Once an unassuming market town, the success of its most famous resident ensures that Stratford-upon-Avon retains its Tudor charm
The riverside town of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire is indelibly linked to its most famous resident, the playwright William Shakespeare - and much of it still looks how it would have when the Bard strolled around the streets.
Shakespeare grew up here in the late 16th century, when Stratfordupon-Avon was an important centre for the wool merchants and tanners – its position astride the River Avon made it a gateway to Britain’s canal network. He married Anne Hathaway at the age of 18, and would come to divide his time between the family home and London, choosing to finally retire to his hometown. Fans of the Bard can visit five dwellings in Stratfordupon-Avon with links to him, as well as his final resting place.
In 1769, Shakespearean actor David Garrick put Stratford firmly on the map when he oversaw a Jubilee celebrating the playwright’s life and works. Although the festivities didn’t go entirely to plan due to heavy rain, a surge of interest in Shakespeare saw Stratford-upon-Avon become a favourite tourist destination in Britain. Many modern buildings feature mock-Tudor facades to ensure visitors feel they’re still walking around in Shakespeare’s time.
On Henley Street – the start of what is known as the town’s ‘Historic Spine’ – sits a simple half-timbered house. In 1564, this was the grandest house on the street, and also where Shakespeare was born. As mayor of the town, Shakespeare’s father John was wealthy enough to own the house, and used part of it for glove-making and wool-dealing. It was owned by descendants of Shakespeare’s sister until
“PT Barnum wanted to move the Bard’s house to the US”
the 18th century, after which it fell into disrepair. It was put up for auction in 1847 – drawing the attention of American showman PT Barnum, who wanted to transport the house brick-bybrick to the US. It was only through the combined efforts of Charles Dickens and other literary fans that a committee was established to buy the house and ensure it remained in Britain.
ROUND THE HOUSES
On the outskirts of the town is Anne Hathaway’s thatched cottage – though it’s much larger than a traditional cottage, with 12 rooms and multiple chimneys. This was where Hathaway lived before she married Shakespeare.
The cottage was built in 1463 and was still home to members of the Hathaway family until 1911. It still has its original kitchen and parlour, and is surrounded by beautiful gardens.
Shakespeare’s career in London swiftly took off, allowing him to buy the second largest house in Stratford, known as New Place, in 1597. This was where it’s thought he wrote The Tempest (and several other plays), but it is no longer standing – the house was demolished by a later owner because of the annoyance of tourists wanting to look around.
Excavations have uncovered parts of the property, including the kitchens and foundations, and a traditional Tudor knot garden now commemorates the site. The house next door belonged to Thomas Nash, the husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter, and is now a museum about the Bard furnished with original Tudor and Elizabethan furniture.
You can also visit the house of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, Dr John Hall, a prominent physician. The house is still furnished in the Jacobean style, while many of the herbs and plants Hall used in his inventive remedies still grow in the garden.
Just beyond Stratford-uponAvon is the village of Wilmcote, in which Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden inherited a farm. It has been altered over time but visitors can still imagine what a working Tudor farm would have been like. The neighbouring Palmer farmhouse, originally mistaken for Mary’s, retains many of its 16th-century features.
Stratford isn’t all about buildings; actors at Shakespeare’s Birthplace bring the Bard’s life and works alive