All has been quiet here for the past week while I’ve been away on a trip which will get its own blog post very shortly. While on my return journey I took the opportunity to stop off in Gloucestershire and Derbyshire to visit two rather remarkable National Trust properties. Country Houses are of course generally admired for their collections of precious paintings and priceless pieces of furniture, but it was the jumble of the eccentric and ordinary which made Snowshill Manor and Calke Abbey particularly special for me. Both houses are home to extensive collections of miscellanea amassed by their previous owners, and perfectly embody my belief that a house should not simply be a building, but an experience to stir and entice.
Snowshill Manor plays host to an eclectic mix of objects accumulated by its most recent owner, Charles Paget Wade, who bought the 16th Century manor house in 1919 purely to house this vast collection. Behind the picturesque Cotswold stone façade the house is packed to the rafters with literally thousands of items of diverse origin. On the surface the collection seems completely random and resembles a slightly obsessive hoard, but the quality of all the pieces demonstrates that Wade simply had a love of all things beautiful, be they humble or highly decorative.
Calke Abbey is presented as an ‘un-stately home’ and is indeed a thrilling antidote to the usual polite order of a National Trust House. Calke was home to the Harpur Crewes, a family who seem to have developed a habit of filling their rooms with possessions before abandoning them and moving on to new quarters within their Palladian mansion. Many upstairs rooms still accommodate haphazard piles of furniture or are eerily empty with a palpable air of dilapidation. Complete with sagging wallpaper, my visit here was surprisingly close to wandering the empty hallways of some of the genuinely abandoned houses I have explored, albeit with ‘this way’ signs and a swarm of weekend visitors.
Such owners seem to be considered eccentric by most, but to me this practice of passionate accumulation is perfectly normal. I can barely remember a time in my life when I haven’t collected something or other, from small antiques and bird models to the pages of old stamps which almost seem a rite of passage. I may not have the luxury of a mansion to house my possessions, but I still enjoy collecting and it’s no surprise that my present day attentions focus on objects pertaining to the ruins I love. There is something compelling about discovering an item which offers a tangible link with these places, and my gradually growing collection includes old postcards, magazine cuttings and auction catalogues. This seems the perfect time to introduce readers to my collection so that I may feature particularly interesting pieces from it now and again.
Below is my most recent and perhaps my most exciting acquisition; a piece of Mauchline ware displaying a picture of Cavers House. It was waiting for me when I returned from my aforementioned trip yesterday, and came to my attention at a most fortuitous time as I was researching Cavers in preparation for my previous blog entry. What makes it particularly valuable is that it shows the house with its Georgian additions only and is the sole visual record I have ever found of Cavers before the additions of 1881-7. It clearly depicts the bow section at full height and the C15 tower house minus its later gables and battlements. It is an absolute thrill to have gained this record of Cavers’ previous form!