Shake­speare’s Strat­fordupon-Avon

Once an unas­sum­ing mar­ket town, the suc­cess of its most fa­mous res­i­dent en­sures that Strat­ford-upon-Avon re­tains its Tu­dor charm

History Revealed - - ON OUR RADAR -

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.


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

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