Welcome to The Cotswolds!

I love the English Cotswolds and think everyone should visit this beautiful place at least once in their lifetime. Having lived all over the world and traveled as much as possible, I still think that this little part of England is one of the world's greatest treasures. This site is dedicated to helping spread the word and encourage sustainable travel to the Cotswolds.

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Saturday, 25 September 2010

A Cotswolds Mystery - Charles Wade & the Ghosts of Snowshill Manor

Snowshill Manor

Snowshill is one of the loneliest and most unspoilt villages in the Cotswolds. Its manor was owned by Winchcombe Abbey from 821 until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, when it passed to the Crown, and was given to King Henry VIII's wife Katherine Parr, as a gift. Subsequently the house had numerous owners and tenants and underwent many modifications and additions. The main part of the house dates from around 1500, and was altered and extended in the seventeenth century. By 1919 Snowshill Manor was a semi-derelict farm.

It was then that it was bought and restored by a man named Charles Paget Wade. Wade was an architect, artist-craftsman, collector and poet from Yoxford in Suffolk, who inherited sugar estates in the West Indies from his father. He had been employed as an architect with the firm of Parker & Unwin before serving with the army in France during the First World War. It was whilst in the army that Wade saw an advertisement for the sale of Snowshill Manor in Country Life and it appealed to him immediately. When he visited the Cotswolds in February 1919, Wade found the house in a rundown state amid a forest of nettles and thistles. He undertook a complete restoration of the house and garden, preserving as much of the old panelling and stonework as he could.

There were no modern additions or alterations and Wade deliberately disregarded the use of electricity and modern conveniences, preferring the subdued and atmospheric lighting of oil lamps and candles. He then commenced filling it with his extraordinary collection of objets d'art, mechanical oddities, extraordinary clocks, bicycles, children's toys and many other more bizarre items which he'd collected from various places around Britain. Wade did not actually live in the manor house itself, but the old priest's house in the courtyard.

This small house, a priest's lodgings in monastic times, is the cottage to the west of the Manor House, and had become a bake house / farm building when Wade bought Snowshill.  Wade himself would add a touch of drama to the already unique atmosphere by materialising noiselessly from a dark corner of a room or from one of the numerous secret doors and passageways, to startle the guests.

He was extremely fond of dressing up using old costumes from amongst his vast collection, and visitors to his strange Cotswolds manor house,  including John Betjeman, Virginia Woolf, Graham Greene and J.B. Priestley, were often persuaded to perform amateur dramatics in 'Dragon', one of the rooms in the manor house, or in the garden. J. B. Priestly described Wade as: 'My eccentric, but charming friend of the fantastic manor house.'The names of the rooms in the house were chosen by Wade, and usually bear some relation to their contents, decoration, or their position in the house. So there are names like 'Seventh Heaven' on the top floor, 'Meridian' in the centre of the house, 'Dragon' - named after the roaring fire that Wade would usually have burning in what was probably the great fireplace of the medieval hall, and 'Hundred Wheels' containing objects mainly connected with transport. The 'Green Room' contains an incredible collection of twenty-six suits of Japanese Samurai armour, dating from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, gathered from various parts of England between 1940 and 1945.

Wade seems to have had a profound interest in magic and alchemy. In a private room at the top of the house known as 'The Witch's Garret' there was once a collection of objects connected with witchcraft, and the floor and one wall were (and still are?) decorated with various magical symbols. When the Manor was given to the National Trust this strange collection of magical objects was loaned to the Museum of Witchcraft, formerly at Bourton-on-the-Water in the Cotswolds, now at Boscastle in Cornwall. Amongst the items the Museum still has is a large oak magician's chest, possibly from the 17th century.

Unfortunately this was badly damaged in a flood in 2004, and only the wooden carvings, including female figures, green men & horned god masks, survive. Nothing is mentioned of these occult items in the National Trust's descriptions of Wade, the Manor House and his odd collection.

Wade spent lots of time in the manor house organising and restoring his incredible collection and, by the time he handed it and the Manor over to the National Trust in 1951, he had amassed 22,000 items, plus a 2000 piece costume collection. In giving the collection to the National Trust his hope was that people would learn to value quality craftsmanship from contact with these objects, each endowed with the spirit of the craftsman and the era in which it was created.

The Ghosts of Snowshill Manor 

Charles Wade's Room at Snowshill
It is perhaps inevitable that an eccentric collector living in a lonely manor house in the Cotswolds will inspire ghostly stories of strange goings on. In the best traditions of local folklore there are indeed eerie tales told of Snowshill Manor. When Wade acquired the Manor he engaged twenty-eight workmen who stayed in the attic during the week. After the first night, one workman refused to stay another night in the place saying that it was haunted. Wade later learned that there was a belief in the village concerning the ghost of one of the Benedictine Monks of Winchcombe Abbey. Some people who visit Snowshill Manor have noticed that the entrance to the house has a certain uncanny ambiance and occasionally refuse to enter.

When Charles Wade began his restoration of the first floor rooms he sent a small piece of the timber to a well known lady psychic in Brighton, without telling her where it originated. She replied:
'Two houses upon a steep slope - the larger, lofty and mysterious. In the lofty house in an upper room, late at night there is a girl in a green dress of the seventeenth century - she is greatly agitated - she paces anxiously up and down the room - she doesn't live here and will not stay the night'.
It was only later that Charles Wade came across a story that may have inspired at least one of the hauntings at the manor. It involved a clandestine marriage that took place in an upper room of the house on St Valentine's Eve, 1604. Ann Parsons, a sixteen-year-old orphan heiress related by marriage to John Warne, owner of Snowshill at the time, was forcibly removed from the home of her guardian by Anthony Palmer, a handsome twenty-year-old servant, and some friends. She was then taken to Snowshill Manor and married to Palmer at midnight in the room above the Great Hall, by the vicar of Broadway (another Cotswolds village nearby).  She afterwards refused to stay at Snowshill and the dejected wedding party was forced to travel by night to the village of Chipping Campden. The marriage was subsequently declared invalid by the court of the Star Chamber. The room is now known as Ann's room, and is haunted by her unhappy ghost.

Another incident which may have contributed to the ghostly atmosphere of the house is the duel which is supposed to have occurred in the room known as Zenith, in which one of the participants was killed. Another story relates to Charles Marshall, who occupied the house in the first half of the 19th century and held leases over a thousand acres of land. After he died his widow still lived at the Manor and farmed the adjacent land. Some time before 1858 (the year Mrs. Marshall died) a labourer named Richard Carter was working at a remote place called Hill Barn Farm. Returning home one winter's evening by a little used track, he met an apparition of his former master, Charles Marshall, who rode alongside him on a fine black pony. This happened several times and finally Carter, on the advise of the rector, asked the ghost what it wanted. The reply was that Carter should meet him at midnight in the chaff-house. At the meeting that night Carter was given a secret message for Mrs. Marshall, the contents of which were never made known. However, there were rumours that the message was connected with the location of hidden money as soon after the incident the widow managed to start new buildings to the north of the Manor.

This story was told to Charles Wade in 1919 by Richard Dark, son-in-law of the labourer Richard Carter.

A Haunted Cotswolds Village

Charles Wade
The village of Snowshill itself also has its tales of ghosts and hauntings. Alistair Biles, landlord of the Snowshill Arms from 1969 to 1979, frequently saw a ghoslty figure in the ancient upstairs part of the inn.

This apparition could open doors and would disturb his dog so much that it would run downstairs to the modern part of the building. The strange figure often took the form of a hooded monk, but at other times seemed to have very little form at all, being no more than a misty shape that would disappear through walls or closed doors. Neither Mr. Bile nor his family ever felt threatened by the figure.

There is also a strange presence that lurks in the lane that runs past the Manor, and there is a particular spot  here that many of the older villagers refuse to pass after dark. Many local people think the ghost, like the one in the Snowshill Arms, and perhaps the Manor, is that of an unhappy monk probably connected with Winchcombe Abbey. The pub is one of the oldest buildings in the village and in medieval times it is thought that the older part was used as a hostel for visiting clergy and lay-people.

Charles Wade, though rarely seen about the village, was well liked by the locals, though his 18th century appearance, with outlandish bobbed hair and breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, was thought eccentric to say the least. In 1946 he married and spent many of his last years in the West Indies. He maintained a keen interest in Snowshill Manor and continued to add to his collection. In 1951, when he gave over the Manor to the National Trust,  Wade was the same unique figure, 'still mischievous, waxy complexioned, a medieval face seen through the woodsmoke'.

While on a visit to England in July 1956, Wade was taken ill in Broadway, and shortly after died in Evesham Hospital. He is buried with his mother and sisters in Snowshill churchyard.
He once wrote of his beloved Snowshill Manor:

'Old am I, so very old,
Here centuries have been.
Mysteries my walls enfold,
None know deeds I have seen.'

© Brian Haughton 2004 http://brian-haughton.com/


brynrees said...

Thanks for posting my article on your blog. Love the Cotswolds!

Kevin Nicholas said...

Thanks, Brian! Great story and you've written some excellent books!