A Return to Snowshill
“Mystery is most valuable in design; never show all there is at once.” C.P.Wade
To those who are not familiar with Snowshill, it is difficult to describe without a sense of awe. Situated close to Broadway in the heart of the Cotswolds, the picturesque Manor is home to a unique collection of items that were amassed by Charles Paget Wade (1883 - 1956). These artefacts were chosen due to their “good design, colour and workmanship” 1 and were collected throughout his life. Wade himself was an architect by trade and a gifted artist and draughtsman, influenced predominantly by the romantic tastes of the Arts and Crafts Movement. The Manor is full of themed rooms showcasing everything from musical instruments, tools and crafted curios right through to looming furniture, samurai armour and early bicycles. Wade hoped to preserve these items as examples of disappearing craftsmanship and design during a period characterised by the introduction of mass-production and standardisation. The aspect that this article is concerned with is the collection of items related to witchcraft and the occult that was to be found in the top most part of the Manor - The Witch’s Garret. When Wade died, new custodians the National Trust seemed unsure what course of action to take with such a room. It was not ideally located to allow visitor access and its theme was unpalatable to general tastes of the time, Cecil Williamson describing the atmosphere of the period, stating that “the dislike of Witchcraft in England is deep-rooted and still very much with us.” 2 Conveniently for the National Trust, Williamson and his museum were at that point located nearby at Bourton-on-the-Water and he was contacted by them to offer his opinions on the collection. Using his typical ‘maverick method of approach’ 3, he described the Garret not only as a “magician’s den’, but that of an “especially dangerous black magician.”4 A selection of items were removed and reputedly burnt as “unclean things”, but happily, this never occurred and they can now be viewed together at the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle. It has been over a year since my last article concerning the Garret and its contents was published. As mentioned in the conclusion of that piece, my research into the depth of Charles Paget Wade’s interest in the occult, the items from his Witch’s Garret and Cecil Williamson’s relationship with these items has been ongoing. During that time, a great deal of new information has been unearthed that both supports and refutes statements I previously made and during the course of the past year I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to discuss the subject with extraordinary people on both sides of the magical fence. The recent digitisation of the National Trust’s Snowshill collection, as well as the publication of Steve Patterson’s work on Cecil Williamson, has been of great help in reassessing past assumptions. This article aims to clarify points previously raised and to present new evidence regarding the provenance and origins of some of the artefacts. It will also hopefully provide a little more context for the collection, and personalities associated with it during the past seven decades.
The last article raised the possibility that there may have been two separate rooms in the attic space at Snowshill that featured occult themes. This idea was based on drawings by Wade that featured sketches of an ‘Alchemist’s Room’; a similar sized room to the Garret, but instead leaning towards influences of alchemy and astrology. Recent research has however disproved its existence; instead, this illustration showed a design that was a precursor to the Witch’s Garret. The idea of this original room seems, judging by Wade’s notes, to have started in 1934. Why Wade chose to abandon this theme and instead create the Witch’s Garret instead is unknown. However, clues as to why he did this can be seen by looking at features in the garden. In his illustration of the Alchemist’s Room, a copy of what seems to be his astrological birth chart is depicted on the floor where the now-present Solomonic styled seal is. This birth chart, featuring Wade’s own horoscope can now be found on one of the garden terraces, but unfortunately not in its entirety due to the erosion of the original flags. There are also other astrological points of interest in the garden such as the striking zodiacal ‘Nyychthemeron’ clock and the mounted astrolabe. It seems like Wade may have decided to use the garden to feature his interest in astrology as it provided a grander context for the subject. The Garret space is relatively small and the star-gazing chair that features in the design for the Alchemist’s room certainly isn’t practical for observing anything more than a limited portion of the night sky. Continuing with Wade’s sense of practicality, these items related to astrology are actually more at home outside where the vista of the western sky opens dramatically over the rolling hills, rather than being crammed inside the smallest room inside the Manor.
Other reasons for this change in design also present themselves when looking at the contents of the Garret. With the exception of a collection of stoneware jars and globes, there certainly isn’t any evidence of the classical instruments that have become associated with alchemy. With the exception of the window, there is no ventilation and it would have been an impractically small space to work in. The only specific reference to alchemy is the painting on the southern wall that mentions the ‘Lapidem Occultem’. It is likely that Wade found the idea of a Witch’s Garret easier to realise as it gave a wider creative scope, providing opportunities to diversify the theme of the space whilst still reflecting his interest in the imagery of the occult. Maybe he felt he knew more about witchcraft than alchemy and astrology alone and thought that he could achieve a more atmospheric tableau by unifying these themes. Intellectually flexible, it seems that Wade was more than happy to adapt ideas, this fluidity finding reflection in his collecting. Wade does not seem to have collected to order; his purchasing habits being such that if he saw something that he liked, he would buy it, regardless of what his original intentions were. One wonderful example of this is of when he stopped to buy a tap washer in Cheltenham and walked away with seven complete suits of Samurai armour.5 There is no evidence to suggest that the Garret was specially put together and appears to have been assembled organically like the rest of the collection. The earliest receipt discovered at present that relates to one of the items that furnished the Garret is the framed print of Mother Shipton that he purchased in Ipswich in November 1900.6 This reveals that, aged seventeen, he had an awareness of and interest in historical characters associated with magic. Perhaps too, when he moved to Snowshill he came to know of the local folklore regarding the witches of Long Compton and of the legends of the Rollright Stones7 and wanted to reflect this within his collection. It seems that we’ll never know what prompted the change of aesthetic direction for certain, but when comparing the original illustration and the finished Garret, the final design certainly has a greater sense of atmosphere, especially when presented to the lay-person. It could be argued that the success of this effect was double-edged; the depth of feeling evoked by it giving rise to its misinterpretation.
One of the most important items in the Garret that continues to fascinate is the Wondrous Candle. Since writing the previous article, more contextual evidence for its design and possible origin has come to light. The author Nigel Pennick describes a very similar design to that of Wade’s, albeit using different materials, in his book ‘Secrets of East Anglian Magic’. “First we cut a stave of blackthorn to an appropriate length. Next we take a copper wire, preferably one which has never carried electricity, and make two circular hoops, one large and one small. Then, we connect them to the blackthorn stave binding them on with red thread. Next we make a Dag sign (the runic letter ‘D’), out of silver in a silvery metal such as aluminium. This must be consecrated at midday. However, the parts should not be assembled immediately, as this must be done at sunrise on the day the trap is set up. In a sunrise ceremony, we call on the powers of the trap to entangle, ensnare and entrap these harmful sprites.”8 In addition, he also provides us with an illustration which shows the remarkable similarity between the two sigils. However, it seems more likely that Wade would have used inspiration from the ‘Petit Albert’ for the design, as it corresponds roughly with a sigil featured in the book relating to Mercury. A similar sigil is also found in Agrippa’s ‘Occult Philosophy’, and carries the means ‘to obtain’, instead resting under the influence of Jupiter.9 It is possible that this is an example of Wade drawing designs together to create a pastiche of his own, an idea that will be explored further on in this article. From the books we know of that Wade referenced, none of them had any information on the designs or meanings of runes. Although it is worth mentioning that the literal translation of the dagz or dagaz rune means ‘day’ which when considered in the context of a candle casting light, provides us with a coincidental, yet convenient interpretation.
The fact that Pennick’s work features an extraordinarily similar item (albeit operating under the guise of a Spirit Trap rather than a Wondrous Candle) lends support to the idea that the design comes from an East Anglian magical tradition. Wade spent a good deal of his childhood in and around East Anglia being quite familiar with its environs, Great Yarmouth in particular holding a great deal of personal nostalgia. Although it is clear that Wade drew upon magical and folkloric inspiration, there is no written evidence to suggest that he was ever in contact with any East Anglian practitioners. In correspondence, Pennick claims that the illustration in his book was based on a Spirit Trap found by him and an associate in a Cambridge City Graveyard in 1968. Further evidence for this regional connection is found at Snowshill in the form of three witch bottles that show remarkably similar designs to that of Pennick’s illustration of a witch bottle type unique to East Anglia. These feature small, repurposed fire-extinguisher vials filled with coiled, coloured threads each with an additional wire or thread around the neck to attach to a door or window frame. What is interesting is that these witch bottles were never noted as being part of the Garret collection, hinting perhaps that Wade may have utilised them for their intended purpose. It should also be noted that Wade hung horseshoes at Snowshill and it is not a great stretch of the imagination to conceive that the witch bottles were hung in the same spirit. This idea expresses the possibility that Wade may have unconsciously accepted and adopted some folk-magic traditions, especially if they appealed to his sense of romance and nostalgia.
Despite these connections, there is a possibility that the Snowshill candle may have inspired the one found by Pennick as it may have been on display at Boscastle. Williamson claimed that when he came into ownership of the Garret collection that he “never did put any of the stuff on show”10 but there is evidence contradicting this statement. Film from the late 1960s11 shows a charcoal burner from Snowshill furnishing part of one of Williamson’s famous tableaus at Boscastle, namely ‘The Altar of the Living Dead’. Postcards from the Museum from around the same also show the same item on display.12 If we assume that Williamson did place the Snowshill articles on display when the museum at Boscastle opened in 1960, there is a possibility that the artefacts may have been on display for eight years, or over a decade if he displayed them at Bourton-on-the-Water. It should also be noted that Williamson himself must have been familiar to some extent with the design of the candle. A similar item is described in one of the old, typed display cabinet descriptions, unfortunately damaged in the 2004 flood and reads; “Believing that moths were spirits of the dead, Hilda Freeman from Okehampton would use a spirit trap which was a candle flame set up in front of a circular wire cage with wires like cob-webs to attract and catch moths which was set up in the fork of a tree in a graveyard. When she caught these moth spirits she would then converse with them. When not in use, it was hidden behind the loose surface of a surface tomb, where it was found after her death.”13 The similarity of this construction and location of operation is striking when compared with the Cambridge example. However, it is not entirely certain if this trap was ever owned or displayed at the museum or if Williamson made the connection between Hilda’s spirit trap and Wade’s candle. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that Williamson may have displayed Wade’s candle with the aforementioned description. In his introduction to ‘A Magical History’ Professor Ronald Hutton describes how “the present custodian had recently visited his Museum and spotted the main items from the catalogue among the exhibits, not burned at all but given new identities.”14 This mistake concerning the possible mismatching of Freeman’s spirit trap and Wade’s candle on Williamson’s part may however have hidden depths. Levannah Morgan describes a certain technique that Williamson used in order to garner information about certain objects. Taken from correspondence and in his own words, he tells us “my Museum presentation has always been based on asking a number of questions to my visitors without them being aware of the fact. Example, present a showcase exhibit. Deliberately write a showcase caption card containing an error. In no time at all some clever Dick visitor will step forward and explain at length the error of ones statement and fill you in with first hand information.”15 This admission of a rather unconventional research method matches Professor Hutton’s account of the visiting custodian of Snowshill. Furthermore, it may suggest that the Freeman spirit trap card was one of Williamson’s spiderwebs designed to capture information on the candle that wasn’t available to him. This leads me to postulate that Williamson was also keen to learn more about the candle and was prepared to use his usual brand of cunning in order to do so.
There is no description of the sigil featured in Wade’s or Pennick’s examples and although all three are similar in design, their intended functions are all subtly different. Pennick eloquently offers us a compromise to this tangled situation by suggesting in correspondence “if the one I saw in Cambridge all those years ago was inspired by the Witchcraft Museum exhibit then this only shows the mutability of magical practice. It is clear that magical praxis in any place or time has always been fluid and taken on any available techniques, so the easy rubric of localising magic is just a handy way of dealing with regional praxis.”16 We may never know the exact provenance behind the sigil design of Wade’s candle, but it is now clear that Wade took the initial description featured in ‘Le Petit Albert’ directly from De Grivy’s seminal 1931 book ‘Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy’,17 a book that would also inspire other visual elements of the Garret discussed further on. Although rude in manufacture, I feel at this point it is more likely that Wade created rather than purchased it. When viewed in context with the collection inside the Garret, the candle occupies the centre stage, high on the shelf next to the skeletal remains of a seal’s flipper which in itself shares similarities with traditional woodcut depictions of a hand of glory. This seal flipper too is simply mounted in a similar fashion and it could be argued that Wade designed these to be rustic in construction to complement the rest of the collection. Conversely, the manufacture of the candle is so far removed from Wade’s usual precise, Arts and Crafts inspired style that it difficult to reconcile with the rest of the collection outside of the Garret. Again, we are left in no stronger position as to the exact nature of this artefact and it is unlikely to further reveal any of its secrets in the future.
Recent access to clearer photographs has provided much better provenance for the floor paintings in the Garret. These photographs show in greater detail the additional, faded elements that were previously difficult to interpret. These new details reveal that Wade was indeed using De Grivry’s 1931 publication ‘Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy’ as inspiration for this image. The additional elements included in the seal that can now be interpreted are stylised sigils of Michael, Jod, Saday and Hela. The latter three all originate from the same page detailing ‘Six pentacles to influence good spirits favourably’ which in turn has been taken from an 18th century copy of ‘La Clavicle de Solomon’.18 What is interesting is that there is no sigil for Michael featured in De Grivry’s book, leaving the origin of Wade’s knowledge of this design unknown. They have not been copied line for line, but have all been altered slightly, presumably for aesthetic reasons. However, this could also suggest that Wade had deliberately altered the designs as to deny them of their suggested power, echoing the idea that he was a cautiously superstitious man. This composite design utilising pre-existing seals reveals not only Wade’s skill as a designer and draughtsman, but of an adaptive mind-set that is peculiarly modern in terms of occult practice. It echoes back to Pennick’s comments on the mutability of magical praxis and suggests that even if there is no direct evidence that Wade was actively pursuing magic, he was gifted with a creative flair that would have made him an imaginative practitioner. It must be noted however, that this mutability seems to be from a primarily western perspective; Wade owned several other items relating to eastern religious and mystic traditions, the most interesting being a wonderfully gilded and etched Magicians Hat from Siam that was not included in the Garret. Perhaps it is not because its exoticism didn’t suit the theme of the room; Wade may have thought that it found a more fitting home elsewhere in the collection, again hinting at a clear theme to the room.
Another assumption that was made in the previous article that has subsequently been re-evaluated was that the majority of the collection was taken by Williamson. In fact, Williamson only took around ten items from a room that he described as “a magician’s den”19 which seems odd given his magpie-like nature when it came to acquiring any items or information on the subject. One explanation for this is that Williamson only took the items he was interested in as he was able to discern these objects of genuine interest to him as a traditional witch. Perhaps he realised that the Garret, like the other rooms in the house, was another dramatically themed set, albeit created by someone who knew what they were dealing with. None of the ‘very definite Caribbean symbols’ that Williamson described appear in the Garret at this present time, and it seems unlikely that they ever existed. However, Williamson’s later recollections of the Garret do warrant re-examination when we consider Wade’s playful nature. It was not uncommon for Wade to lead visitors around the house in costume, disappearing from one room to the next and reappearing to startle with trademark flair. When Williamson describes his first encounter with the Garret in a later interview, explaining “it was quite clear that somebody had been doing something in there...a chair had been thrown over and a bottle had been smashed on the floor. There were the skeletons of two dead rats and a lot of herbs which had all rotted”20 it is not hard to imagine that this may have been the remaining detritus of a dramatic tour that was never cleared away. Other information that has come to light recently is the discovery of a bell hung in the eaves towards the rear of the Garret. This bell is rigged with string which enables it to be rung from the wall opposite. It has been suggested by Simon Costin that this another veneer of theatricality, explaining in correspondence, “Wade possibly liked to stand by the entrance as his friends explored the room in semi-darkness and then at a given point he would clang the bell, scaring everyone to death.”21 It cannot be overlooked that bells have had a long history of being tools of invocation and banishment in ritual workings throughout the world. Another recent discovery is a collection of designs based on the Tarot of Marseilles, featuring all twenty-two cards of the Major Arcana. These designs form part of a decorative inclusion to a turret clock mechanism. Other tarot related items from the collection also include an incomplete pack of cards from a deck of unknown origin. Again, it only shows us the depth of Wade’s interest and knowledge of esoteric imagery, providing us no further evidence either to prove or disprove that Wade actively practised any form of occultism.
In his preface to his book ‘Triumph of the Moon’, Hutton offers up a summary of the development of modern occultism; “If it is the child of any single phenomenon, then it is the belated offspring of the Romantic Movement.”22 Wade’s approach to Snowshill can certainly be seen as reflecting this. The Garret collection and indeed Wade himself can be viewed in a similar fashion to that of Edward Lovett, whose recently republished book ‘Magic in Modern London’ showcases a plethora of magical charms collected from the perspective of a folklorist. Indeed, Wade and Lovett’s passion for collecting shares many things in common, although whereas Wade was primarily interested in preserving the traditions and crafts of the past, Lovett was also preoccupied with preserving the folklore of the present. Both also show signs of adopting superstitious thought, although Lovett is the only one we have solid evidence of as being consciously superstitious; his ‘Lovett Motor Mascot’23 providing us with a wonderfully modern adaption of the traditional lucky charm. Despite there being no strong evidence pointing to any structured involvement of magical practices or with practitioners, Wade’s Garret still offers an incredible view into an educated perception of the occult before the popularisation of modern magical traditions and the emergence of Wicca. The Wondrous Candle and its provenance still remain a mystery, one that will continue to tantalise far into the future. It now seems very unlikely that Wade ever handled a copy of ‘Le Petit Albert’, but the similarities to the designs for sigils in that book and the one mounted on the candle, as well as Wade’s connections to the West Indies cannot be completely overlooked. Thanks to the National Trust’s recent digitisation of the Snowshill collection, any future discoveries will be easier to cross reference and contextualise. At present, the Trust is involved in a project to digitise Wade’s written correspondence, and that may yet offer up more evidence relating to his associates, influences, and to the manner in which the collection was drawn together. It is a subject that continues to fascinate me and I’m sure that Snowshill has many more secrets remains to reveal.
I would like to extend a huge thanks to Simon Costin, Hannah Fox and Peter and Judith Hewitt at the Museum of Witchcraft for their invaluable suggestions and support. I would also like to thank Nigel Pennick, Steve Patterson and Die Booth for their sage advice and opinions. Lastly, grateful thanks to Jenny Rowley-Bowen at Snowshill Manor for her generosity and patience regarding the provision of material for this article. All images belong to their respective owners and are reproduced with their permission, for which I thank them greatly.
When spirit’s fled
When life’s flame’s dead
As iron to rust
Body to dust.
Article first published in The Cauldron May 2015. Copyright Mark Hewitt
1 - C.P.Wade - ‘Days Far Away’ – pp82
2- Cecil Williamson letter dated around 1964 MoW Archives - Document 396s
3 - Steve Patterson - ‘Cecil Williamson’s Book of Magic’ - Published by Troy Books 2014 - pp200
4 - Prof Hutton quoting Cecil Williamson in correspondence to The National Trust – Introduction to ‘The Museum of Witchcraft – A Magical History’ – Edited by Kerriann Godwin – Published by The Occult Art Company 2012 - pp9
5 - C.P.Wade - ‘Days Far Away’ – pp89
6 - Jenny Rowley-Bowen - Private correspondence
7 - Michael Howard - ‘Children of Cain’ - pp215
8 - Nigel Pennick - ‘Secrets of East Anglian Magic’ - pp105
10 - Talking Stick – Issue 10 – ‘An Interview with Cecil Williamson’ - Published?
11 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6mPFpy
12 - Steve Patterson - ‘Cecil Williamson’s Book of Magic’ - pp212
13 - Cecil Williamson’s annotated card from old display - Museum of Witchcraft archives - un-filed, stabilised, flood damaged papers.
14 - Prof Hutton quoting Cecil Williamson in correspondence to The National Trust – Introduction to ‘The Museum of Witchcraft – A Magical History’ – Edited by Kerriann Godwin – Published by The Occult Art Company 2012 - pp9
15 - Morgan, Levannah - The Cauldron - Issue 155 - ‘Some Memories of Cecil Williamson’ - Published Winter 2015
16 - Nigel Pennick - Private correspondence.
17 - ‘Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy’ – Emile Grillot de Givry – Dover Publications, originally published 1931, republished 1971 - pp281-282
18 - ibid
19 - Talking Stick – Issue 10 – ‘An Interview with Cecil Williamson’ - Published?
20 - ibid
21 - Simon Costin - Private correspondence.
22 - Prof Ronald Hutton - ’Triumph of the Moon’ - Published by Oxford University Press 1999 - Introduction pp viii
23 - Edward Lovett - ‘Magic in Modern London’ - Introduction by Steve Patterson - Published by Red Thread Books 2014 - pp8
Grivry, E.G de - ‘Witchcraft, Magic and Alchemy’ – Dover Publications, originally published 1931, republished 1971
Howard, M -‘Children of Cain’ - Published by Three Hands Press 2011
Howard, M - ‘The Cauldron – Issue 115 – Ritual Murder in the Cotswolds’ – Published 2005
Hutton, Prof R - ’Triumph of the Moon’ - Published by Oxford University Press 1999
Lovett, E - ‘Magic in Modern London’ - Originally published 1925, Republished by Red Thread Books 2014.
Molesworth, H.D – ‘Snowshill Manor’ - Published by The National Trust courtesy of Curwen Press - Eighth Edition 1972
Morris, J - ’Travels With Virginia Woolf’ – Published by Random House 2011
Morgan, Levannah - ‘The Cauldron - Issue 155 - Some Memories of Cecil Williamson’ - Published Winter 2015
Murray, K - ’Spirit of the House’ - Published Hodder and Stoughton 1915
Museum of Witchcraft online archives.
Museum of Witchcraft Archives - Misc Damaged Papers
Patterson, S - ‘Cecil Williamson’s Book of Magic’ - Published by Troy Books 2014
Rapheal - ‘Raphael’s Astronomical Ephemeris – 1883’ – Published by the author 1883
Treveris, P - ‘The Grete Herball’ - Published 1529
Various Contributors - ‘The Museum of Witchcraft – A Magical History’ – Edited by Kerriann Godwin – Published by The Occult Art Company 2012
Wade, C.P - ‘Days Far Away – Memories of Charles Paget Wade’ – Compiled by Michael Jessup – Published by The National Trust 1996
‘Talking Stick – Issue 10 – An Interview with Cecil Williamson’ – Published?
‘Secrets Merveilleux de la Magie Naturelle et Cabalistique du Petit Albert’ – Originally published by Héritiers de Beringos fratres, 1782 - http://www.esotericarchives.com/sol
‘Of Occult Philosophy, Book II’ - Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa - http://www.esotericarchives.com/agr