Ayot St. Lawrence is a picturesque village, situated a few miles from the suburbs of North London and yet can only be approached by narrow country lanes.
The village’s most famous inhabitant, was George Bernard Shaw, the Irish playwright who wrote ‘Pygmalion’, on which was based the world famous musical, ‘My Fair Lady’, as depicted by Julie Andrews on stage and Audrey Hepburn in the film. He lived here in the New Rectory, which he renamed ‘Shaw’s Corner’, for forty-four years, until his death in 1950, aged 94. He loved this late Victorian house and wrote, ‘This home shall be my final earthplace.’ His ashes were scattered in the garden. He gave the property to the National Trust in 1944 and visitors can see his study, containing his notebooks and other relics.
In the village, is the gothic ruin of what was Ayot St. Lawrence’s parish church from 1150 until the late 18th century. In 1775, Sir Lionel Lyde began to demolish the church, as it obstructed the view from his new house, Ayot House, which stands across the park in front of the replacement church. Demolition ceased after villagers complained to the Bishop. Materials from the Old Church were used in the New Church, but it was partly deliberately ruined for romantic effect in the early 19th century. The ruined church is known as the Old Church. The New Church, or more correctly, The Greek Revivalist Church, was commissioned by Sir Lionel Lyde and built in 1778. It is the earliest example of this style of church in England and is a Grade I Listed Building. It was constructed in parkland belonging to Ayot House, Sir Lionel’s home. The front door faces Ayot House, but unlike normal church buildings, the altar is at the west end of the church. The church’s doric columns are copied from the Temple of Apollo on the Greek island of Delos. It seems that Sir Lionel Lyde’s marital life was not happy. In his will, he directed that the church should ‘let it keep separate in death’. His remains are in the north pavilion, whilst those of his wife are in the south pavilion at the other side of the church.
Opposite the ruined church, there is a Tudor black and white cottage which is next to the Brocket Arms, a 400 year old pub with a vast inglenook fireplace. It was built in the 14th century and was originally the dwelling for monks of the Norman Church until the Reformation, when Catholics were outlawed. The Inn retains many traditional features, creating a hostelry full of character. High quality accommodation is available in the converted stable buildings.
The Manor House dates back to the 16th century and was owned by Sir William Parr, brother of Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife. It is a Grade II Listed Building and has a 17th century facade. It is privately owned, but the extensive gardens are open to the public at certain times.