For many visitors Stratford-upon-Avon is best known for its association with William Shakespeare, England’s most famous dramatist. There is certainly no shortage of places to find Shakespeare in Stratford, from the houses where he was born, lived and died, to the roads and buildings that he would have frequented. But the references are not all historic: his legacy is still very much alive today.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
Three of the most important heritage sites are managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. These trace the playwright’s life from the house in which he grew up (the Birthplace), to his final home (Shakespeare’s New Place). It also includes Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, the house in which Shakespeare’s wife was born. The Trust also manages a massive archive of documents relating to Shakespeare and to Stratford-upon-Avon.
However, it is not all about Shakespeare. These houses will also appeal to anyone who is interested in Tudor architecture, and the gardens are a pleasure to visit, even if you only have a passing interest in literature. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, in particular, can be appreciated as a charming country home and garden.
The Birthplace, on Henley Street, is where William Shakespeare was born in 1564. It is a fairly substantial Tudor building, and would have housed both the family and John Shakespeare’s glove-making business. The property was extended during William’s lifetime and part of it became an inn. It was subject to further change over the centuries but has now been restored to its earlier state.
As you enter the Birthplace today you come to a small modern exhibition area with information about Shakespeare’s life and work. There are further information panels inside the house itself. One aspect that intrigued me was the development of Shakespeare tourism in Stratford since his death. We were told that this was largely down to the 18th century actor David Garrick, who started a festival here in 1769. This brought literary tourists to Stratford – another exhibit is a window on which many illustrious visitors had written their names!
Outside the house you will find a café and a gift shop. Note that this site is particularly popular with both day trippers and school parties: you may wish to try to time your visit for the beginning or end of the day.
Shakespeare’s New Place
Although Shakespeare lived and worked in London, he retained his ties with Stratford, and his wife and family remained in the town. In 1597 he purchased what was known as the New Place, among a cluster of Elizabethan buildings on Chapel Street. This became the family home, and it was here that Shakespeare died in 1616.
The house itself was demolished in 1759, but the garden remains. This is an extensive area, and back in the 17th century Anne Hathaway would have used the land to grow food for the family. Today it has been repurposed as an Elizabethan knot garden, and there is also a sculpture garden with statues of Shakespearean characters.
Although Shakespeare’s own house no longer exists, the New Place incorporates a neighbouring property of similar age. This contains an exhibition about Shakespeare and his later life in Stratford.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the farmhouse in which Shakespeare’s wife was born, and where she lived with her father, stepmother and nine siblings. Several generations of Hathaways lived here, but we don’t really know much about Anne herself. She would certainly have been brought up to be a farmer’s wife, capable of managing a house and working the land. We don’t know what her family made of her choosing instead to marry a young townsman with no obvious prospects!
The cottage is furnished as it would have been when Anne lived here. However, the gardens are possibly of more interest, presumably planted where the farm would have once been. There is an orchard and a tree garden with sculptures inspired by Shakespeare’s works. There are various walks around the grounds, and a gift shop and café.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is a short distance from Stratford. It is a ten minute drive, or 25 minute walk, from the town centre.
Where Else Can You Find Shakespeare In Stratford?
You can’t really get away from Shakespeare in Stratford. You’ll see him in the names of shops and restaurants, and in the statues in the park. There is even a Shakespearean frieze around the outside of the HSBC bank on Chapel Street.
Across the road from the New Place, you can take a tour of Shakespeare’s Schoolroom. This is the old Guildhall, which doubled up as the school that William attended. Then walk along the river to Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare and other members of his family are buried.
Finally, you could enjoy a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
Thanks to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for providing tickets to the Shakespeare Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place, and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.