Sunday, 16 October 2011

Shakespeare's birthplace

Whenever I visit Stratford, the one place I always visit is Shakespeare's birthplace.  I'm always amazed that this house is still standing in a modern street.  The 'birthplace' has been open for business for about 250 years.  I first went as a child, and it was very basic.  Now there are characters in Elizabethan dress and each room has been staged as it might have been when Shakespeare lived there.  Of course, the house has been added to over the years and of course, I can't help speculating how much of the house is genuine.  I was assured that 70% of the timbers were original.  There are no original pieces of furniture that belonged to the Shakespeare family, but it is interesting the way the rooms have been set out.   William Shakespeare was born here in 1564.  His father was a glover.  When he married Anne Hathaway aged 18, the couple lived here for a further 5 years.

 This is the view of the birthplace from the street.
You enter via the Shakespeare centre which usually has an exhibition running.  In recent years, the exhibitions I saw were about Shakespeare's early life and then the actors who have starred in his plays over the many years.
 This is the view of the birthplace from the courtyard once you have passed through the Shakespeare centre.

 This room reflects Shakespeare's father's business as a glover/tanner.  Educational workshops are often run here.

 This window is exhibited inside the birthplace as part of the exhibition about the history of the birthplace when visitors started to arrive over 250 years ago.  I'm convinced that when I saw it in my teens, it was still in place in it's frame.  It has been removed because scratched on it are the signatures of some the famous visitors who came to see the house - Charles Dickens scratched his name with a diamond ring.  Other signatures include Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott.  A book in which guests could also register includes the signatures of Lord Byron, Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Keats and William Thackery.

 This is the room in which it is claimed that Shakespeare was born. 

The birthplace is part of 'The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust'.  In all, there are 5 houses to visit - the birthplace, Anne Hathaway's cottage,  Mary Arden's house - the house where Shakespeare's mother was born (it is now a working Tudor farm), Hall's Croft, where Shakespeare's daughter Susanna lived with her husband Dr John Hall, Nash's House, where Shakespeare's grandaughter and her  husband
Thomas Nash.  Next to Nash House are the foundations of New Place.  Shakespeare bought this property in 1597 from the Clopton family, when he was a wealthy and successful playwright.  Shakespeare died here in 1616. The house passed to his daugher/grandaughter, before being soldback to the Clopton  In 1759 then-owner Reverend Francis Gastrell, having become annoyed by the many visitors, attacked and destroyed a mulberry tree in the garden that was said to have been planted by Shakespeare.This enraged the local townspeople, who in retaliation, destroyed New Place's windows. Gastrell applied for local permission to extend the property. It was granted, but upon completion of this work, the annual tax on the property was increased. Rather than pay the increased tax, he demolished the house, choosing instead to live next door at Nash's House, which he also owned. There is currently an archealogical dig being carried out which memebers of the public can join in.  Such a shame!

You can buy a pass which allows you to visit all 5 houses, and it is possible to do them all in one day.  I've done it.  Or you can spread your visit over a couple of days. Mary Arden's is the furthest from Stratford.   All are well-worth seeing.  There's a regular tour bus which allows you to hop on/hop off.

Here's the link to the Birthplace Trust