabinet

Grannie Spencer lived a spartan existence and was strict with Charles, but she also owned many interesting artefacts and curiosities. She kept these in an exquisite 18th-century lacquered cabinet.

She would allow Charles to open the cabinet with its ‘magic key’ every Sunday, to marvel at its collections, hidden within its drawers and recesses.

Family treasures

The cabinet contained old ‘family treasures’, like a little wax angel with golden wings, musical boxes, shells, compasses, butterflies and silver spoons.

Sentimental value

‘Grannie’s Cabinet’ was of great sentimental value to Charles and was thought to be the inspiration for his own collecting. His first acquisitions, bought with his pocket money, were three small bone-carved shrines of St Michael and two of the Virgin and Child.

Multiple statues, trinkets and other collection items stored in a Japanese lacquer cabinet at Snowshill Manor and Garden, Gloucestershire
Collection items in a Cantonese lacquer cabinet at Snowshill Manor | © National Trust / Oskar Proctor | © National Trust / Oskar Proctor

Architect and artist

Charles found his formative education unfulfilling, boarding at several schools around the country which he called ‘Graveyards of Imagination’ and ‘Factories of Boredom’.

Architectural design and illustration

He went on to qualify as an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects, working on various projects in London. Alongside his flair for architectural design and illustration, he loved to draw and paint for pleasure.

Book illustration

When his father died in St Kitts in 1911, Charles inherited a share of the sugar business. This meant he had enough income to stop architectural practice and devote himself to artistic pursuits and building his collection.

He remained an active book illustrator, exhibiting periodically at the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Cotswold Arts and Crafts Exhibition.

The First World War

Conscripted to serve in the war in 1916, Charles was then called up as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers in 1917. Unsuited to army life and seeing devastation all around, Wade turned to painting and drawing as a way of escaping the atrocities of war.

He depicted ruined landscapes as whole again and created scenes of fantasy gardens.

A chance discovery

Assigned the duties of Orderly Room Clerk, Charles dressed and decorated his accommodation to recall the comforts of home. While working in France, he happened to discover a Country Life magazine that included a notice for the sale of Snowshill Manor at auction.

Moving into Snowshill Manor

After the First World War, Charles purchased Snowshill Manor and Garden, which was in a terrible state of repair. He restored the house and turned the farmyard into an Arts and Crafts garden with the help of his friend and architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott (1865–1945).

A home for his collection

While his collection took pride of place in the manor house, Charles set up home in the small Priest’s House opposite. Word of his collection soon spread among writers and artists, and he welcomed several famous figures to Snowshill in the early 20th century. They included J B Priestley, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene and even Queen Mary.

Charles created his own coat of arms, which bore the motto ‘Let nothing perish’, which was an overt statement on his passion for collecting and craftsmanship.

Marriage and death

Charles was in his 60s when he met his future wife, the vicar’s daughter Mary Graham (1902–99). They married in 1946 and initially lived at Snowshill, but began spending increasing amounts of time in St Kitts from the early 1950s.

After the death of his mother and the close of the Second World War, Charles assumed the full management of the family plantation business.

A sudden illness

During a visit to England in 1956 Charles was suddenly taken ill and died at Evesham Hospital on 28 June that same year. Mary lived on for many years, ending her days in the nearby village of Broadway.

Safeguarding Snowshill

Several years before he died, Charles offered Snowshill to the National Trust as a way of safeguarding the future of the manor and garden. The offer was accepted and Snowshill has been in the care of the National Trust since 1952.

Multiple statues, trinkets and other collection items stored in a Japanese lacquer cabinet at Snowshill Manor and Garden, Gloucestershire

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