With a collection as big and as varied as Mr Wade’s picking a favourite or significant item can be like picking a favourite star. However there is one item that all staff and volunteers agree is the most significant: Grannie Spencer’s Cantonese Cabinet.
This beautiful piece of furniture is made from lacquered wood and was purchased in 1850 by Augustine Bulwer, Charles Wade’s Great Grandfather. The exterior has a second decoration painted over the original. The left hand side was cleaned off by Charles Paget Wade’s Grandfather, Charles Spencer. It has 7 drawers and the ornate pillars create the appearance of an alter that Wade has enhanced with his placement of ornamental Buddhas and two long vertical inscriptions of felicity and prosperity that hang at the back of the cabinets central unit.
The reason this piece of Cantonese furniture is so important is because it is believed to have encouraged Mr Wade to start on his collecting journey.
As a young boy Charles was sent to live with his Granny Spencer in Great Yarmouth. Katherine Spencer was a great contrast to Charles’ paternal grandmother. Granny Spencer was a strict Victorian lady who lived a rather isolated life in Great Yarmouth. In his notebooks Charles comments on how lonely he was living at Wellesley Street and how his saving grace was the Cantonese cabinet. On a Sunday, if he had been well behaved during the week , Charles was permitted to open the ornate doors and investigate the contents of the drawers. He remembers the strong smell of camfour that overtook him and the joy he took from looking at the beautiful antiques treasured by his grandmother. It was this cabinet and it’s treasured contents that encouraged Charles to save his pocket money and purchase not sweets or toys but a beautifully crafted shrine of St Michael made from bone. Despite being told he was wasting his money on rubbish he carried on collecting.
When his grandmother passed away her other grandchildren received healthy financial gifts, Charles received the Cantonese cabinet which was no doubt worth more than any monetary value. The cabinet now holds a significant position in the room Zenith and contains many if it’s original contents including a Christmas angel from Granny Spencer’s childhood Christmas’ and a pair of Charles’ Great Grandfathers’ spectacles in a green shagreen case.
It is easy to see how Charles became fascinated with the cabinet and it’s beautiful contents. Today the cabinet continues to fascinate our visitors, staff and volunteers.