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Latitude: 51.492 / 51°29'31"N
Longitude: -3.2251 / 3°13'30"W
OS Eastings: 315042
OS Northings: 177720
OS Grid: ST150777
Mapcode National: GBR K5H.T3
Mapcode Global: VH6F6.1RWL
Entry Name: Insole Court
Listing Date: 26 March 1976
Last Amended: 30 June 2003
Source ID: 14127
Building Class: Institutional
Location: Set in its own grounds, laid out on western edge of Llandaff; reached along a tree-lined drive running south from Fairwater Road. Previously known as Ely Court and The Court.
Community: Llandaff (Llandaf)
Built-Up Area: Cardiff
Traditional County: Glamorgan
Built first in 1855 by W G & E Habershon for J H Insole, the local colliery and shipping owner. At this time it was called Ely Court. It was extended in 1873 by G E Robinson, who was Edwin Seward's master (see below and John Newman), and then greatly enlarged in 1875 by James, Seward and Thomas, architects of Cardiff, including important internal remodelling which is influenced by work at Cardiff Castle (1865-85) designed by the renowned architect William Burges. The house was extended again by Seward in 1898 and later again by William Clarke and Sons, the renowned Llandaff masons who had also done much of the earlier building work. This last was done in 1906-9 and the house became called The Court. The estate was sold to Cardiff City Corporation in 1932 and the land used mostly for Western Avenue and housing. The Insole family left the house in 1938 and, despite a bad fire in 1939, it became the Cardiff Headquarters of the ARP during WWII, now under the name of Insole Court. Since the war, and called Llandaff Court, it has had various community uses including the public library which stayed until the late 1970s. It then fell into disuse and decay and was threatened with demolition until, after public protest, it was repaired and conserved in 1995 back to much of its appearance in 1909 after the last Insole building programme. Since then it has been a conference and other community uses centre, once again under the name of Insole Court.
The house is built of Pennant sandstone rubble masonry with Bath freestone dressings, the later work uses thinly coursed and part snecked rubble, parts are ashlar faced like the top of the tower, parts are rendered like the first floor of the north wing (following the fire of 1939). Welsh slate roofs throughout, except for the flat roofs of the bay windows, porte-cochere etc. which are presumably leaded.
The original and quite small house of 1855 is best seen from the south, being the two gables with the entrance bay between at the west end, which are centred on the stairs down to the parterre. This was a symmetrical Tudorbethan style house, which was extended to the present, much larger and consciously asymmetrical composition which is in a freer Gothic style and includes a tall medievalist embattled tower. The house was enlarged to almost its present size in the 1873-8 work (see 1st edition OS map) and comprises a long garden front to the south and an L-shaped main entrance front formed by the addition of a service wing on the north, the latter was considerably enlarged in 1898 and 1906-9 (see 2nd ed. OS map). Two storeys and attics, part three storeys, the tower has an additional storey above the roof ridge, the fifth storey now replaced by an open terrace.
The main north front is distinctive for its tall gables and for its deeply crenellated and machicolated tower with arrowslits and corner tourelles. The original steep roof and the smoking room were removed in 1906 and replaced by the present ashlar embattled parapet. The original smoking room had all round windows for the splendid views at what is now battlement level. The current arrangement has only an open terrace for the views and a window on the fourth floor looking north. Porte-cochere to the right (added 1909) to acutely pointed main entrance arch ''carried'' by medieval-style figures and with traceried animals carved to ends; also over right hand splayed bays which have stepped central windows and the lancet windows to ground floor of left hand bay continue into an arcaded passage to service wing; this formerly had a lean-to canopy (stone corbels retained). To the right again an elaborate canted 2-storey bay window.
The north wing has three bays looking onto the courtyard, with a paired window, a 4-light window and a quatrefoil on the ground floor. The first floor, now rendered, was once more elaborate with three gables, and decorative timber-framing, all shown in a photograph of 1894. Only the left-hand gable with the oriel window survives. These changes are an ''austerity'' rebuild after the fire of 1939 (see History). ''Early Pointed'' bow window near polygonal left end which has flamboyant, Continental style, late-Gothic tracery, the upper windows of which are behind multi-cusped segmental arches and those below have a frieze of carved animals; leaded casements. At the corner is a two-storey round tower with quatrefoil band and conical roof topped by a cross; grand spiral staircase at far end of later service wing lightwell. These were both additions of 1898 to the existing north wing. The south end included a conservatory with pyramidal lantern. Tall multi-flued stacks on all roofs. To the rear of the north wing is the large gabled service wing in similar but plainer character added in 1906-9. This faces east.
The garden front has 3 1 5 bays with pierced parapets, splayed bay windows with panelled bands; gables and dormers above, mostly cross-frame windows with plate glass sashes. The centre bay of the original block at left has a 4-light, transomed staircase window over a porch onto terraced gardens. The bay to the right of this symmetrical section includes a quatrefoil window lighting the chapel in the gable over the 2-storey bay. Damaged ironwork verandah at north end with roof missing.
Three-storey, five-gabled east elevation. This has a large 4-light single storey square bay with pierced quatrefoil parapet; this is probably original to 1855 and shows the Tudor character of the first house. All the canted bay windows to the original house were added in the 1878 building programme, the map of 1869 shows square bays. All the gables are coped and have ball finials, tall multi-flued stacks.
The interior was not inspected at resurvey. The existing list description has been reused including new information published in 1998 by The Friends of Insole Court. The early Gothic character of the house is continued on the interior which is especially distinctive for its varied chimneypieces and doorcases; many of the latter have elaborate Geometric tracery and linenfold panelling. Features survive from the various building programmes, but that of 1906-9 got rid of much of the Seward Burges-style work of the 1870s. The entrance is into the 1855 hall, remodelled and opened out, probably in the 1906 work; the lobby with its stained glass doors and foliated archway survive from 1870s. Fine marble chimneypiece with diapered spandrels and tall overmantel including emblems of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Coved cornicing and panelled and ribbed ceiling. Stone staircase (1878); balustrade removed (although stored below) but retaining marble newel; segmental underarch. Stained glass stairwell window with stilted rear arch on marble colonnettes; Gothic plaster vault to landing. The single most important room is the Smoking Room (1878, altered 1906) to the left of the Hall. This retains a canvas frieze depicting the four seasons in a late-Bruegel/Pre-Raphaelite manner; this is signed by Fred Weekes (revealed at cleaning in 1995); coved and ribbed wooden ceiling. At the west end is a marble-faced, stilted segmental arched opening behind which is a remarkable High Victorian Gothic sideboard cum bookcase, designed for the house, probably by George Robinson in imitation of work at Cardiff Castle. The anomaly of this room is the Edwardian Classical chimneypiece with Ionic columns which was added in 1906-9. Large reception room to right of Hall with Penarth alabaster chimneypiece and marble columns to bay with painted foliage capitals; this was formerly two rooms, one of which is said to have been the Library. The Dining Room has three-quarter height wainscotting, bracket cornice and thinly ribbed ceiling in Jacobethan manner; similarly styled pilastered chimneypiece flanked by arched recesses; stepped architrave and segmental pediment to doorcase; hatch into corridor opposite lift. Withdrawing room beyond has good Georgian fireplace surround with Edwardian overmantel; lugged doorcase. Long corridor leads to service rooms including kitchen retaining ranges; polygonal room to end has canopy over doorcase; two large fireproof safes. On the first floor the landing has a tripartite arch including ''sedilia''; one pointed arch door into bedroom and deep Gothic doorway from there into private toilet. The corridor leading to the library has an exceptional, and highly ornate, late Gothic style archway. The library has a pointed waggon roof, ribbed and panelled with gilding, pastel painted foliage and lettered scrolls; octagonal columns to chimneypiece and truncated columns to arch into bay window which has stencilled decoration. Winding stone stairs within tower which contains water tanks. The cellar, reached from outside beneath the south side, has a tiled floor.
Included and graded II* for the fine quality of the interior, especially the Smoking Room and first floor library and as an outstanding Victorian ensemble within Cardiff.
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