When the playwright George Bernard Shaw was looking for somewhere to live in the early 20th century, the story goes that he and his wife stumbled across the grave stone of a 70 year old woman in the Hertfordshire hamlet of Ayot St Lawrence. The woman’s epitaph read ‘Her time was short’. The Shaws were impressed that 70 years was a short period of time here, and decided to settle in the area. Whether this tale is true or not, Shaw lived in the hamlet until the grand old age of 94, so perhaps there was something in the water after all.
Today Shaw’s Corner, the house where the couple lived for over 40 years, is owned by the National Trust. In fact, the house opened to visitors just six months after Shaw’s death in November 1950. This means that today the house looks much the same as it did when the Shaws lived there, from the papers in GBS’s office, to the lino flooring on the servants’ staircase. Shaw’s socialist leanings are evident throughout the house, especially on the family mantelpiece where pictures of Lenin, Stalin and Gandhi are proudly on display. Also littered through the house is evidence of the many influential people that Shaw befriended, especially William Morris and T.E. Lawrence.
I found this a refreshing change from the type of properties the National Trust is usually known for -imposing aristocratic buildings which to me seem fairly irrelevant and, honestly, a bit boring.
The house is surrounded by beautiful extensive gardens, which Shaw himself tended to until his death, which was brought about by a fall whilst pruning a tree. The Shaw’s were vegetarians and you can still wander around their orchards and vegetable patches. Even in the middle of the April showers which were raining down on my visit, the grounds were still a delight to walk around.
At the bottom of the garden is George Bernard Shaw’s writing shed, where he would hide away from visitors to work on his plays, and presumably take shelter from bad weather on his perambulations around the garden. The green pole to the left hand side of the shed was built in order to swivel the shed to follow sunlight throughout the day. Inside the tiny hut is a small writing desk with a type writer and a telephone, as well as a little bed which one imagines GBS would have used to nap on in the afternoon.
The house is about an hour’s drive from London and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays (although open on Bank Holidays). As it is a fairly modest house, there is no café but there is a second hand book stall with ice creams and soft drinks for sale, and you can also buy 1950s variations of plants found in the garden if that floats your boat. For further info about visiting the house, and upcoming productions of Shaw’s plays there, visit the National Trust’s website.