“There was a star danced, and under that was I born.”
— William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing
Stratford-upon-Avon, a market town and civil parish in the West Midlands region of England, is also famed for being the town where William Shakespeare was born. Famed for being the birthplace of the great playwright and poet William Shakespeare, the town is an extremely popular tourist destination and receives approximately 2.5 million visitors a year.
The town is a must-visit for fans of Shakespeare. A walk through the streets gives visitors a feel of walking in the bard’s footsteps. Some iconic sites in the town are Shakespeare’s Birthplace; Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and his final resting place in the Holy Trinity Church.
The buildings in this town are prime examples of Tudor architecture, most of them being built around the 1500s by craftsmen. A glance of the quaint little town shows a series of sophisticated two-toned manor homes with a combination of Renaissance and Gothic design elements.
Starting off this list is one of the most important places on the map of Stratford, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, which is believed to be the house where the great playwright was born in 1564 and where he spent most of his childhood years. It is now a small museum which is a popular attraction of the town.
The house is a typical 16th-century Tudor-style half-timber house that has been restored. Half-timber houses can be identified by their exposed wooden framework, with the rest of the building typically filled with brick, plaster, or wattle-and-daub. They often have an overhanging upper story, which added vital space but was also a structural device. The house showcases local oak from the Forest of Arden and a façade made of blue-grey stone from Wilmcote. The large fireplaces in the house were made from an unusual combination of early brick and stone, and the ground-floor level has stone-flagged floors.
The house is considered a simple yet substantial dwelling for the 16th century. It was originally divided into two parts, one of which was used by Shakespeare’s father to carry out his glove-making business.
The plan of the building is a simple rectangle. The ground floor consisted of a parlor with fireplace, an adjoining hall with a large open hearth, a cross passage, and a room that probably served as John Shakespeare’s workshop. This arrangement was mirrored on the first floor. The birth room was located in a chamber above the parlor, according to norms of the time.
The Anne Hathaway Cottage
The next hallmark location from Shakespeare’s life is the Anne Hathaway Cottage where the poet met his wife of the same name. The cottage is a thatched house surrounded by a beautiful cottage garden and is located a mile and a half outside of Stratford-upon-Avon in Shottery. The building was the childhood home of Anne Hathaway who is believed to have been born there in 1556 and stayed there until her marriage to Shakespeare in 1582.
Despite being called a cottage, this location is much larger than what the term usually implies. The farmhouse had twelve rooms and had almost 90 acres attached to it. The house has multiple chimneys to spread the heat evenly throughout the house during winter, which was a common feature in houses of the time. The largest chimney was used for cooking. The cottage was a typical Tudor house with visible timber framing.
After the estate was acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892, the gardens surrounding it were redesigned by famous horticulturist Ellen Willmott. The redesigned garden sought to compliment the Cottage’s picturesque aesthetic as well as pay homage to Shakespeare’s works. The cottage is home to some of the oldest and most original parts of Shakespeare’s history including the ‘Hathaway Bed’, ‘Shakespeare Courting Chair’, and the ‘Courting Settle’.
Other Notable Places
There are various other attractions in the town, both related to Shakespeare and not. The Church of Holy Trinity, for example, is famed for being the place of baptism, marriage, and burial of William Shakespeare. The church is Stratford’s oldest building and has various features like a 14th-century sanctuary knocker, 15th-century misericord seats in the chancel, with religious, secular, and mythical carvings as well as several large stained glass windows featuring major English and Biblical saints.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, built in 1769 by architect Elisabeth Scott, is another notable building as it was the first important work erected in Britain from the designs of a female architect.
The Stratford we see today showcases a perfect blend of both 15th Century Tudor architecture as well as more modern buildings. The town even has shopping centres like the Maybird Shopping Park and the Rosebird Centre. One of the most popular streets in Stratford is Henley Street which is one of the town’s oldest streets and home to Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This street is one that showed significant architectural change between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries and is now a major tourist and shopping precinct with many al fresco cafés and street entertainers.
VisitBritain (2021). Stratford-upon-Avon at a glance [online]. Available at: https://www.visitbritain.com/in/en/england/central-england/stratford-upon-avon [Accessed 3 June 2021].
Wikipedia. Stratford-upon-Avon [online]. (Last updated May 30 2021). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratford-upon-Avon [Accessed 3 June 2021].
Wikipedia. Stratford-upon-Avon [online]. (Last updated April 11 2021). Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Holy_Trinity,_Stratford-upon-Avon [Accessed 3 June 2021].
ActiveEngland. Tour Around Stratford – Tudor Architecture and the life of Shakespeare [online]. Available at: https://activeenglandtours.com/shakespeares-stratford/ [Accessed 3 June 2021].
Shakespeare birthplace trust. About Anne Hathaway’s Cottage [online]. Available at: https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/shakespedia/anne-hathaways-cottage/about-anne-hathaways-cottage/ [Accessed 3 June 2021].