Ayot St Lawrence
History2 miles west of Welwyn
Though only a few miles from Stevenage, Welwyn and the suburbs of north London, Ayot St Lawrence can only be approached by way of country lanes so narrow in places that two cars cannot pass one another; even a moderate snowfall can cut the vi1lage’~ connection with the outside world.
Ayot St Lawrence’s most famous inhabitant, George Bernard Shaw, moved into the New Rectory in 1906 because, it is said, of a gravestone epitaph in the churchyard. This recorded the death of a woman who lived to be 70 with the comment ‘Her time was short’. Shaw thought that a place that considered a life of 70 years short was the right place for him. With characteristic lack of modesty he renamed the house Shaw’s Corner. He gave it to the National Trust in 1944, but continued to live there until he died in 1950, aged 94. It is a large house, built at the
turn of the century, with pretty gardens. Shaw’s study, still containing his notebooks and other relics, affords a fascinating glimpse of the playwright’s life.
The village street begins a few yards down the road from Shaw’s Corner. Lying back from the street, in a romantically overgrown churchyard, is a splendid Gothic ruin of a church, with a toppling, bird-haunted tower and, inside, a tomb on which lie the effigies of a knight and his lady. The story goes that in the 18th century the villagers were poor. The church fell into decay and the owner of Ayot House, Lionel Lyde, used this as an excuse to ask the Bishop of Lincoln, whose diocese covered Ayot St Lawrence, to build a new church. Money collected for the renovation of the old church was put towards the new one.
The curious new church lies at the end of a muddy track across the fields. The great portico, with massive columns and wide-spreading colonnaded wings, was modelled on the Temple of Apollo at Delos. The interior incorporates other items of 18th-century architectural interest, but the doors are generally locked after 6 p m.
Opposite the old church is a Tudor black-and-white cottage, flanked at one end by the Brocket Arms, a splendid 400-year-old pub with stone-flagged floors, a vast inglenook fireplace and a garden full of oak tables and benches for summer evening meditation. At the other end of the cottage is the Old Rectory, an elegant, white 17th-century house, built in the days when rectors had large families and larger incomes. The Tudor Manor House and Ayot House add variation and charm to the scene.