Come closer… I’m going to tell you Cardiff’s best kept heritage secret.
All the locals love visiting this historic house and its garden, but it hasn’t quite made the tourist radar yet. Nestled in the leafy Cardiff suburb of Llandaff, Insole Court is a Grade II* listed mansion house with a rich history, just waiting to be visited by you!
I was first introduced to Insole Court by my friend Katrina from Real Girls Wobble and I quickly fell in love with it.
Who were the Insoles?
The Insole family story mirrors Cardiff’s rise and decline during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Insoles were pioneering coal-shippers and mine-owners, railwaymen and docksmen, during the three generations of Welsh steam coal’s dominance of world industry.
The family reached the height of its prosperity in the late 19th Century having acquired large land holdings. This included their home of Insole Court which survives in Llandaff, in the suburbs of Cardiff.
The History Of Insole Court
The first house was built in 1855, but was quickly expanded on as the family’s fortunes rose.
The architecture of the house is really distinctive. Even though Insole Court isn’t on the same scale as Cardiff Castle or Castell Coch, the Insoles decided to try and emulate the Gothic Revival architecture William Burges had designed for Lord Bute.
The family fortunes started to decline after WWI, as many people started to switch from coal to oil, and in WWII the house was a HQ for air raid wardens.
The more recent history of Insole Court is one of love. The house gradually fell into disrepair, but the local community were determined to save it. In 2010, after two decades of campaigning, they were invited by Cardiff Council to form The Insole Court Trust in order to transfer ownership of the building. They were able to access Heritage Lottery Funding and turn the mansion into the heritage asset and community hub you see today.
What can you see at Insole Court today?
There are many different aspects to the Insole Court you see today.
As well as the mansion and gardens – which are free to enter and roam at will – the outbuildings house a great little cafe and shop. There’s also a co-working space, a craft studio and a whole raft of activities and classes that take place across the site.
There’s always something going on here, and I love to grab a coffee and just mooch around. It is homely and welcoming, and a true gem.
This House Is A Stage
Don’t fear… there is an exhibition to visit in this historic house!
Well… its not an exhibition, its not a tour.. perhaps you could call it an audio drama… but it is most definitely an experience! This House Is A Stage tells the early history of Insole Court through the story of the Insole family.
Your journey starts in the Community story room at top of the grand staircase. When the show starts, you follow the voices from room to room as the story of the Insole family unfolds.
I really enjoyed this experience, and its something I’ve not seen at other historic properties. There is very minimal interpretation, and you are guided through the set-up rooms by following the audio. The show lasts just over 30 mins, and is available in English and Welsh.
Me and my friend also took up the offer to combine This House Is A Stage with a short tour by the fantastic volunteers there. On its own the audio drama is £5, but you can add a tour on for the bargain price of only £2!
I’m really glad we decided to add the tour on. It’s great to wonder the house and soak it all in, but there really is nothing like seeing the house through the eyes of a volunteer who truly loves the place. We learnt lots of new facts and saw lots of interesting details that we would never have been able to find by ourselves.
Cardiff is home to some great historic attractions, like Cardiff Castle and St Fagans Museum, but these are sites that ALL the visitors flock too and they can get busy at peak times. If you want to visit a heritage attraction where you can take your time and soak it all in, then I highly recommend you make the trip to Insole Court.
Visiting Insole Court and want to make a day of it? Then check out these other historical sites in Llandaff just begging to be explored!