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23 April 2016 marks the 400th anniversary since the death of William Shakespeare, perhaps the greatest playwright the world has ever seen, and certainly one of the UK's greatest exports. There isn't a lot to be said about the man that you can't readily find elsewhere than my little corner of the internet, so rather than merely clog it up with more of the same, I thought I'd mark the occasion with a little celebration of my own trips to Stratford-upon-Avon, the Warwickshire town of both Shakespeare's birth and death.
Shakespeare was born in April 1564, baptised on 26th but the actual date of his birth is unknown. The house in which he was born, now the Birthplace museum, was also his father John's glove shop/workshop. It's undergone quite a few modifications over the years, even during William's own lifetime it had been converted into an inn (the Swan and Maidenhead) with a cottage annex. It remained within the Shakespeare family until the early 19th century, and was almost sold to an American businessman, who had proposed to dismantle the house and ship it across the Atlantic, but was saved for the nation and remains in Stratford.
While I love half-timbered houses like these, I find it faintly silly that so many tourists flock to Stratford and bypass so many interesting-looking houses and other buildings, but gravitate to this house like iron to a magnet. Such is the fame of the immortal bard, I suppose, though it does make me chuckle sometimes!
The Birthplace is located on Henley Street, at what I've come to think of as the "top end" of town, usually parking nearer the river whenever I visit. There are plenty of other wonderful buildings from the Tudor era to look at as you wander the streets of the town, including whole streets further from the centre.
The town does have a number of properties that have some connection to Shakespeare, though they are usually quite tenuous. Being a part of the Shakespeare Houses, however, ensures they are always being visited by tourists, though I sometimes find it quite sad that people tend to only give these places a cursory glance before heading off to the next stop on their pilgrimage.
We have, in no particular order, Nash's House, which belonged to the first husband of Shakespeare's granddaughter, and happens to have in its garden the foundations of New Place, the house Shakespeare bought and lived in after his career in London.
Hall's Croft, the house of Shakespeare's daughter Susanna's husband, Dr John Hall. Another wonderful Tudor/Jacobean building, it has some interesting information about medical practices of the time.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage is the family home of Shakespeare's wife, and is actually an extensive farmhouse not too far outside of the town itself.
I love Stratford so much. It's one of those central England towns that has managed to retain a lot of its medieval character, and I never pass up an opportunity to visit, especially when the weather is good! The Shakespeare connection has of course led to a lot of cash-ins, some of which might be a little too much, but it still has a lot to recommend, even without such a famous son.