Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon

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We booked a trip to Stratford Upon Avon through my Sports and Social at work – the trip was arranged on the weekend of the food festival but my Mum, my sister and I have been wanting to visit all the other sights here for a long time so this trip seemed perfect!

We paid for a full story ticket which gets you entry to the five different places – Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft. Full story tickets are £22.50, or you can book online for a 10% reduction in ticket prices – book your tickets here. We booked our tickets on the day because we had been saving our Tesco Clubcard points to put towards the the entrance fees – and even better, Tesco Boost means you can get £10 worth of vouchers for only £2.50 of your Clubcard points – excellent!

The tickets are good value for money, as they are valid for a year from the day of purchase, so you can revisit all these places as many times as you want. Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft are all within walking distance so we spent the day at these three places. Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage are a short car journey away from the town centre, and the leaflet on Mary’s Arden’s Tudor Farm says you could spend up to a day here so we agreed to visit these last two places on another day!

We had a great day visiting Stratford, here’s what we found out during our Shakespearean adventure –

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

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We visited here first and were amazed at this beautiful old building! When you first enter the house you walk through the Shakespeare Centre where you can see how Shakespeare has been interpreted and enjoyed over the centuries. In here you will find wonderful artwork, memorabilia, a timeline of Shakespeare’s life and Shakespeare’s First Folio.

After the exhibition, you can walk through all the rooms in the house where Shakespeare was born, including his fathers glove-making workshop. The house is a 16th Century half-timbered house. It is believed that Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and spent many of his childhood years here.

The house itself is quite plain but was considered to be a substantial dwelling in those days! William’s father John was a glove maker and the house was divided into two parts to allow him to run his business from the family home.

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The ownership of the house passed on to William upon the death of his father, however William already owned New Place by this point, so the property was rented out and converted into an Inn known as the Maidenhead.

Once the family line had come to an end, the house was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair until around the 18th Century. Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott are among the notable people who have visited the house, and many of the signatures of it’s famous visitors still remain on the windowpanes. In 1846 the house was bought by the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (today known as the Shakespeare Birthplace Place) for £3,000, and restoration work began soon after.

The garden at the back of the house has been specially planted with flowers and herbs that would have been known in Shakespeare’s time.

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Whilst you are out in the garden there are some amazing actors performing the works of Shakespeare. They take requests if you would like them to perform your favourite Shakespeare piece too! My Mum requested a scene from Macbeth and the gentleman performed it beautifully!

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Shakespeare’s New Place

The house actually no longer exists as it was when Shakespeare lived here, which is a real shame. The original house, as it stood at the time, was the largest dwelling in the borough, and the only one with a courtyard. It was built in 1483 by Sir Hugh Clopton and originally had ten fireplaces, five gables, and large grounds. The footprint of Shakespeare’s New Place is marked in bronze within the paving.

William Shakespeare bought the house in 1597 for £60 (a LOT of money back then!) During his ownership of New Place he wrote 26 of his 38 plays and had his sonnets and other poetry published.

Shakespeare died in 1616 and the house passed to his daughter Susanna Hall, and then his granddaughter Elizabeth Hall, who at the time had recently remarried after the death of her husband Thomas Nash, who owned the house next door. After Elizabeth died, the house was returned to the family of the gentleman who had built it, the Cloptons.

In 1702, John Clopton dramatically altered, or practically rebuilt, the original New Place. A further owner of the property, Reverand Francis Gastrell, applied for permission to extend the garden. His application was declined and the tax payable on the property increased (due to its size) so Gastrell unfortunately demolished the house as a result.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust acquired the property in 1876 and today the site of New Place is accessible through a museum within Nash’s house, the house next door. The entrance to New Place marks the spot where the main door in the Gatehouse once stood.

Whilst there you will see the Gatehouse where you’ll cross the threshold where Shakespeare’s front door used to be, the Strongbox, the Globe, the Well, the Golden Garden, the King’s Ship, the Armillary Sphere, along with –

Play Pennants and sonnet ribbons

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His Minds Eye

This beautiful sculpture represents Shakespeare’s creativity and the effect his genius works had on the world.

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Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk

All of Shakespeare’s works began at a humble writing desk – here you can take a seat in the great man’s chair.

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The Great Garden and the Mulberry Tree

The Great Garden houses a beautiful sculpture trail featuring sculptures by Greg Wyatt. All of the sculptures are based on Shakespeare’s most famous works.

The Mulberry tree is believed to have grown from a cutting of the tree planted by Shakespeare himself.

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Behind this sculpture you’ll see the Mulberry Tree

The Greenwood Tree

A beautiful tree sculpture, you can pay to have one of the leaves on this tree dedicated to whoever you want – there are only 300 available leaves though and space is running out! Click here for more info! The photos don’t do it justice!

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The Knot Garden

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Keep reading for the full story behind this!

The Exhibition

The house next door to Shakespeare’s New Place was built about 1530 and has now extensively renovated to house the Shakespeare’s New Place exhibition. The exhibition is over two floors and there’s also a viewing deck which is worth visiting for views of the garden.

The Signet Ring

Ok, as promised above, I said there was a story behind this! In 1810, nearly 200 years after Shakespeare’s death, a gold 16th century “WS” initialled ring was discovered by labourers in nearby field next to the burial ground of the Holy Trinity Church. Signet rings were used to imprint a personal seal on a blob of wax. It was very common in those times for even ordinary people to  possess their own seal. The ring itself shows very little wear, suggesting it as relatively new when it was lost by its owner.

It has not been confirmed that the ring belonged to William Shakespeare, however looking at the evidence it would appear to be pretty likely. The Holy Trinity church was William Shakespeare’s local church, he was baptised here and is now also laid to rest here. It has been suggested that Shakespeare lost his ring whilst attending his daughter Judith’s wedding, which took place at the Holy Trinity Church in 1616. Shakespeare died later that year.

The document you see in the bottom right picture above is William Shakespeare’s last will and testament. These documents would usually be “sealed” with wax and then the owner of the signet ring would press the ring into the wax, thereby leaving behind their initials on the document. Shakespeare’s will was amended and the words which originally read “hereunto set my hand and seal” were amended to read “hereunto set my hand” and the document signed by Shakespeare instead, presumably because he couldn’t find his beloved signet ring when the time came to sign!

Is it Shakespeare’s signet ring? It certainly looks likely!

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Hall’s Croft

This historic Jacobean house is where Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna lived with her husband, the wealthy physician Dr. John Hall.

The main part of the property was built in 1613 – it is a really beautiful timbered property and was even used as a school in the mid-19th century.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased the property in 1949 and opened it to the public in 1951.

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John Hall was a great physician and his case notes were published in a text book and used by doctors for many years after his death in 1657.

Dr Hall had a preference for treatments made from plants, herbs, animal extracts, gemstones and rocks, as opposed to other physicians who would practice blood-letting or astronomy.

Upstairs in the property you can find a brilliant exhibition called Method in the Madness which explores medicine in the lifetime of Dr John Hall. Don’t forget to check out the syringe from the 1500’s and the uroscopy station!

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Holy Trinity Church

I couldn’t wait to see this beautiful church – and it did not disappoint!

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Located on the banks of River Avon, the Holy Trinity Church is considered to be one of England’s most-visited Parish Churches and is the site where William Shakespeare was baptized in 1564 and buried in 1616.

A “Church on the banks of the Avon in Stratford” is first mentioned in the charter of 845, signed by Beorhtwulf (Bertulf), King of Mercia. This church would have been a wooden construction and it is likely that the Normans replaced this with a stone building, however no trace of either construction remains. Building on the present limestone building started in 1210 and the building was built in the shape of a cross.

The Church is approached along an avenue of lime trees, said to represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve Apostles.

The church is accessed through two 15th century doors. On one of the doors is a sanctuary knocker where fugitives would grab the ring to seek 37 days safety before facing trial.

The original nave would have been shorter and lower than at present. Between 1280 and  1330 the tower was built and the nave’s rebuilt to include side aisles.

The Clopton Chapel

Hugh Clopton became the Lord Mayor of London and was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross and provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name, and the traffic, to this day. He had a magnificent altar-tomb built in the then Lady Chapel but was, in fact, buried in London. After the reformation his descendants claimed the chapel as their own and it now contains the finest renaissance tomb in all England. The Clopton Chapel was recently professionally cleaned, revealing the beauty of the painted decorations.

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The Grave of William Shakespeare

In 2016, Channel 4 broadcast the results of an archaeological investigation of Shakespeare’s grave. The team used ground penetrating radar equipment to try and establish what lies beneath his mysterious looking gravestone. This equipment allows a below ground level scan to take place, without disturbing the burial site.

For years historians and archaeologists have argued over the burial site – questioning the size of the stone which is far too short for adult burial and which doesn’t even have a name engraved on it, only a chilling curse which reads:

“Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbear,

To dig the dust enclosed here.

Blessed be the man that spares these stones,

And cursed be he that moves my bones.”

The key findings of the investigation included “an odd disturbance at the head end” which investigators believe shows that someone has disturbed the grave and removed the head of Shakespeare. It is rumoured that his head was stolen by trophy hunters in 1794 – I’m sure I wouldn’t risk stealing anything from that grave with such a curse engraved on it!

The ground penetrating radar also showed that William Shakespeare, his wife Anne Hathaway and other members of the family whose grave stones lie beside his, were not buried in a large family vault deep underground, but in shallow graves beneath the church floor. William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s graves are actually less than a metre deep!

The graves of both Shakespeare and his wife were found to be significantly longer than their short stones which makes them the same size as other family stones.

There was no trace of any metal in the graves which suggests they were not buried in coffins (as coffin nails would be apparent) but wrapped in shrouds instead.

Following on from the missing skull, investigators visited another church around 15 miles away where, in a dark sealed crypt, was a mysterious skull which had long been rumoured to be the skull of William Shakespeare. The team were granted access to the vault to scan the skull which revealed the skull to belong to an unknown woman in her 70’s when she died, so the mystery of Shakespeare’s missing skull still remains.

All very interesting and spooky stuff!

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So as you can see we had a great day out in Stratford – we learned so much and are looking forward to visiting the final two places which our tickets grant us access to which is Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. I hope these places are as fascinating as all of the other places we’ve visited during our Shakespearean adventure!