The south front, Insole Court
|Former names||Ely Court, The Court, Llandaff Court|
|Architectural style||Gothic revival|
|Town or city||Cardiff|
|Client||James Harvey Insole|
|Floor count||4 (3 + basement)|
|Designations||Grade II* listed|
|Architect||George Robinson and Edwin Seward|
Background: Insole family
The Insole family lived on the site from 1856 to 1938. They had extensive coal-mining interests across the South Wales coalfield, and were closely involved in the development of the Barry Railway Company and the associated docks. Their growing prosperity enabled them to invest in land, including a site within the ancient Cathedral-city of Llandaff, between roads leading to Fairwater and Ely.
The building was started in 1856 by James Harvey Insole, who commissioned a modest double-fronted building, originally named Ely Court. There was also a lodge built on Fairwater Road to house the family's coachman and his family.
But as the family's fortunes rose, reflecting those of Cardiff itself, two major extensions developed the building into the modern Insole Court. In the 1870s James Harvey commissioned George Robinson and Edwin Seward to change the appearance of the building into the Gothic Revival architecture-led works reminiscent of those of Lord Bute's architect William Burges on Cardiff Castle. These works also included the addition in 1874 of a neo-Gothic tower, similar to the clock tower which Burges had added to the castle in 1869. Insole's tower contained a smoking room at the very top.
The second development in 1906 - the height of the family's fortune - was undertaken on the instructions of George Frederick Insole (James Harvey's son, usually known as Fred), to extend and modernise the building. Rooms were enlarged and panelled, a new guest wing erected, central heating and electrical distribution inserted, and a large carriage porch was added.
After World War I, in the light of Winston Churchill's decision to change the firing of the Royal Navy to oil and the loss of many European markets, the South Wales coal industry began to decline. The family's fortunes suffered a similar downturn, with the death of Fred in 1917, and his son Claud in 1918 whilst on war service in France. The house passed to Eric, who lived there with his mother, Jessy, and sister, Violet (who died in 1932).
In the 1930s Cardiff Council were looking to develop an orbital road system around the city. To facilitate the creation of Western Avenue the Council bought the entire 57 acres (23 ha)-acre estate in 1932 for £26,250 under a compulsory purchase order. The remaining family members were allowed to continue living in the house as tenants. However, the Council redeveloped much of the estate lands as housing, leaving just the mansion and ornamental gardens. With World War II fast approaching, the last of the Insoles - Eric and his mother Jessy - finally vacated the property in March 1938.
During World War II Insole Court was the regional Air Raid Warden HQ, and housed the Royal Observer Corps and Auxiliary Fire Service for Cardiff district. After the war, the upper floors were converted into self-contained flats and let to council employees and others. The ground floor housed a branch library, and a wide variety of adult education classes and community activities. Slowly falling into disrepair, despite restoration in 1995, the entire property was closed on health and safety grounds in November 2006. The Council undertook a major restoration of the ground floor, and the house reopened in November 2008.
Today, owned by Cardiff Council, Insole Court is the most important and prominent secular building in Llandaff. The Court is Grade 2* listed, the Stables Grade 2, and the gardens included on the Welsh Register of Historic Gardens as Grade 2*.
Insole Court has been used for a variety of classes and societies, and has been open to view by the public on certain days. It has large gardens which are also open to the public. Until June 2014 the building was also home to the head office of the Wales Co-operative Centre.
The Insole Court Trust has been awarded £2m funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £750,000 from the Big Lottery and Welsh Government, to facilitate a Community Asset Transfer. This will transfer the management of Insole Court from Cardiff Council to the Insole Court Trust on behalf of the community. Altogether, funding totaling £4m has been secured. The extensive restoration work that started in December 2014 is expected to take about a year.
- "Insole Court". Friends of Insole Court. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- "History". Insole Court Trust. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
- "Insole Court Trust". Insole Court Trust. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
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