“To unpathed waters, undreamed shores.”
– A Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene 4, William Shakespeare
POSTED BY PINKY
On a trip to the Cotswolds with the family one spring (you can read about it here), we thought a visit to the area wouldn’t be complete without spending a day in the hometown of unarguably the biggest rock star in English literature – poet and playwright, William Shakespeare.
The Bard (poet or verse-maker), as Shakespeare is oftentimes referred as, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564 and died here in 1616.
Located along the banks of the Upper Avon in Warwickshire (Avon from the Celtic word abona, meaning river), this medieval market town is filled with its fair share of half-timbered buildings, characterised by the exposed structural timbers made from logs that were cut in half or to size, with the gaps filled in to make up the walls.
Eventually crossing over into Tudor times for which this architectural look has come to be widely recognised, these structures have survived throughout the years, thanks in large part to the use of the hardy oak that were still abundant in England until the 1600s.
We parked our car near the Pen & Parchment restaurant and, crossing the river on foot along Bridge Street, we headed towards Shakespeare’s childhood home.
One of the earliest streets in Old Stratford to get built up with homes, it still consisted largely of barns and closes (enclosures) by the year 1590.
Now a pedestrian zone, this area gets packed towards the middle of the day, so come early if you can. Henley Street is filled with quaint shops and charming tea rooms, and the Mechanical Art & Design or MAD Museum. But the main reason most people hang around here is because of our next stop.
Having remained within the Shakespeare family until the mid-1800s, this restored 16th century home was the biggest house on Henley Street at the time William was living here with his parents, John and Mary. The third child, William had seven living siblings, but I’m not sure how many of them lived in this house all at the same time.
John was a glover while Mary was the eighth and youngest daughter of a distinguished landowner from Wilmecote. In fact, John’s father was a tenant farmer in the land owned by Mary’s father in Snitterfield. Mary eventually came to inherit some of this land, which has now become another destination in the area, “Mary Arden’s Farm”.
John became Mayor of Stratford and due in part to his status, William was able to go to the town’s grammar school, the still fully-functioning King Edward VI School.
William lived in this house for a few years after marrying Anne Hathaway from the nearby village of Shottery. Being the oldest surviving child when his father died, William eventually inherited the property.
Entering through the gift shop before getting to the main part of the house, this tour provided an interesting glimpse into village life in rural Tudor England – or at least how a middle class family lived in those days. Your visit ends in the garden at the rear of the property where activities geared towards families are sometimes held. If those don’t interest you or your kids, you’re free to roam and explore the garden.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
A 10- to 15-minute bus ride away is the cottage where William’s wife, Anne, grew up.
The ride takes you from the busy center of Stratford through a residential area and into the quiet countryside of Shottery.
The Hathaway farmhouse is bigger than Shakespeare’s home on Henley Street and so are the gardens. We actually spent more time here as we felt less harried and there was certainly more than enough space to let the boys run free.
More to See in Stratford-upon-Avon
There are other Shakespeare-related points of interest – Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried, his mother Mary Arden’s farm, Hall’s Croft where his daughter Susanna and her husband lived, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – but perhaps the latest and most exciting addition is this year’s opening of Shakespeare’s grammar school.
We can only surmise, but it would be safe to say, that this school played a big role in educating the most successful playwright of all time. Granted he may have had to leave the school later on because of his father’s financial troubles, but it’s believed that his early formation and the stories he learned here have inspired his future storytelling.
It may be called King Edward VI School, but it wasn’t founded by the King. The school’s head, Bennett Carr, was quoted in an interview with The Guardian, saying, Edward VI “stole the school when he abolished its true founder, the Guild of the Holy Cross – but at least he had the sense not to abolish the school.”
After a reported £1.8M restoration work, the school opened its doors to the public this year to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. It is not a museum and classes will still continue, so on weekdays, opening times begin at 11am after morning classes.
Funds for further restoration are still being raised, however, as previous work revealed even more treasures behind the building’s walls. Fascinating stuff and certainly worth a future visit, don’t you think?!
For more information on the school, please check out: http://www.shakespearesschoolroom.org
Getting to and around Stratford-upon-Avon
If driving and taking local buses aren’t very practical for you, there are organized tours that you can take from London, which is roughly 2 hours away.
Stratford also has a Hop-on/Hop-off Citysightseeing tour on a double decker bus that takes you to the Shakespeare sites complete with a recorded commentary.
Or you can hire a local private guide for a more in-depth look into your specific interests.
Should you decide to stay in town, there’s a host of accommodations to choose from. Then perhaps see a performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company? Or join an evening ghost tour?
For the latest news on Stratford-upon-Avon, check out: http://www.visitstratforduponavon.co.uk/