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The history of Shaw's Corner and its owner

George Bernard Shaw, recently married and seated in a wheelchair, part of the photographic collection at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire
George Bernard Shaw in 1890 | © National Trust

George Bernard Shaw was a famous playwright and activist during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. From inner-city Dublin to Hertfordshire, discover his story and that of Shaw's Corner – the place he called home.

Who was George Bernard Shaw?

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and political activist who used wit and satire to challenge social and political inequalities over a long and productive life. He was hugely prolific; he wrote nearly 60 plays, over 250,000 letters and countless articles and pamphlets. During his lifetime he was one of the most photographed and quoted men in the world – his words and opinions are still deeply relevant today.

A writer is born

George Bernard Shaw was born on 26 July 1856 in the Dublin suburbs, the youngest son of the unhappily married and down-at-heel grain merchant George Carr Shaw and Lucinca Elizabeth Gurly.

A friend to many

From William Morris to Danny Kaye, via T.E. Lawrence and Virginia Woolf, Shaw was a deeply influential friend and supporter of poets, painters and playwrights, adventurers, actors and explorers.

The life of George Bernard Shaw


The birth of Shaw

George Bernard Shaw is born in Dublin on 26 July 1856.

Shaw the activist

George Bernard Shaw was born into a lower-middle class home in Dublin in 1856, but by the early 1900s had grown to become a successful playwright, and one of the most famous men in the world.

Witnessing poverty in Ireland inspired him to champion equality for all, fuelled by a belief that inequality of any kind was neither inevitable nor acceptable.

It is understood that Shaw’s need to spread his ideas widely overcame a natural shyness, and he became well known as a celebrity of his time and a serious thinker committed to questioning the status quo in society.

Black and white archive photo of Charlotte Shaw sitting on a step outside a french window at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire
Charlotte Shaw outside Shaw's Corner | © National Trust

Committed to equality

The playwright moved to Shaw’s Corner in 1906 with his wife, Charlotte Payne-Townshend. A suffragist, philanthropist and translator, Charlotte shared Shaw’s ideals and devoted much of her time to the struggle for women’s rights.

The pair were committed socialists and part of the Fabian Society, whose members believed that capitalism created an unequal society.

Shaw believed in equality of opportunity and a fair division of land and wealth. Unlike Marx, Shaw believed that socialism would win out over time, rather than by violent revolution.

Charlotte was a key member of the Fabian Women’s Group and lobbied widely for suffrage.

Supporting the suffrage movement

As well as campaigning for the right for women to vote, Shaw insisted that women be given the opportunity to take centre stage to represent their own views during the suffrage movement.

Many of Shaw's plays explore women's position in society, such as Pygmalion and Mrs Warren's Profession. These had an impact on the Pankhurst family, a name famously associated with the suffragette movement.

In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters founded the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), the leading militant organisation campaigning for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom.

Both Shaw and the WSPU shared the view that the suffrage movement would have to become radical and militant if it was going to be effective. In 1906, Bernard Shaw told an American journalist that suffragettes should 'shoot, kill, maim, destroy – until they are given the vote.'

Gate at the entrance to Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire
Gate at the entrance to Shaw's Corner | © National Trust Images/Paul Watson

The history of Shaw's Corner

Shaw’s Corner was the home of George Bernard Shaw and his wife, Charlotte, from 1906 to 1950. It was originally built as the New Rectory for Ayot St Lawrence by the Church of England in 1902. The house was designed in the fashionable Arts and Crafts style with stained-glass windows and hearts cut into the banisters.

The house was not used as a rectory for long, and was offered for rent by the Church of England in 1906. The Shaws had just left a house in nearby Welwyn and were in 'the agonies of house hunting' as Shaw wrote to H.G. Wells, when they found the house that would become their most permanent home.

In 1920 the couple decided to buy it outright. Around the same time the name of the house officially changed from The New Rectory to Shaw’s Corner, which the locals had started calling the house shortly after they moved in.

A timeline of Shaw's Corner

1902: The house is built by local church architects

1906: The Shaws start to rent the house, fully furnished, from the Church of England

1915: Shaw helps villagers clear the roads after a terrible storm giving him acceptance by the local community. Prior to this villagers had reservations about their famous neighbour

1920: The Shaws buy the house for £6,332

1923: The garden is extended, as Shaw buys an extra strip of land to the west and south

1944: Shaw bequeaths the property to the National Trust after Charlotte's death

1950: Shaw dies in the Dining Room on 2 November

1951: The house opens to the public on 17 March

View of the south front of Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

Discover more at Shaw's Corner

Find out when Shaw's Corner is open, how to get here, things to see and do and more.

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Pictures, books and other objects above the mantelpiece in the study at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

The collection at Shaw's Corner 

Discover more about the collection at Shaw’s Corner. From the bust of Shaw sculpted by Auguste Rodin to a Best Screenplay Oscar for the film adaptation of Pygmalion and the daily tools of a writer, the collection at Shaw's Corner is full of treasures. The bust by Rodin is now one of the National Trust’s 125 treasures.

View of the Study at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

Visiting the house at Shaw's Corner 

Discover Shaw’s Corner, the home of playwright, George Bernard Shaw. Explore the beautiful Arts and Crafts interiors and find fascinating links with the past.

Visitors in the garden at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

Visiting the garden at Shaw's Corner 

The garden at Shaw’s Corner extends to 3.5 acres and is in a conservation area. Kept as Shaw liked it, the garden looks just the same today.

Visitors in the garden at Shaw's Corner, Hertfordshire

Booking your visit to Shaw's Corner 

Shaw's Corner is open for pre-booked house tours only. Find all the information and to book your visit here. Visits to the garden only do not require pre-booking.

A close-up view of the bodice of Lady Mary Curzon's peacock dress


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