George Bernard Shaw was a famous playwright, born in Dublin, Ireland, but spent most of his life in England. In search of some serenity away from city life, he purchased a house in a small village not far from London, called Ayot St Lawrence. The house was later known as Shaw’s Corner, and it served as the residence of the famous Irish playwright for more than 40 years. He lived there with his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend.
The playwright and his wife moved into Shaw’s Corner in 1906, when Shaw was already an acclaimed dramatist. The couple owned an apartment in London and had just moved out of a nearby house in Welwyn. Actively searching for a new home, they found the house, in the small 12th-century village. The house would become their most permanent residence. According to the BBC, the author and his wife didn’t quite like their home at Ayot St Lawrence. They were seen as outsiders and never really participated in village life. But the house was close to London and offered a peaceful countryside life.
The Edwardian villa, designed by local architects and built using materials from the region, was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement. The Church of England built the house as a new rectory in 1902, but it was later decided that the building was too big for such a small parish and it was rented out.
Shaw and his wife rented the house until 1920 when they bought the property for £6,220. Shortly after, Shaw purchased a piece of land from his friend and neighbor, polar explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard, extending the classic English garden, and bringing the total estate area to 3.5 acres.
The house looks almost the same as when Shaw lived here, filled with fragments of the amazing lives of the author and his wife. Visitors can walk through the rooms and get a glimpse of the couple’s everyday life. His personal belongings, the marvelous bust of Shaw made by Rodin, the 1926 Nobel Prize for literature, his Academy Award won in 1938 for Pygmalion, his typewriter, and even his exercise bike are on display.
Shaw and William Morris, the acclaimed novelist and textile designer, were good friends, and many of his textiles were used to decorate the house’s interior. Shaw’s walking cane, which is on display in the house, was a gift from Morris.
Shaw wrote many of his major works, including some of his most famous plays Pygmalion, St Joan and Major Barbara in a small wooden hut located at the end of the garden, behind the trees.
The writing hut has an area of only 5.9 meters square and was built on a central steel pole and a circular track. The construction would allow it to rotate in order to follow the sunlight through the day. He gave the small hut the name “London” so that when he didn’t want to meet visitors, they would be told that he was “visiting the capital.”
Over the years the house has hosted many famous visitors such as Vivien Leigh, T.E. Lawrence, Danny Kaye, and Nancy Astor.
His wife Charlotte died in 1943 and was cremated. Her ashes remained in the Golders Green Crematorium until Shaw’s death in 1950. Shaw died of renal failure accelerated by the injuries he suffered after falling while working in the garden. He died at the age of 94 in his dining room. Their ashes were mixed and taken to Shaw’s Corner and spread in the garden along the footpaths and around Saint Joan’s statue.
George Bernard Shaw gave the house to the National Trust in 1944 after his wife’s death. He required that all of his things would be kept the way they were when he was alive. The property was opened as a writer’s house museum on 17 March 1951, one year after the author’s death. Shaw’s Corner and the garden are open for visitors from March to November. During the summer, the garden converts into an open-air theater where some of the plays written by George Bernard Shaw are performed.