Country Home of Playwright
George Bernard Shaw
On a warm Saturday in June I visited a National Trust property that I had long been intending to but had never got round to despite it only being about 15 miles away from my home. Shaw’s Corner was the home of the Irish dramatist and critic Sir George Bernard Shaw from 1906 until his death in 1950. Reached by a windy country lane in Hertfordshire, my immediate impression was how peaceful and serene the setting was, you could see why he had chosen this location. The house was originally built as the new rectory in Ayot St Lawrence in 1902 and was designed very much in the Arts and Crafts style with stained glass windows and hearts cut into the banisters.
It is like walking back in time inside the house with artefacts adorning each individual room. Letters to Shaw still left on the dining room table, where at lunch time Shaw would read them and decide which ones to answer. In the evening Shaw would listen to the radiogram in the corner of the room apparently telephoning the BBC to correct their mistakes. On the mantelpiece seven photographs dominate the room. They are of Gandhi, Josef Stalin, Lenin, Felix Dzerzhinsky, Harley Granville Barker, Shaw’s birthplace in Dublin and the playwright Ibsen. Shaw died in this room in 1950.
I noted with interest that Shaw was a keen photographer and owned a camera from 1895. On the wall are many photographs taken by himself. I have to mention the excellent informative National Trust volunteers that I met inside the house, they were full of interesting facts regarding both the house and the great man and obviously had a passion for working there.
Underneath the cover of a cabinet in the Museum Room, formally Mrs Shaw’s bedroom are two treasures, an Oscar and a Nobel Prize for Literature. The Oscar was awarded for “Pygmalion” in 1938 for best screenplay and the Nobel Prize in 1926. To date George Bernard Shaw is the only person in the world to have won both of these.
He did not collect the Oscar in person but once it did arrive at Shaw’s Corner, he displayed it on the drawing room mantelpiece – when he wasn’t using at as a doorstop!
The garden was beautiful with colourful flowerbeds and an immaculate lawn and in the summer months plays are acted out in front of the house. At the bottom of the garden is the writing hut, where Shaw wrote many of his greatest works. The hut could be turned to either change the view or follow the sun. Shaw was pruning a fruit tree here in September 1950 when he fell and fractured his thigh. Whilst in hospital an underlying kidney disorder was discovered and he passed away in November 1950. His ashes were mixed with those of his wife and scattered around the writing hut.
On the whole this was a nice way to spend a couple of hours in a beautiful quiet location engulfing yourself in the history of an iconic figure of the last century. Admission is only £7.75 if you are not a member of the National Trust and there is quaint hut selling ice creams, and drinks.