Snowshill Manor stands on a gently sloping hillside in the Cotswolds, about four miles south west of the town of Chipping Camden. It is a fine old Manor House with a long history, famous for the eclectic collection of contents of its former owner, Charles Paget Wade, who laid out its intense succession of walled garden terraces between 1920 and 1923 on the site of the old farmyard.
The Manor House itself is a mellow golden local Cotswold stone, and its origins date to around 1500. Built as a traditional medieval house with a great hall, it was altered and extended c. 1600. The south front has classical details of c.1720, when it was altered by its owners, the Sambachs, to give the impression of a small Georgian house. From about 1760, the house was owned by a series of absentee landlords, and occupied by tenant farmers.
The estate was divided into several farms that were successively sold off.By 1919, the Manor House had become a semi-derelict farm, suffering from damp and serious structural decay, and the remaining estate of only fourteen acres was advertised for sale during the War in Country Life, catching the eye of Charles Paget Wade. Wade was an architect, artist and craftsman, who inherited from his father sugar estates in the West Indies. On leaving the army, he found the house still on the market, and bought it in 1919. Snowshill was by then in a ruinous state, the garden filled with nettles and strewn with old iron, and broken crocks. Carrying out a large-scale restoration in the spirit of the Arts and Crafts tradition of William Morris, Wade unblocked fireplaces and fitted contemporary oak panelling to many of the rooms, to recapture the Tudor atmosphere in the house where he continued to live for over thirty years. He spent many years amassing and restoring a large collection of craftsmanship, collected from all around the country, whilst living in the cottage in the courtyard. Wade transformed the garden at Snowshill with the help of M.H. Baillie Scott, another young architect. They created terraced levels with retaining walls, and planned the garden as a series of outdoor rooms in the Arts and Crafts style. Separate courts were created for varying moods, some sunny, others shady. Wade wrote: 'The plan of the garden is much more important than the flowers in it. Walls, steps and alley ways give a permanent setting, so that it is pleasant and orderly in both summer and winter'.
The visitor approaches Snowshill by walking through the valley below, and then up a gentle slope through the orchard. The south front of the house is approached between early eighteenth century gate piers which represent the original road boundary of the property, and a path leads between lawns straight to the front door. At the corner of this front court, adjacent to the house, steps lead down to herbaceous borders, colourfully planted with a mixture of cottage favourites, outside the high garden wall. A gate in the wall leads from here to the west terrace, where Wade's vine covered cottage, the old Priest's House, faces the steps of the Manor House. On the wall is a teak statue of St. George, carved by Wade in 1922 after a French original which once rang the bell in the house. This and much else in the garden is painted Wade's favourite shade of turquoise blue.From the west terrace, steps lead down into the Armillary court on the level below. This is planted with a variety of climbing roses on the wall, ten yew columns, and there is a charming fountain of Bacchus running into a small pool.
In the centre of this court a gilded sun dial stands on a stone column. It is worth pausing here to look down onto the next level, from where the complexities of Well Court can be appreciated. Down more steps, the Well Court, which takes its name from the ancient venetian well head standing at its centre, is the highlight of the garden. On the north side of this court, Wade converted a cow byre into a garden house with a summer bedroom on the upper floor. He created a little shrine to the Virgin Mary in a gable on the roof, also painted Wade Blue. In front of this is a small square pool with water lilies. On the west side of this court is the medieval dovecote with white doves cooing on its roof. On the adjacent garden wall is a zodiac clock, or nychthemeron,coloured blue and gold. A fascinating combination of events in a small space. Leaving this garden through the gate down to the miniature kitchen garden, there is an inscription above which reads:
A garden sweet enclosed with walles strong
The arbores and ayles so pleasant and so dulce
This accompanies other little poems around the garden:
Wade left the manor house and its contents to the National Trust in 1951, and the property has since been carefully and sensitively maintained. The garden was the first in the National Trust to be run entirely organically.