A writer’s room tends to be a private place, a sanctuary from domesticity and the excitements of children, pets and unwanted visitors. This is certainly how George Bernard Shaw promoted his writing hut to the world, with himself as something of a creative hermit, tucked away in his modest retreat with only a few pens, a supply of ink, a small table, a narrow bed and a wicker chair for comfort. His biographer Michael Holroyd described it as a kind of “monk’s cell”. The truth is a little more complicated.
Shaw’s writing refuge was a six-square-metre wooden summerhouse, originally intended for his wife Charlotte and inspired by the similar setup owned by his neighbour Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the naturalist who was part of Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic, which he wrote up as The Worst Journey In The World. The hut was built on a revolving base that used castors on a circular track, essentially a shed on a lazy Susan. This meant the hut, at his home in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, could be moved to improve the light or change the view (or indeed just for a bit of exercise). Spectacularly high-tech for its time, it also had an electric heater and a telephone connection to the house as well as an alarm clock to alert the Nobel Prize winner that it was lunchtime. Shaw particularly enjoyed the isolation since it allowed the staff at the house with some degree of honesty to tell callers that “Mr Shaw is out” to prevent interruptions. He also called it “London” for the same reason (“I’m sorry Sir, Mr Shaw is in London”).