Tuesday, 16 August 2011
A Brief History
Snowshill Manor, near Broadway in Gloucestershire, has a long history, in fact earliest records show the 'manor' of Snowshill being given to Winchcombe Abbey by the King of Mercia in AD821, where it may have been used to accommodate passing dignitaries until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, where it passed to King Henry VIII who included it in his dowry to Catherine Parr.
The main part of the house dates from around 1490 and would most likely have been used as a great medieval hall. Earlier buildings (now demolished) predating the Manor were constructed from timber but little is known about them. Many alterations have been carried out by a succession of less regal tenants (mainly farmers) until it was purchased by Charles Paget Wade in 1919.
Charles Paget Wade
Charles Wade was an architect, artist and craftsman, a lifelong collector and supporter of the Arts and Crafts movement. He was a poet and heir to a vast family sugarcane fortune, a fortune which allowed him to procure Snowshill Manor. Wade was eager to find somewhere to house his ever expanding collection, which he had stored at his mother‘s home in Suffolk. Snowshill, then a derelict farmhouse and much in need of repair was what first caught Wade’s eye. Wade thought it ideal, a blank canvas, a house with no modern amenities and few alterations, a superb stage for his unique collection of objets d'art. With his architectural background he busied himself over the next three years restoring Snowshill Manor and its gardens to their former glory, taking great care to retain its original character and features. Wade never took up residence in the Manor, preferring to live modestly in the old priest’s house opposite, which he also restored.
Wade never envisaged Snowshill as a museum, more so a building where friends would come and marvel at the craftsmanship of so many fine objects which he had acquired from around Britain and occasionally overseas. His sense of humour was legendary and he loved to indulge his many friends with tales and theatrics within the creepy old Manor. Often he would invite friends over, and as they stood about in one of the Manor's many rooms waiting expectantly for their host, Wade would suddenly and mysteriously appear dressed in one of his elaborate costumes scaring the wits out of his guests. Describe as ‘my eccentric, but charming friend of the fantastic Manor house' by novelist and playwright - JB Priestly, one of many notable friends of Wade’s, who openly marvelled at his enthusiasm for his often bizarre collection.
The Manor, although a little cramped, is an Aladdin’s Cave to some 22,000 items which span from bone-jarring velocipedes, to an exquisite and beautifully restored collection of 26 suits of Samurai armour (not all on display) dating from the 17th and 19th centuries. Wade took meticulous care displaying his collection, he refused to install electric lighting and gas, modern amenities were positively discourage, as he much preferred to show off his exhibits by more tradition means, a tradition which The National Trust, who where given the property by Wade in 1951, have kept by subtly lighting the exhibits.
Wade gave names to each of the rooms at Snowshill to indicate their position, decoration, or simply as a precursor to what lay within. For example the room ‘A Hundred Wheels’, contains many items relating to transport. ‘Meriden’ is the most central room in the house and is lined with oak panelling, some of which dates back to the Tudor period. The ‘Green Room’ where Wade created probably his most atmospheric setting, allowing creepers to cover the windows making the room dark and creepy in an effort to show-off his menacing and frightening Samurai warriors.
Wade was also fascinated by alchemy, magic and in particularly witchcraft. Indeed, at the top of the house there is a room named ‘The Witch’s Garret’, where on one of its walls there can still be seen several magic symbols. The room contained many items relating to the ‘darker arts’ as well as magic paraphernalia. When Wade gave Snowshill to The National Trust, his collection of magical items was moved and re-housed at The Museum of Witchcraft at Boscastle in Cornwall. Sadly, during the devastating flood of 2004, many items were ruined but some still survive today and are on display.
The Manor is set high on a hillside, a giant edifice that seems at first glance to have evolved with the topography of the land. Its stark stone walls tower above you as you approach from the garden. It is not difficult to see why Snowshill has acquired several ghostly tales.
One such tale is that of a Benedictine Monk said to haunt the lane which runs adjacent to the Manor. Appearing as a shadowy cowled form, he is believed to be connected to the time when Snowshill was owned by Winchcombe Abbey. It is said that some villagers refuse to walk the lane after nightfall. Could it also be the same monk that haunts the kitchen, described by those who have seen him as a powerfully built man who scowls at visitors, presumably because he is unhappy that Snowshill has become a visitors attraction and any religious connection has been lost in time. The monk has also been seen standing on the stairs that lead down from Ann’s Room.
During his time at Snowshill, Wade discovered many stories surrounding the Manor’s past inhabitants. One story in particular, that might go someway to revealing the identity of the ghostly presence said to haunt ‘Ann’s Room’ is as follows:
It is February 13th 1604, the eve of Valentines Day. Ann Parsons, just 16-years-old, secretly elopes with her lover Anthony Palmer in the dead of night to Snowshill Manor, which is owned by a close relative of hers. A vicar is found, who on the stoke of midnight hurriedly marries the couple in what is now called Ann’s Room, even though Ann is promised to another. However, her elopement and deception are soon discovered by her guardian - John Warne, who later tracks her down at Chipping Campden where the couple fled immediately after the ceremony. She is seized by Warne and his accomplices but Palmer, who is beside himself does not give up on her and shortly thereafter rescues her from Warne’s clutches. In due course Palmer is arrested and charged with abduction and contriving to elicit an unlawful marriage. The case was later tried by the secret Star Chamber but their final decision is a little vague. Some say the marriage was annulled, whilst others say no decision was ever forthcoming.
It is not clear who haunts Ann’s Room but the ghost of a young girl wearing a green dress has been seen on many occasions as she passes through Ann’s Room from the adjacent ’Music Room’. Footsteps have also been heard crossing the room and the sound of a girl weeping. Some claim to have felt cold spots whilst others sense a strong feeling of sadness. It is unclear whether the ghost is Ann, I think it unlikely as she spent little at Snowshill and certainly did not die there.
There is a twist to Ann’s tale. Charles Wade, having heard of the haunting, sent a sample of timber from Ann’s Room to a renown medium in Brighton. She is said to ‘have never heard of Snowshill’ but on examining the timber she surprisingly describes - ‘tis late at night, in it a girl in a green dress of the 17th century, much agitated, paces up and down. She does not live there and will not stay the night’. It was some years later that Wade saw papers describing the Star Chambers case relating to the secret marriage of Ann Parsons.
The Zenith Room
The ’Zenith Room’, metaphorically the highest point of the house, was the seen of a bloody duel, where one of the participants was mortally wounded. The duel that took place therein would seem to have left a lasting ‘impression’, for it is said that even now, the sound of clashing swords can still be heard emanating from within.
Charles Marshall was a resident at Snowshill during the first half of the 19th century. Along with the house went several hundred acres of farmland, which following Marshall’s death in 1858 passed to his widow. Shortly after Marshall’s death his widow embarked on an extensive project to repair and extend the building, a project that must have incurred a considerable financial outlay. Just where the funds had come from was not revealed until much later in 1919 by Richard Dark who had married the daughter of Richard Carter who was a trusted employee of Marshall’s when he was alive.
The story goes, that one winters night shortly after Marshall’s death, Carter had been making his way home from working late at Hill Barn Farm nearby. As he rode along the dirt track he became aware of an approaching horse behind him. Turning to see who the rider was, he was shocked to see his former master Charles Marshall sat astride a black horse. Marshall’s apparition drew alongside Carter at which point the terrified Carter set off at a gallop with Marshall in pursuit. This encounter is said to have happened several times, each time Carter fled managing to escape the pursuing apparition.
These encounters persisted, so in desperation, having spoken to nobody for fear of the repercussions, Carter decided to pay the local minister a visit. The minister listened intently to his story and concluded that in his opinion, the apparition wanted something of him. He was given instructions to confront the ghost when they next met. Sure enough, a few nights later along the same dirt track, Carter was again in the company of Charles Marshall but this time he gathered all his courage and demanded of Marshall what he wanted of him. Marshall spoke to him and told him to meet him later at midnight at the chaff-house, a farm building used to store cattle fodder. Carter, trying to keep his nerves in check did as he was told and rendezvoused with Marshall. He was given a message for Mrs Marshall, a message that only he and Mrs Marshall were privy to. It was rumoured later that the note contained the whereabouts of a secret haul of monies hidden by Marshall, for shortly after Carter’s encounter funds became available to Mrs Marshall enabling work on the Manor to begin.
Carter never saw Marshall’s ghost again but some National Trust staff claim to have seen a gentleman about the Manor who they believe may well be Marshall. Could it be, that there is more buried treasure and his ghost is seeking a trustworthy recipient to impart this most secret information.
Several of the National Trust guides have reported hearing footsteps in various rooms, when those rooms have been unoccupied. Some believe they may just belong to Charles Paget Wade as he makes his regular rounds checking on his beloved collection.
‘Let Nothing Perish’ Charles Paget Wade (1883 - 1956)
A visit to Snowshill Manor is highly recommended, not just for its ghostly history but to admire the stunning and beautiful objects that Charles Wade devoted his life to amassing.
N.B. Because space is at a premium in the Manor a timed ticket system is often in use at busy times. This limits the number of people in the building for your comfort and safety. In fact when we arrived late in the afternoon, the Manor was closed to any more visitors for that day. This did not deter us mind you, as we managed to sneak in unnoticed. I suggest you telephone in advance to reserve your tickets, so as not to be disappointed.