TheGenealogist has completed the release of the Lloyd George Domesday Survey Records for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire, two of the home counties in southern England. These land tax survey books, and their linked contemporary maps from the 1910s, are a source of fascinating detail about the homes and land that our ancestors from this time owned or occupied.
Hertfordshire, bordering Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire to the north, Essex to the east, Greater London to the south, and Buckinghamshire to the west, is the home to over 1.2 million people today, according to data online from the Hertfordshire County Council1. In the 1910s, when the famous Irish playwright, critic, polemicist and political activist George Bernard Shaw moved into a house in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire, the number of people living in the county was much much less than today. Indeed, according to Hansard, there were just 311,321 people recorded in the 1911 census of Hertfordshire2 .
Searching the Lloyd George Domesday Survey on TheGenealogist for people who owned or occupied property in this county, in the years before the First World War, allows us to see where they lived and in what type of house. With the link to the powerful Map Explorer™ and by using this tool to fade to a modern map, we are able to see the area around their properties on historical maps and note any subsequent changes that may have taken place by viewing the modern map. These land tax records and maps are, therefore, of great use for family historians as well as for house history researchers when they reveal the actual plot of a house on the maps, as well as the details of the home and its gardens.
George Bernard Shaw had been living in the Edwardian Arts and Craft house for seven years when on the 20th March 1913 it was surveyed for the Inland Revenue’s Valuation Office. The house itself had been built by the Church of England as a new rectory for the small village of Ayot St Lawrence in 1902, but a few years later it was considered too large for the size of the parish. Situated 6 miles from Welwyn Garden City and 5 miles from Harpenden, the property eventually became known as Shaw’s Corner after Shaw and his wife purchased it, but at the time that the survey was carried out it was recorded as Rectory House and was leased to them. In the years in which Shaw lived there, from 1906 until his death in the house’s dining room, it was his primary residence and where much of his work was penned.
Today, it is a National Trust property (open to the public by pre-booking) presented as a writer’s house museum with the rooms inside remaining much as Shaw left them. In the garden you can also get to see Shaw’s writing hut when visiting the attraction. This hut was where many of Shaw’s major works were written in the secluded, home-built revolving hut located at the bottom of his garden. The tiny structure of only 64 square feet (5.9 m2), was built on a central steel-pole frame with a circular track so that it could be rotated on its axis to follow the arc of the Sun’s light during the day. So that he was not disturbed by visitors while writing, he had dubbed the hut “London”, meaning that unwanted callers could be told that he was away “visiting London”.
The IR58 Field Book that details the property as it was surveyed, has been stamped 20 Mar 1913 and reveals that it was 2 acres, 2 rods and 2 perches, let by the Rector to Bernard Shaw. The next page goes into a great deal of information about the rooms in the house, all of which are in good repair at the time. Apart from the maid’s accommodation on the 2nd floor there were three bedrooms on the 1st floor and 3 reception rooms downstairs, a hall with a “lav off”, kitchen, scullery, pantry larder, coal cellar. Outside there was a coal bunker, a lavatory and a “motor garage in the garden”.
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While in 1913 they were tenants of the Rector, Shaw and his wife Charlotte Payne-Townshend eventually purchased the house and its land in 1920, paying £6,220. At the same time the garden was extended and Shaw bought some land from his friend and local landowner, Apsley Cherry-Garrard.
The Worst Journey in the World
Shaw’s friend, Apsley Cherry-Garrard, lived nearby. Cherry-Garrard was an English member of the Terra Nova expedition to explore Antarctica and in 1922 was encouraged by Shaw to write an account of the expedition. This turned into the acclaimed book The Worst Journey in the World which is still in print today and was described by the Independent newspaper as probably the best adventure yarn ever published.
Born in Bedford, as Apsley George Benet Cherry, he was the eldest child of Apsley Cherry of Denford Park and his wife, Evelyn Edith (née Sharpin), daughter of Henry Wilson Sharpin of Bedford. The future explorer was educated at Winchester College and at Christ Church, Oxford where he read classics and modern history. While up at Oxford, he rowed in the 1908 Christ Church crew which won the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta.
He very nearly didn’t get to go on the Terra Nova expedition as he was rejected twice for what was the second and last of Captain Scott’s trips to Antarctica. A change of mind by Scott, however, saw the 24 year old join as an assistant zoologist.
While born with the surname Cherry, it was changed to Cherry-Garrard by the terms of his great-aunt’s will, through which his father inherited the Lamer Park estate near Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire. In turn, Apsley inherited the estate on his father’s death in 1907 and it is this property that appears in the Lloyd George Domesday Survey. The map allows us to see that it is a large house about a mile away from Shaw’s Corner.
The difference between Cherry-Garrod’s house and Bernard Shaw’s is immediately apparent when comparing the surveyor’s entry in the field books. Lamer House has, amongst other rooms, eleven bedrooms, a north wing, a ground floor Hall, a Library and a Smoking Room. There is a Butler’s Pantry and bedroom, a Housekeeper’s room, a china cupboard and a servant’s hall!
In this dive into the Hertfordshire IR58 land tax records we have been able to find two very different properties, just a short walk from each other. Their records demonstrate the treasure trove of information that can be revealed as a result of the visit made by the land tax surveyor from the 1910s. Digitised and put online by TheGenealogist, these records give its Diamond subscribers a valuable insight into ancestors’ homes and their neighbourhoods.
Top image: Henry Robertson Bowers, Edward Wilson and Apsley Cherry-Garrard