Shaw’s Corner and the village of Ayot St Lawrence form a background to many of George Bernard Shaw’s personal photographs: playing host to his friends and associates from reformers such as Beatrice and Sidney Webb, to Indian Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and acting stars such as Vivien Leigh, Claude Rains, Lillah McCarthy and Harley Granville-Barker. Shaw also had a famous neighbour, the explorer Apsley Cherry-Gerrard and his wife, who frequented the house.
Shaw’s Corner is now maintained by the National Trust as a place of pilgramage and hommage, even his clothes still hang in his wardrobe. Being a domestic sized arts and crafts house poses some problems in that space is limited and wear and tear cannot be spread over lots of rooms. Therefore, the house (like others)
is ‘put to bed’ whilst closed to the public through the winter. Objects are wrapped in protective coverings to shield them from dust and sunlight, required conservation work can be carried out and cleaning can be done. It is also an opportunity to turn off the heating and let the natural temperature and humidity counterbalnce higher levels which occur during open season, as well as to have period where flooring is not walked on.
Last month I was given the chance to visit the house in it’s wrapped up state, to peer through tissue at book titles underneath, to lift up coverings to reveal a Rodin sculpture and
to see the staff areas. The effect was rather eerie, the house was living and yet in deep slumber and had an almost fairy story like quality waiting to be awakened at Easter by new visitors and pilgrims.
Walking around the village much seemed familiar from Shaw’s photographs, especially the Palladian and ruined churches which form a backdrop to images of his friends and as artistic subjects. The village seems little altered on the surface but you soon spot new roof lines and grown up trees. I was delighted to find that a cat still visited Shaw’s Corner (there are many images of other peoples pets at the house, most notably Bunch, a tabby cat) as this seemed to suggest that something was providing a continuous life to the time capsule that is Shaw’s photographic collection and home.
Copyright: LSE and Karyn Stuckey no part of this post may be used without permission.