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, central to which was their home, which survives in Llandaff, on the outskirts of Cardiff.
James Harvey Insole started building a modest double-fronted family home in Llandaff in 1856. By the 1870s he was able to withdraw from business in favour of more gentlemanly pursuits.
He extended his house in the gothic revival manner, aspiring to emulate William Burges’ work for the Marquis of Bute at Cardiff Castle. In the 1880s he acquired the hallmark of gentrification by converting the farmland surrounding his gardens into a fine ornamental park.
In 1905-09 James' son, George Frederick, at the height of Edwardian prosperity, doubled the size of the house once again, but after the First World War, the family's fortunes declined in parallel with those of South Wales’ coal.
In 1932 Cardiff Corporation acquired the estate to make way for Cardiff's orbital road system (Western Avenue); the ornamental park was sold for housing and the streets given the Insole names they carry to this day. The last of the family left in 1938.
During World War II Insole Court was an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) HQ, and also housed the Royal Observer Corps and the Auxiliary Fire Service.
Since the war, the court has accommodated the Traffic Police, council offices and self-contained flats for local authority employees as well as education classes and a public library.
In the process, it became a much-loved local community centre.
In 1988, in response to the threatened sale of the house by Cardiff City Council, local people formed the ‘Insole Court Action Group’ in an effort to retain the Court as a public asset. Their success led, in 1993, to their rebirth as “The Friends of Insole Court” aiming to preserve and develop its community use.
The House fell into disrepair and was closed on health and safety grounds in November 2006. Following a long campaign by The Friends, Insole Estate Residents Association and the Llandaff Society, it was re-opened in November 2008.
In 2010, after two decades of campaigning, the Friends were invited by Cardiff Council to form The Insole Court Trust in order to effect a “Community Asset Transfer”, to facilitate the Court's complete renewal as a heritage asset and community hub. Responsibility for its management would be handed to the Trust.
The process has come to fruition in 2016 thanks to Lottery and other funding, and a whole new phase in the life of this extraordinary and rare urban survival is just beginning.
Our Researchers’ Group continue to discover new and exciting things about Insole Court, the Insole Family and life after the family left the Court. To find out more, please visit us.
Do you have your own story of Insole Court? If so our Research Group would love to hear from you, please contact us.