ONE of the world’s most well-known playwrights, William Shakespeare, was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564. Although there is no physical proof that he was born in the house purported to be his birthplace, records show that his parents lived in Henley Street more than a decade before that auspicious occasion. The house also remained in the family’s ownership until 1806, passing to Shakespeare’s daughter, his grand-daughter, and then to descendants of his sister, Joan, so its pedigree is pretty good.
Within Shakespeare’s lifetime, the house itself was converted into a pub; the Maidenhead (and later, the Swan and Maidenhead) Inn but by the mid-19th Century it had fallen into a rather dilapidated state. Luckily for visitors today, earlier literary travellers, such as Charles Dickens, William Thackeray and John Keats, had taken an interest in the house (signing either the guest book or the walls and windows frames, according to their wont) and when it was put on the market in 1846, a Trust was established to protect and restore it. Dickens himself was instrumental in helping to fundraise for the restoration.
Today, the main house has been developed into a museum of Elizabethan England, furnished according to the time and equipped with a glove maker’s workshop in honour of Shakespeare’s father, John, who carried out his trade there for several decades. No known possessions belonging to Shakespeare remain, but his life and work infiltrate the place nonetheless. Actors perform within the beautifully kept gardens (carefully filled only with plants that existed in the 16th Century), taking requests from passing visitors, and the First Folio of Shakespeare’s works is on display. Alongside the main house is the official visitors’ centre, constructed much later than the original house, for the purpose of providing more information about Shakespeare’s life and work.
For those guests who are truly enamoured with the Bard, private after-hours presentations, performances and catering can be arranged upon request.
Physical address: Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire
Phone number: +44 1789 204016
Business hours: Autumn (September/October): 9am – 5pm; Winter (November – mid March): 10am-4pm; Spring (mid-March – June): 9am – 5pm; Summer (July/August): 9am – 5:30pm (dates vary – check the website)
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