Charles Paget Wade and Snowshill Manor

Some would ever be where they’re not,

Would ever have what they’ve not got.

True happiness – contented mind

Sufficient near at hand will find.

Absorbing interests lie all round,

Will by observant mind be found.

Create something however small,

There lies the truest joy of all,

When brain and hand together strive,

Real happiness becomes alive.

In the pursuit the pleasure lies,

The how and wherefore to devise.

Though vision dreamed will far excel

The work achieved, yet it is well,

To have attempted is not in vain.

Failure urges one on again.

Great craftsmen, asked once to decide

Which was his greatest work, replied

Simply with these two words “My next”,

For “ever better” was his text.

These words were written by Charles Paget Wade, a fanatical collector since the age of seven. After serving in World War One he returned to England and bought Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire. For the next thirty years he transformed it into a theatre for his obsessions, with room after room of artefacts collected on his travels, from the gothic shock of massed Samurai armour to candle-lit chambers dizzy with some half-lit dream of an English arcadia.

He lived in a cottage beside the manor where he crafted countless devices to celebrate the medieval origins of the buildings, or wooden templates for the lead-cast texts that throw shadows round rooms with names such as Salamandar, Dragon and Nadir.

Was he a hoarder, an obsessive, an escapist? Probably all of them, but I like to think that the room he named Seventh Heaven – filled with the toys of his childhood – holds a clue. There’s the child and childishness; but the rest of the collection is the adult, the ‘grown-up’ whose window to the imagination is as clear and open as that of a seven-year-old.

Charles Paget Wade was someone lucky enough to have the time and fortune to leave some of his visions behind for the rest of us. It was pouring with rain on the afternoon we were there, and it seemed all the stranger and more hallucinatory for it…