This morning we left our wonderful campground, Hunter’s Moon, €24.24, where we stopped just for the night after visiting Cloud’s Hill. The Caravan Club really does outdo itself, what with ice cream in a cup just the right size for our freezer and shelves full of used books, what could be better?
We drove on though, heading for the home of George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Shaw’s Corner, so named by the villagers. It was a tense ride down very narrow, single lane, tree-lined roads, but we lucked out and never came upon another car coming or going. We arrived while the gardens were open but before the house opened its doors. Parking is always tricky at these historical homes, tucked away in the countryside. The lot was tiny but getting there early helped and we managed to back into a corner for a quick getaway.
The gardens were huge and sprawling with pathways and flowers and areas surrounded by hedges. We wandered briefly, then headed for the house as soon as it opened. Flashing our National Trust cards, we were greeted with the usual, “Lovely!”
Shaw was a playwright, author, critic, wit and political activist. With his wife Charlotte, he sought the quiet of Ayot St. Lawrence as a retreat from London society in which to focus on writing. He was a committed socialist, a long-time member of the Fabian Society, a vegetarian, a pacifist and an atheist.
We started with his study on the first floor. It’s fun to fantasize about having a room like this.
Next was the entry hall with many of his hats still on the hat rack next to a piano with built-in candle holders on either side. The kitchen and pantry were wonderful; I'd love to have either of them today.
There was the usual gorgeous sitting room and his bedroom. His wife's bedroom was now a room displaying photos and his 1939 Oscar for Pygmalian. It was pretty banged up from being used as a doorstop. In fact, Shaw wanted to refuse his Nobel Prize outright because he had no desire for public honours, but accepted it at his wife's behest: she considered it a tribute to Ireland. He did reject the monetary award, requesting it be used to finance translation of Swedish books to English.
The house is inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement and reflects his friendship with William Morris and many other artists. Famous visitors included T. E. Lawrence, Nancy Astor and Albert Einstein. The house felt very lived in and you can almost imagine the Shaws and their visitors holding forth in conversation.
We returned to the gardens in search of our main motivation for coming here: to see his revolving hut, hidden away in the garden, in which he wrote his best known works. The hut revolved to catch the sun, and the electric heater and telephone meant that he could work here in all weathers. It is surrounded by a densely planted garden stocked with pre-1950's plants. We looked underneath the hut and saw that it was set on a giant "lazy susan." I tried pushing it and it moved fairly easily. We're not sure if he went outside to move it every so often or had someone do it for him. All I know is, I want one.
When Shaw moved to Ayot St. Lawrence, he was an outsider, and Irish, and the villagers were slow to accept him. One day in town, he was about to cross the street. A traffic policeman held up traffic for a passing car. At this moment a photographer took a picture which appeared in the next day's paper. The villagers saw the picture, assumed the cop was holding up traffic for Shaw and he then became an important person in the eyes of the villagers.
Back view of house and garden
Revolving writing hut
Interior of revolving hut
Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will. ~ George Bernard Shaw