Five Shakespeare Birthplace Trust houses:
I love going to Stratford. I’m involved in a documentary about Stanley Wells (greatest living Shakespeare scholar and all-round great guy) so I visit quite often. I bought an annual pass for the Birthplace Trust houses. If you haven’t the this charming little town; it’s well worth a visit.
1. Shakespeare birthplace – William Shakespeare was born in this house in Henley Street. The house was owned by his father John Shakespeare – a glover, wool merchant and high bailiff of Stratford. When William first got married, he and his wife Anne moved into the Shakespeare family home. The house is half-timbered with lattice windows. To gain entry into the house you first go through the birthplace centre, which is a museum housing books, manuscripts and multimedia a/v sessions which teach about his family and the historicalcontext of his time. The house is adorned with the kind of Elizabethan furniture the Shakespeare’s would have had.
2. Nash’s House & New Place – New Place was the house William Shakespeare bought in 1597 as his family home. Shakespeare spent most of his playwriting career living in London, but his family continued to live in New Place. Nash’s House was owned by Thomas Nash, husband of Shakespeare’s granddaughter. The original houses have been demolished. Where New Place used to be, you can still see the foundations of the house. A replica Nash’s House was built next to this in 1769. The rooms inside Nash’s House are furnished in the Tudor style. Upstairs is a museum which holds manuscripts and objects dug up from the foundations of New Place.
3. Hall’s croft – The house owned by Shakespeare’s daughter and her husband Dr. John Hall; a wealthy physician. Susanna and John Hall lived in this house until Shakespeare’s death – then they moved into New Place. Halls’ croft is beautifully decorated, furnished with medicines and apothecary paraphernalia, as well as medical volumes, notes and medical equipment. The furnishings are of the Elizabethan and Jacobean style, and are highly decorative. The garden has beautifully fragrant herbs – the kind John would have used for his remedies. All through the house are games for children, including a quiz about the medical practices of the time. There is an exhibition room upstairs where there is always something fascinating. On my visit there were costumes worn by Shakespearean actors including Judi Dench, Richard Wilson and David Tennant.
4. Anne Hathaway’s cottage – Anne Hathaway, daughter of a respected farmer was brought up in this tiny hamlet in the parish of Stratford. This is known as the most romantic of the Birthplace Trust houses. The house is surrounded by gardens, a small maze, statues devoted to Shakespeare’s characters, trees and shrubs which had presence in his plays and a nature trail in a forested area. There is an area full of information about Anne and William. They married in 1582, and even though Anne was eight years older than William, the money she had made her ‘quite a catch’ for William.
5. Mary Arden’s farm – Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden was born in the tiny farm village of Wilmcote. Only open to visitors during summer months, because unlike the other Birthplace Trust houses Mary Arden’s Farm is almost entirely outdoors. (Ironically the first time I visited Stratford it was a hot November – hot enough that I had to take off my coat – but the farm was closed. When I returned in June and went to the farm, it didn’t stop raining. The rain soaked through my jacket which remained on at all times!) You do go in to the cottage, but most of the attraction is the farm itself. It is a working Tudor farm with rare breed animals and a nature trail.
Shakespeare is buried in this Parish church. The words over his grave read Good friend for Jesus sake forebare/To dig the dust encloased heare;/Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones/And curst be he yt moves my bones.