Catching up: The one with the most toys
As I’m devoting a lot of time to applying for jobs, my blogging has drifted backwards again! So here’s another catch-up post…
A few weeks ago, we took a trip down to Gloucestershire, with the aim of visiting Snowshill Manor. Snowshill, near Broadway, is a small and generally unremarkable manor house on the edge of the Cotswolds, near the Worcestershire/Gloucestershire border. It is located on the edge of a village of Cotswold stone, but it hides behind a tall wall, separating it from the village. The approach for visitors is along a half-mile path, as the site in the village is too cramped to allow large numbers of visitors – and it gets large numbers of visitors, not so much for the house as for its contents.
The manor was home to Charles Wade, architect and collector extraordinare. From the age of seven, he collected items which reflected his love of beauty and craftsmanship. Beyond those two criteria, anything was game for acquisition. The house is full of objects – porcelain, carvings, furniture, musical instruments, clocks, paintings – you name it, and he probably has it. But his taste veered towards the eclectic and the everyday, objects that reflected craftsmanship in everyday life, and things that more refined collectors might ignore. So the objects in the house are not refined antiques, but are often of a more plebian origin. For example, in an attic space (which Wade called “A Hundred Wheels” – all the rooms in the house were given allegorical names), there is a collection of bicycles of many different types and ages. He collected tools and workshop equipment before such things were fashionable, He had a taste for things oriental, so he has a small collection of netsuke, and some examples of larger carvings and sculpture from Japan. he collected a few Japanese clocks of the Edo period, when time was measured in unequal parts of the day, according to the tasks to be carried out during those times. You can see religious items (though Wade was not a religious man), ancient chests with elaborate locking mechanisms, sedan chairs, leather fire buckets, suits of armour, keys and locks, samurai armour, ship models, astrolabes, orrerys and a small mortar cannon. It is a house which has something for everyone.
The collection was so large that Wade and his wife lived in an outhouse – admittedly, a quite substantial one – and that also boasted a selection of objects both weird and wonderful. Indeed, he installed indoor plumbing at a time when such things were quite unusual, though the installation has its eccentricities…
The house also has very attractive gardens, laid out in terraces; and the collections spill over into the grounds, so you can find sundials, plaques, and even the remains of a model railway and harbour. The increasingly common National Trust second-hand bookshop even boasts a small printing press with examples of traditional letterpress being run off to show visitors.
To appreciate everything in the house would take all day, and even then there would be things you’d miss.
I hadn’t visited in nearly twenty years, and I was pleased to see that the house had been re-interpreted and some of Wade’s writings had been added to the displays. By profession he was an architect, and a well-read and learned man as well. Photographs show a tall man with a shock of unruly hair, the image of the Great British Eccentric; yet he looks exactly like the sort of person who would be at home in such a place with such things.
I had a bit of a surprise in the NT shop itself. I was looking at some of the books, and a very familiar name leapt out at me – Bob Shaw. It was on a book about a superannuated Boeing 247D airliner that was donated to the RAF in the war and which ended up based not far from Snowshill for radar calibration tests. Now, the Bob Shaw Cathy and I knew was a science fiction author from Belfast, who was one of the most popular and beloved people in the business. He was a great humourist, and produced a number of ingenious if (sometimes) workmanlike novels as well as his fanzine writing. Bob was nominated for a Hugo for his short story Light of Other Days, which hinged on his concept of “slow glass” – glass so “thick” that light took hours, or days, or years to pass through it. In a series of stories, he examined a range of ways that this idea of his might change life. (You can read the story online here.)
The thing was that, before becoming a full-time writer, Bob had worked as a PR journalist, first for Shorts and later for Vickers. He had often written about aviation subjects (having also worked as an aircraft designer), so it was not impossible that this was, in some way, a book of some of Bob’s work. But no; it was a different Bob Shaw. But the coincidence touched me, and as I have a model of the Boeing 247D in the pile to be built, I bought the book anyway.
After leaving Snowshill, we drove the short distance to Toddington, to see the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway. They were just closing down for the night, but I was able to secure a few photographs of one of their engines being bedded down after the day’s services. It’s a good fifteen years since I was last at the G&WR, but I’m sure I’ll be getting back there again in the future.
We rounded the day off with a reasonable meal at The Pheasant inn at Toddington roundabout (usual disclaimer).