On High Street next to the equally splendid Garrick Inn, these must be one of the most splendid and photographed frontages in Stratford upon Avon.
The Shakespeare Trust has been caring for the property since 1990 and the house is currently open as part of the town house pass to the Shakespeare properties in Stratford-upon-Avon, which includes Shakespeare’s Birth place and Hall’s Croft. It will be shutting in Summer 2016, when New Place will reopen. As yet no-one knows what will happen to the property. As it belongs to Harvard University, it is hoped they will reopen it in some form. So visit now while you still can!
The house was built in 1596 by Alderman Thomas Rogers who was a wealthy merchant and had twice served as High Bailiff. The timber frame frontage with its elaborately carved beams must be one of the grandest in Stratford. It was intended as a status symbol of his wealth and standing.
Thomas’s daughter Katherine married Robert Harvard of Southwark and their son John emigrated to America with his wife. When he died of tuberculosis in 1638 he left £750 to fund a new college which became Harvard University.
Thomas left the house to his eldest son and it then passed onto his grandson, Edward Rogers. In the middle C17th Edward sold the house to John Capp a blacksmith and his family owned the house and run their business from there until about 1725. it was then let to a series of tenants. There were plans to demolish the house but it was bought by the American Edward Morris in 1909, who restored the property and gave it to Harvard University. It then became called Harvard house.
The Shakespeare link is a bit tenuous although Thomas Rogers would have known the family. The house is worth visiting as an example of a typical C16th town house.
It is a long narrow house built on three floors with two or three rooms on each floor.
Thomas Rogers was a butcher,corn and cattle trader and the front hall on the ground floor would have been his shop. The walls still have the original oak beams. Behind was the parlour which is now a children’s area. There is no access to what is described as little chamber beyond.
A splendid wooden staircase leads up to the upper chamber on the first floor. This room was probably used for entertaining and is furnished with a narrow table, chairs. and two carved chests.
Part of the wall has been exposed to show the wattle and daub construction with woven sticks creating a lattice. The daub, a thick paste made from animal dung, earth, clay and straw was smeared over both sides of the wattle to seal it. The walls could then be plastered or painted. Steep stairs lead up to the second floor.
The front room is called the Joyne Chamber from the wooden panelling on the walls. This is furnished with a table with a carpet over it, (carpets were too expensive to be put on the floors). On a small table is a Bible box with a replica of what is described as a cholera jar on it. A selection of herbs was placed in the top of the jar and hot coals placed below them. The heat of the coals produced fumes which were thought to clean the air and prevent the disease from spreading.
There are two rooms on the second floor. The back room or Stairhead chamber is furnished as a Tudor bedroom. Beyond it, looking out over the street is the Next Chamber. This was probably a guest bedroom and still has some of the original painted panels from when the house was built. This was a cheaper alternative to hanging tapestries. The design has been replicated around the rest of the walls.
Also displayed in the room is a metal fire hook. Fires were a common hazard and two major fires in 1594 and 1595 destroyed several buildings along High Street. The fire hook was used to remove the thatch from adjacent buildings in an attempt to stop a fire from spreading. They could also be used to pull down burning buildings.
The house receives few visitors. Staff are excellent and keen to talk about the house. I enjoyed it more than the Birthplace – possibly as it was a much more genuine building. The Birthplace was heavily restored in the C19th and feels a bit ‘cod’. This doesn’t and gives an idea of what town houses were like in the C17th. It is sparsely furnished, as they would have been, with furniture from the right period. If you have chance, it is well worth visiting.
Visitors need to be aware there are no facilities here – no shop or toilet.
There is ramped entry from High Street and the ground floor with information boards about the house is accessible. Access to the two upper floors is by the staircase. There is no lift available.