From his earliest years Charles Paget Wade was more inclined to imaginative design and invention than academic study.
The saving grace of his schooldays was drawing, a subject he enjoyed and was good at. In his memoir ‘Days Far Away’ he recalls ‘I never had the faintest desire to be top of any classes…I would be planning out great works for the holidays such as how to build a punt for our pond or a little house on pile over the water’ At St Andrew’s School Eastbourne his ‘chief joy’ was the chance to learn carpentry where Blogg the carpenter encouraged his efforts.
After ‘the dreary deadening days of school’ he was articled to an architect and Diocesan Surveyor, E.F. Bisshopp in Ipswich. His articles contained the ancient clause that he was ‘not to frequent Playhouses and Taverns’, which he flagrantly ignored and used to go to the Lyceum in the town , as he loved the theatre.
As a small boy living with his Granny Spencer in Great Yarmouth his route to Miss Haddon’s Little School took him along the pier and beach to the jetty, the timber construction of which fascinated him, and past the sailing boats, steamers and cutters. In Ipswich he turned again to the pursuits he had as a boy. He found much of architectural interest and admired the ‘good harbour capable of berthing fully rigged ships’ to say nothing of the markets and antique shops.
In studying for the RIBA exams he got to know Ipswich very well in terms of its old buildings. He recalls in his memoir the sounds and scents of the harbour, the ‘wondrous figure heads’ on the ships and the ‘tar blackened hulk’ which inspired him so much that when he later created a model fishing village he named it ‘Wolf’s Cove’ after her.
Unfortunately, Charles did not consider Edward Fernley Bisshopp an inspiring architect or artist. ‘He liked to design window mullions with minute festoons of carved fruit and flowers and to introduce bits of mock half-timbered work with panels filled with what he liked to call ‘pebble dash’ an unpleasant plum pudding-like mixture’ Bisshopp’s Diocesan responsibilities led to Charles having to make notes on ‘many a dreary, desolate dilapidated Rectory’
Bisshopp had an iron constitution and would sit in his shirt sleeves whilst the rest of the office froze. Luckily for Charles, a year after he joined the office Bisshopp took H. Munro Cautley FRIBA into partnership, who Charles considered had a sound architectural knowledge and ‘a fine sense of imaginative design’. Cautley helped Charles with his studies and took him to see the projects he was working on.
For his final exam Charles made a complete set of measured architectural drawings of St Margaret’s Church in Ipswich. He qualified as an associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects on 6th May 1907.
Charles moved from Bisshopp’s practice in 1907 to become architectural assistant to Raymond Unwin, Architect to the Hampstead Garden Suburb. As many independent architects were commissioned to work on the development, Charles met some of the most influential people in that field, including Lutyens and M.H. Baillie Scott. It was a large office with up to 40 staff and the emphasis was on the value of traditional and vernacular architecture. Charles became lifelong friends with a number of the staff including Hugh Mottram and Clifford Hollis.
Jonathan Howard, in his recently published biography of Charles Wade, describes how Charles made a significant contribution to the artistic output of the practice. He says it is ‘unclear whether all of the Hampstead Garden buildings attributed to him were solely of his design or whether he worked up and gave artifice to Unwin’s basic concepts’. Certainly Charles presented his plans in an individual way. He used inlays of silk, ribbon and mother of pearl. He filled the empty spaces with poetry and quotations. In 1908 Unwin tasked Charles with designing the ‘Great Wall’ which formed the boundary between the Garden Suburb and the Hampstead Heath beyond
Charles also provided distinctive design features for cottages in Asmuns Place and for the terraced cottages further along. In 1909 he was tasked with the design of No. 3 Rotherwick Road. Hollis worked on no 1. As it formed the gateway into the new suburb from Golders Green it was critical to Unwin’s overall scheme. Charles provided detailing for the Folk Hall, which was demolished in 1940 after landmine damage. He worked on The Orchard 1909-10 which was demolished in 1970.
Charles played an active part in Hampstead life. He got to know Kate Murray, a literature lecturer, probably through advising her on the Christmas play at the Hampstead Garden Institute, and taking an acting part.
Charles formed a lifelong friendship with Kate, her husband Donald and their daughter Betty. It was Kate who commissioned Charles to illustrate her novel ‘The Spirit of the House’ . Raymond Unwin also commissioned illustrations from Charles for his book ‘Town Planning Practice’. He also went to Bruges to draw pen and ink illustrations for Mary Stratton’s ‘Bruges : A Record and an Impression’. In his own time, Charles worked on an architectural project for the fictitious Alconbury Abbey which featured an early use of the turquoise colour he used later to great effect at Snowshill Manor and which is now known as Wade Blue. In 1911, Charles exhibited some of his art work at The House and Home exhibition at the Whitechapel art gallery, which was organised by Henrietta Barnett of the Hampstead Garden Trust. Amongst his work was a model of the fictitious Red Lion Inn, with floor plans in Charles’s original style. This model making would blossom with the creation of ‘Fladbury’ an imaginary village originally made for Betty. Later ‘Fladbury’ would transfer to Snowshill and become the pond-side fishing village Wolf’s Cove.
When Charles was called up in 1916 to serve in France in WW1, his found some solace in sketching the local villages and countryside, not bombed and ruined as was the reality, but whole again, as best he could recreate the scenes in his imagination. It was while he was in France that he first spotted the Country Life advertisement for the auction of Snowshill Manor in the Cotswolds.
Having survived the war and acquired Snowshill Manor, Charles brought his architect’s skills to bear on the restoration of the crumbling building. Calling on the architectural values he had practiced in Hampstead, he stripped the manor of Victorian additions and restored the original features. He was assisted by a team of workmen from Gloucester, many of whom learned new craft skills. Charles called on his old friend M.H. Baillie Scott to help design the garden. He also produced architectural drawings for a medieval cloister, which he conceived as an extension to Snowshill Manor and a possible home for his collection of 18th century costume. The cloister was never built. Maybe one day it will be, as a fitting tribute to a most original architect.
‘The Wonderful World of Charles Paget Wade’ heritage walk will be taking place in London on Saturday 25th June at 10.30am and costs £10. Please see the link below for more details.
Some of the information above has been taken from a new biography about Charles Wade. ‘A Thousand Fancies’ by Jonathon Howard is available to buy at the Snowshill shop and online at http://shop.nationaltrust.org.uk/charles-paget-wade-at-snowshill-manor/p7810