As with most offices we have a cupboard of doom. If you work in an office you will know exactly what I mean. It’s that ancient cupboard that your predecessors left you just as their predecessors did and everyone is a little scared to open it. With this being Snowshill Manor, the place that continually presents new mysteries, I was quite intrigued to see what could be hiding inside. One brave morning I decided to open the cupboard of doom (or more precisely filing cabinet of doom). Inside has proven to be a treasure trove of curatorial information and for the frustrated archivist inside of me it has been a joy to uncover. Most of the information has been known to us in one or another format but to finally find the origins to some of our fascinating stories has been very rewarding.
I thought I would share some of my favourite stories with you in a series of blog posts.
Charles Wade and Queen Mary
One of the letters found in the filing cabinet was written by an acquaintance of Charles Wade who fondly refers to him as Charlie and details many visits to Snowshill and the Wade’s home in St Kitts. It gives a real insight into the man himself and has some interesting memories regarding Queen Mary’s visit to Snowshill Manor. Below are a series of extracts from that letter:
“Charlie was a most charming man though rather eccentric in dress at any rate, and perhaps a little ‘off putting’ when one first met him. He always wore, I seem to remember, a rather crumpled ill-fitting cream suit with an old panama hat and always tennis shoes, when he was in St Kitts”.
Charles Wade (second from left) at the Upper Mansion, St Kitts.
“Charlie loved picnics and the first thing he would say to me after arriving on the island would be ‘When are we having a picnic?”
Charles Wade, friends and family enjoying the gardens at Snowshill Manor.
“On receiving the guests at the ball given for Charlie’s 21st birthday in St Kitts he dressed in a velvet coat, knee breeches, white silk stockings and buckled slippers – in that heat!! But it was only his usual evening dress!!”
Charles Wade dressing in items from his costume collection.
In his recently published biography on Charles Wade Jonathan Howard writes about one of our favourite stories; the royal visit to Snowshill.
“At 1:45pm on 30 July 1937 Her Majesty Queen Mary, with 15 lords and ladies, condescended to visit Snowshill. Surprisingly for such an accolade, Charles only ever recorded the visit in his visitors’ book. The Queen wrote afterwards in her diary that she had seen ‘an interesting colln of curios made by Mr Wade who showed us over the old manor Hse’. She was reported to have said that ‘the finest thing in the collection was Mr Wade himself’. (A Thousand fancies, pg 94)
While Wade only recorded the visit in his visitors’ book and not in his many notebooks the letter from the filing cabinet does recall his delight in telling friends and family about the visit. The recollection also sheds some light onto the question of which item Queen Mary was particularly keen on.
“Charlie told us with a wicked twinkle in his eye that once Queen Mary staying with the Beauforts said she would like to visit Snowshill. He sent a frantic telegram to his mother to come and help him. He also got some pretty young girls from roundabout to dress up in some of his beautiful antique costumes. These girls formed a tableaux in the room where he had his antique garments and after Queen Mary entered the room they curtseyed in unison and Charlie says the Queen was quite startled – she thought they were waxworks – she also asked Charlie for one of his antique teapots – I wonder where that teapot is now”.
Charles Wade and friends dressing in items from his costume collection on the steps at Snowshill manor.
Very soon there will be the opportunity to create your own tableaux in the Costume Room when we open our very own wardrobe of dressing up delights. There are historically accurate costumes made just for Snowshill and we invite everyone to dress up if they’d like to! But don’t worry, no curtseying will be required.