Insole Court has been described as one of the most important secular historic properties outside Cardiff city centre. The property dates from the Victorian period – the house demonstrates the Romantic Gothic style, while the garden, with its fine terracing and extensive rockwork, reflects its former owner’s passion for horticulture.
Insole Court was built by James Harvey Insole (1821 – 1901), a local coal owner and shipper, whose father, George Insole, was one of the pioneers of the coal trade and railway development in south Wales. The original house was built in 1851, but as his business expanded, James extended and improved the house, transforming it into a Gothic style mansion with the services of his architect, George Robinson, assisted by Edwin Seward. New wings were added and by 1882 it was being referred to as the leading residence in the locality. Further extensions and outbuildings were added, the improvements continuing until after the First World War, when the family’s fortunes began to decline.
In 1860, work started on laying out the gardens and these continued to be developed until the 1920s. They were described in the Gardener’s Chronicle of 20 May 1882 as being well planted with many specimen trees and shrubs and particular mention was made of the masses of natural rockwork which had been planted with collections of alpines and rock plants.
During the Edwardian period, the garden became nationally recognised for its collections of irises and alpines. Violet insole (1884-1933), the unmarried grand daughter of James, was one of the leading experts on irises and developed several new strains at Insole Court.
Sadly, in the 1930s, the family’s influence had declined and the house and grounds were compulsorily purchased in 1932 by Cardiff Corporation to make way for a new road, now Western Avenue. The majority of the estate was developed for housing, but the house and garden remained in Council ownership, becoming a much loved community facility.
Unfortunately council resources have not been able to maintain or restore the property to anything matching its former glory, but the Insole Court Trust has recently been formed and is working in partnership with the council towards a takeover of responsibility for the property. This has unlocked the potential for increased investment and new purpose for the site. The house is already benefitting from a long term plan and this will shortly extend to include the garden.
Even before restoration, the house and garden are magnificent survivors of the Victorian age. The house is a Grade 2* listed property, and there are additional listings on many of the outbuildings and stonework. The garden is listed as Grade 2* on the Register of Historic Parks and Gardens in Wales.
Address: Fairwater Road, Llandaff
Postcode: CF5 2LN