Day Trips · England · Travel

Exploring Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon

A few weeks ago, I stayed in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Juliet Terrace for a long weekend. The plan was to explore all the Shakespeare locations as well as a few others. Shakespeare’s Birthplace was the first place on the list. I have been a few times before, but this was Luke’s first visit.

We had booked a time slot to make sure we didn’t miss out. There wasn’t a queue when we turned up, but we didn’t want to risk it. If you ever go to Stratford-upon-Avon and don’t visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace, then you’ve missed out.

Built: around the 15th-16th century

Location: Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6QW

History: Shakespeare’s Birthplace is situated in Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. It is a special place and it is believed that William Shakespeare was born here in 1564 and where he spent his childhood. Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a refurbished 16th century half-timbered house

Price: £20 (with donation), or £26 for a storybook ticket (includes, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaways Cottage and Shakespeare’s New Place)

Parking: Yes, but a ten minute walk away and it is not free 

Review: So I have visited this place several times before but it does not disappoint. Whilst it might not be a massive place (and it can get a little overcrowded at some points), it’s a brilliant place to explore.

There is a small exhibit that you look at first, showing off some of the history, artwork and is very interesting. There is even an original cupboard that dates back hundred of years as well. If you like reading about history then this will be a nice start to your Shakespeare journey. You’ll also get a visual into seeing Shakespeare’s family tree (to which there are apparently no living descendants).

From viewing the timeline you enter into the gardens which were lovely. The flowers were all in bloom and it smelled divine. There’s a few benches available if you want to sit down and sometimes you might be lucky to view a scene from a play or two (they use to do this before the pandemic, but I’m not sure if they still do plays on the courtyard).

You first enter into a small room, where we were greeted by a lady who told us a bit about the history of the room. There were several guides potted around the building, so if you do have any questions you have plenty of opportunities to ask if needed.

From this small room, you nove into the next room, where you are welcomed by a bed. Now this might seem strange to have a bed in the first main room of the house, but back then this was apparently very common.

Today, you might expect to find a bed in the bedroom. But in the 1500s and early 1600s, beds appeared in some unlikely spaces. The most expensive bed – the best bed – was normally positioned in the most public of places, and for many living in early modern Stratford, this was the parlour.

The bed in the picture is a replica, but I do enjoy visiting places that have “decorated” the rooms so you can see what it would have looked like. Downstairs you can also enjoy the hall. The Shakespeare family would have enjoyed their main meal here in the hall each day at around 11am (including William, who would have walked home for lunch from his school five minutes away).

In Tudor England detailed ‘sumptuary laws’ described what each class could wear, and eat for each type of meal. As a middle-class family, the Shakespeare’s would have been allowed two courses for each main meal, both consisting of several shared dishes including bread, pies, pottage (a thick stew), fish and meat – except on Fridays, Saturdays and Wednesdays which were classified as ‘fasting’ or ‘fish’ days, with no meat allowed.

There was also the workshop on the ground floor. John Shakespeare made gloves in this ground floor workshop and sold them from the window ledge on to the busy Henley Street. John was also a ‘whittawer’, making his own leather from the skins of deer, horses, goats and sheep.

From here you go upstairs. Walking up the stairs there are three bedrooms:

  • the children’s bedroom (there were two bedrooms)
  • John & Mary Shakespeare’s Bedroom

There were two bedrooms for the children – one for the boys and one for the girls. From the age of five William shared a bedroom with his younger brothers Gilbert and Richard. Whilst the room is light, and of a decent size, it contained only one bed that the three boys shared from five years old until they got married. In Tudor times there was much suspicion around demons and spirits, leading the children to sleep sitting upright.

Next door to the boys room, and above the workshop was a similar set up for the girls bedroom, though for most of her childhood Joan Shakespeare was the sole occupant of this bedroom as her two elder sisters before she was born, and her younger sister died at eight years old, having spent her first five years sleeping in their parents bedroom.

Next you have John & Mary Shakespeare’s Bedroom.

A couple of surprising facts the guides in the house tell you are that:

  • Fires weren’t allowed in Stratford after 8pm, due to the risk of fire damaging the wooden frames, thatched-roofed houses.
  • Although the house has windows today in what looks like authentic glazing, glass was only put into the windows around 1670, after Shakespeare’s time. Until then the house simply had wooden shutters over the windows.

Both of these facts would explain why it was common for lots of family members to sleep in the same bed – primarily to stay warm!

There are so many interesting stories that the guides can tell you so make you ask them questions, listen to their stories and you’ll learn a lot.

You could argue it’s overpriced but we left wiser than when we started and you can’t put a price on that.

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