As our thoughts turn to staycations and places we can visit this summer, let me tell you a tale or two from Stratford Upon Avon… home of William Shakespeare.
A while back we stayed in Stratford and invested in a Shakespeare’s Story Ticket, which gave us entrance to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Shakespeare’s New Place. We had great fun learning quirky stories associated with the bard.
ROMANCE : ‘I would not wish any companion in the world but you’ (The Tempest – Act 3, Scene 1)
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the postcard perfect ‘Thatched Cottage’.. it almost seems too perfect that this gorgeous building is associated with Shakespeare’s story.
This is where Will’s wife Anne grew up, and no doubt where the young poet came courting. I can imagine them walking around the pretty cottage garden, Will wooing her by composing a sonnet as they stroll.
There is a misconception that Shakespeare snubbed his wife on his death-bed, by leaving her the ‘second-best bed’, however the best beds were rarely used and often displayed in the main room of the house as a sign of wealth. This means that the ‘second-best’ bed was often the martial bed and therefore the bequest is now considered a romantic gesture from a loving husband. It is thought that the bed on display in Anne Hathaway’s cottage is this very bed, as it dates from around the same period as their marriage.
A MYSTERIOUS COVER-UP
In the centre of Stratford, next to New Place, lies the Guildhall Chapel. In 2016 some remarkable paintings were revealed there after being covered up for centuries. The Erthe upon Erthe Poem, also known as the Allegory of Death and the medieval paintings of a grave and smiling skulls were covered up just 70 years after they were first painted.
The cover up was executed by Shakespeare’s father John Shakespeare, a notable figure in Stratford, who acted under Royal order to have the poem and painting defaced and covered up. This was an era of religious revolution and the painting’s theme’s were likely considered too Catholic for the newly Protestant country. I really like the funny smiling faces of the skeletons, an inspiration for Hamlet’s lamented jester Yorick perhaps.
The Guildhall Chapel is not part of the Birthplace Trust and is free to enter.
MURDER MOST FOUL
When Shakespeare became wealthy, he decided to buy a larger house in the centre of Stratford known as New Place. The man he bought it from was a Catholic and in debt, so Shakespeare got a bargain, but the seller’s son was so enraged that his father had sold his inheritance that he murdered his father. Shakespeare had already parted with his money but had not yet received the deeds, so the transfer of the property was delayed by several years whilst the villainous son was tried and eventually hung for his crime. Shakespeare eventually moved into New Place and planted a mulberry tree, however….
THE WRONG SORT OF MULBERRY TREE
King James I had decided to create a silk industry in England and gave a number of prominent people Mulberry trees. Silkworms feed on the leaves of mostly White Mulberry trees, however James gave away the wrong sort of mulberry trees, Black Mulberry trees and the English silk industry never took off. Shakespeare was one of those who received a tree from the king and planted his gift in the garden of New Place. It is said that he liked to sit and write under its canopy. Long after his death people came to see Shakespeare’s tree, however by the Georgian era the house had passed away from the Shakespeare family, who had no heirs. One owner had the original Jacobean house demolished and built a larger Georgian style building instead. Travesty – no ? It gets worse… the next owner, a Reverend Franics Gastrell, in a dispute over taxes, tore up the tree and demolished the whole house and left it in ruins. It was never rebuilt. There is a rumour that a law was passed to prevent any Gastrell returning to Stratford.
We also visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Mary Arden’s House (Shakespeare’s mother) which has its own tales to tell. But unfortunately it is currently only opening to schools and there are no plans to reopen to the public yet, though that will surely change. Mary Arden’s Farm (shakespeare.org.uk) All of the houses associated with the bard have fantastic guides who bring the stories to life, and some have performances in the grounds.
Stratford is a wonderful location for a day out or a weekend away, I also recommend trying to catch a play at the RSC .
Please check the relevant websites for the latest information about opening times and ticket prices.
If you do visit Stratford I would love to hear your tips and tales. #staycationinspiration
Note – all photos in this post were taken by me unless otherwise indicated.