Friday, August 13, 2010

Shaw’s Corner, Ayot St. Lawrence, Hertfordshire

By Claire
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


Chuck and Claire said...

Posted as requested by John and Helena:

Dear Chuck and Claire,
Hello from your friends on the Dingle Peninsula; and thanks again for taking time to visit with us and your kind comments. We surely enjoyed your company.

In reading your travel journal this morning about the visit to George Barnard Shaw’s home, I was reminded of the Kennedy family and their connection with Ireland, particularly with Shaw.

The Irish writer wrote these words in his play, Back to Methuselah, when the serpent says to Eve:

“You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”

President John Kennedy quoted the same lines in his address to the Irish Parliament in Dublin in 1963 on his one and only visit to the land of his ancestors. Thirty-seven years later the Irish people, those who remember his visit, still speak affectionately of him. His name came up the other day at Murphy’s Pub by Brandon Pier where we had a pint together. As I began to recite Shaw’s line, one of the lads, a fisherman with no formal education, finished it with me; and then we smiled at each other.

Robert Kennedy used a similar quotation as his theme in his run for the presidential nomination of his party in 1968; and Ted Kennedy used them in his eulogy for his slained brother the same year with a slightly different version of the first line:

"Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not."

All the best and happy trails,
John and Helena

Chuck and Claire said...

John and Helena,
Thank you so much for that piece of history. We have loved finding all the many connections on our journey. This one is especially wonderful.
Claire and Chuck

Karin said...

I think when all is said and done, I favour England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland the most. OK, not so much sun, lots of showers, but it just appeals.

Quaint houses and cottages, castles, wonderful footpaths, ENGLISH spoken!, lots of history, etc. Great Devon teas and scones!

While everything up to now, has wonderful, often exciting, still, the English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish countrysides just appeal.

Perhaps it is all the greenery? We are so desparate for green here on Greece. All is brown here....except for the blue sky and blue sea and bougainvillea.

I crave moisture....and you seem to have found it this past month!

Beautiful pictures, interesting write ups. Thanks you two!

Karin on Paros