Area Guide: The quaint Hertfordshire village of Ayot St Lawrence
PUBLISHED: 09:56 31 July 2020
Famed for its links to playwright George Bernard Shaw and its unusual Greek-inspired church, there’s nowhere quite like Ayot St Lawrence. We found out more about this idyllic village, located between Welwyn Garden City and Stevenage.
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, Ayot House.
Sir Lionel, a colourful figure, was a wealthy tobacco merchant from Bristol who acquired the lordship of the manor in the 1770s.
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, now known as the Palladian Church. Commissioned by Sir Lionel in 1776, it was designed by an architect named Nicholas Revett in the Greek Revival style. It is thought to be inspired by the Temple of Apollo on the Greek island of Delos.
Regular Anglican services take place at the church, which is also available for weddings, baptisms, funerals and event hire.
The annual Ayot St Lawrence Art Show takes place at the church each June; sadly, this year’s event had to be cancelled, but organisers have promised it will be back in 2021.
There is currently just one property available for sale in the village, a three-bed house within in Sir Lionel Lyde’s former home, the Grade II listed Ayot House. The end terrace, which has an asking price of £1.1m, comes with a large designated garden and communal swimming pool.
The former home of Irish writer George Bernard Shaw, who lived there from 1906 until his death in 1950, is now owned by the National Trust.
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The Arts and Crafts house and its lovely gardens are open to the public. The main event is Shaw’s writing hut, in which he wrote Pygmalion, among other works.
The Brocket Arms
This delightful country inn was built in the 14th century, and was monastic quarters for the Norman church until the Reformation.
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.
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.
The village is small but far from isolated, with the rail network 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.
The nearest primary schools are in the neighbouring villages of Codicote, Kimpton and Wheathampstead.
Two of the closest secondaries are Monk’s Walk in Welwyn Garden City, which was rated ‘good’ by Ofsted at its last inspection, and the new Katherine Warington School in Harpenden.
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