In the early 1850s, colliery proprieter James Harvey Insole’s growing fortunes enabled
him to consider building a small country house. He chose a plot of pasture land between
the Fairwater and Ely roads, probably due to its proximity to Cardiff and Llandaff.
The house, originally built as a modest double-fronted residence known as Ely Court,
provided accommodation for Insole’s wife, children and three maids. A lodge was built
on Fairwater Road to house the coachman and family.
His successful business enabled him to partially retire in 1878, at the age of 57,
at a time when he was refurbishing the house. The new tower, a smaller version of
William Burges’s tower at Cardiff Castle must have caused much local interest. Commanding
superb views over the countryside, it included a smoking room at the top. The house
was also greatly extended, under the direction of George Robinson and Edwin Seward
at a cost of £10,000, with the addition of bay windows, stone animals and gargoyles.
The Old Dining Room survived these alterations and is of fine Gothic design. The
room displays the beautiful ‘Four Seasons’ frieze, painted by Burges’s friend, Fred
Weekes. Unlike a similar frieze at Cardiff Castle painted in light colours, here
Fred Weekes’ decoration is richer and far more detailed.
Although not currently open to the public, James Harvey’s study on the first floor
is another spectacular room, with elaborate paintwork and gilding on a vaulted ceiling.
The splendid marble and alabaster Gothic staircase has been rebuilt, although a massive
brass gasolier on the newel post in the form of the Insole griffin, has, alas, disappeared.
By 1906 the house was considered old-fashioned, and George Frederick (known as Fred),
James Harvey’s son, extended and up-dated the building. Rooms were enlarged and panelled,
and a new service wing was added. To complete this grandiose scheme, a large carriage
porch was added, and the name was changed to ‘The Court’.