Shaw's revolving den fixed by spin doctors

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The Independent Online
MANY WRITERS have hidden from the distractions of everyday life by retreating to the garden shed. For most it was a somewhat austere place but George Bernard Shaw was not prepared to give up his creature comforts for the sake of his art. He bought a shed and mounted it on a mechanism that could move it round in pursuit of the sun.

Shaw bequeathed his house and the hut to the National Trust when he died in 1950. Yesterday the Trust revealed its efforts to restore the shed. The mechanism seized up 20 years ago but University of Hertfordshire engineers have repaired it. In the next few months the woodwork will be renovated and the interior paint restored.

The playwright lived at Shaw's Corner, in Ayot St Lawrence, Hertfordshire and even during his lifetime his home and the hut, which he called his "retreat", was a tourist attraction.

The exterior of the hut, at the bottom of the garden behind trees, was plain, but it was well-appointed and had electricity.

Shaw would sit in a cane chair typing, within reach of a wall-mounted telephone. There was also a rudimentary bed where he could stretch out for thought or sleep. In winter he installed an electric fire.

Lisa Ramshaw, of the Trust, said Shaw wrote most of his plays there "because then his wife and housekeeper could tell callers he was out and he wouldn't have to speak to anyone."

In his diary for 1944, James Lees-Milne recalled visiting Shaw. "We came to a little asbestos-roofed summer house that revolves on its own axis ... I said, `Do you sit out here in the winter then?' `I have an electric stove' and he pointed to a thick cable attached to the summer house from an iron pylon behind it."

Nothing in Shaw's papers suggests when he bought the hut but Peter Lines, of the University of Hertfordshire, said it probably dated from the 1920s.

Mr Lines, Dean of Engineering and Information Sciences, said he had never seen a mechanism like it. "It is very simple and we think he would have just bought it off the shelf in kit form. It must have been one of the first revolving summer houses and it has lasted very well ... All we needed to do was replace the metal bearing and it started to work again. It doesn't move all the time - Shaw would have had to come outside when he was in the shade and just push it round until it was in the sun again."

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William Cowper wrote in his greenhouse in Olney, Buckingham-shire before building a tiny summerhouse in which he wrote The Task. It was so small that he compared it to a sedan chair.

Dylan Thomas, author of Under Milk Wood, wrote in his blue bicycle shedon the cliff above his cottage at Laugharne, Dyfed. On the walls were pictures of Auden, Lawrence and Hardy and the floor was covered in manuscripts.

Vera Brittain wrote Testament of Friendship in a hut in the garden of her gamekeeper's cottage in the New Forest. Her daughter, Shirley Williams, is building a study, designed to revolve with the sun.

Virginia Woolf, author of To The Lighthouse, used a small converted tool-shed at Monk's, Rodmell, East Sussex. Later, a larger study was built at the far end of the garden under trees.