Area Guide: Ayot St Lawrence, once the home of George Bernard Shaw

PUBLISHED: 08:00 29 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:38 29 March 2019

New St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, also known as the 'Palladian'. Picture: Archant

New St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence, also known as the 'Palladian'. Picture: Archant

Archant

A tiny village and civil parish kissing the country lanes between Harpenden and Welwyn, Ayot St. Lawrence is perhaps best known as the home of legendary playwright George Bernard Shaw.

Old St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: ArchantOld St Lawrence Church, Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: Archant

George Bernard Shaw, the influential playwright and philosopher, moved to Ayot St Lawrence in 1906 and made his home in the Hertfordshire village until his death in 1950.

His house, originally a rectory, was opened as a National Trust property in 1951. The home remains much the same way Shaw left it. Visitors can walk from room to room, enjoying the beautiful arts and crafts interiors and the curiosities collected by Shaw throughout his life, as well as his famous wooden writing hut which he dubbed ‘London’.

Keep a close eye out for the walking stick in the entrance hall.

A gift from Shaw’s friend William Morris, it is inscribed with a Norse proverb that Shaw valued highly: ‘One thing never dies: the reputation of a dead man.’

Ayot St Lawrence is surrounded by countryside. Picture: ArchantAyot St Lawrence is surrounded by countryside. Picture: Archant

Outdoor theatre productions are also staged in the idyllic gardens each summer.

Transport

The village is small but far from isolated. The rail network is easily accessible from Welwyn North and Welwyn Garden City. The A1(M) and M1 are both close at hand, while the village is just six miles away in either direction from Harpenden and Welwyn Garden City.

One of Ayot St Lawrence's chocolate box cottages. Picture: ArchantOne of Ayot St Lawrence's chocolate box cottages. Picture: Archant

Churches

Dedicated to St Lawrence, namesake of the village, Ayot St Lawrence’s original Norman church was partially demolished under orders from Sir Lionel Lyde in 1775 as the structure blocked the view from his home.

Sir Lyde, a colourful figure, was a wealthy tobacco merchant from Bristol who acquired the lordship of the manor in the 1770s.

Shaw's Corner is a National Trust attraction in Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: ArchantShaw's Corner is a National Trust attraction in Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: Archant

Thankfully, the Bishop of Lincoln - in whose diocese the parish then was - prevented further demolition of the church and allowed the ruins to remain much as they are today, ivy-coloured and picturesque, still attracting daily visitors.

The original church was replaced by a neoclassical structure, known as New St Lawrence Church, to be distinguished from its predecessor. Commissioned by Sir Lionel in 1776, the new church was designed by an architect named Nicholas Revett who was influenced by Greek architecture. It is thought to be inspired by the Temple to Apollo.

Brocket Arms

Another of Ayot St Lawrence's fine properties. Picture: ArchantAnother of Ayot St Lawrence's fine properties. Picture: Archant

This delightful, black and white country inn was built in the 14th century, and was originally the monastic quarters for the Norman church until the Reformation.

Accommodation is finished to a high standard. Rooms are full of character with low ceilings and exposed beams, but also include modern touches with TVs, DVDs and tea/coffee making facilities.

The bar and restaurant boast snug inglenook fireplaces, and serve good quality British food with a varied range of real ales and wines.

Local legend has it that the inn is haunted by a monk or Catholic priest, small in stature with a brown cowl, who was tried and hanged in the building.

George Bernard Shaw's house, Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: ArchantGeorge Bernard Shaw's house, Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: Archant

The inn is situated directly across from the Old Church ruins, and some locals have claimed there was a secret tunnel connecting the two buildings.

The first ghost sighting was recorded in 1969. One evening, staff member Teresa Sweeny claimed to have seen a figure of a man dressed in brown. She reports not being able to see his face. Once she turned towards him, he suddenly disappeared.

This area guide is sponsored by Frost's, who have offices in St Albans, Marshalswick, Wheathampstead and Harpenden (www.frosts.co.uk/branches)This area guide is sponsored by Frost's, who have offices in St Albans, Marshalswick, Wheathampstead and Harpenden (www.frosts.co.uk/branches)

Ayot St Lawrence. Picture: ArchantAyot St Lawrence. Picture: Archant

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