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.
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’ 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 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.
The Old Dining Room survived these alterations and is of fine Gothic design. The room displays the beautiful ‘Four Seasons’ frieze, painted by Burges’ 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.