The Shakespeare tourist industry is big business in Stratford upon Avon. As well as his “Birthplace”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/england/westmidlands/birthplace/index.html and “Holy Trinity Church”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/warwickshire/trinity_stratford/index.html where he is buried, his schoolroom has recently opened as a tourist attraction.
This is a very attractive timber frame building on Church Street, sandwiched between the “Guild Chapel”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/churches/england/west_midlands/warwickshire/guild_stratford/index.html and the Almshouses.
Originally the Guildhall, the building dates from 1418-20 and was built for the Guild of the Holy Cross. The Guilds were big business in the Middle Ages. All local merchants and craftsmen belonged to a Guild. It widened their circle of acquaintances helping them to establish and develop business links and to increase their influence in town affairs. The Guildhall was the social centre of Stratford life.
The Guilds also had a social conscience and helped look after members in financial difficulties or following death. They also employed priests to say masses in the Guild Chapel on behalf of the living or to say prayers for the dead.
The Guilds were disbanded by Henry VIII. The Guildhall was taken over by the newly formed town council who controlled everything in Stratford from policing the streets to checking the quality of ale. Shakespeare’s father was a member of the Borough Council in charge of weights and measures. He became bailiff presiding over the Court of Record.
The Court of Record was held in the ground floor room with its beamed ceiling and stone slab floor. It met every fortnight and dealt with trade disputes between local tradesmen, craftsmen and yeomen, hearing cases up to £30. Trials were open to the public and held in English. Justice was open and accessible for all.
Originally the plaster would have been covered with wall paintings but these were covered over after the Guild was disbanded. Some have been rediscovered and are now protected by a glass screen behind the top table. A short video presentation on the glass screen explains what the painting might have looked like. In the centre is God the Father holding the crucified Christ. On either side are the Virgin Mary and St John. On the timber next to St john, the figure of John the Baptist has recently been discovered. This can just be seen down the edge of the screen.
Off the Guildhall is another small timber frame room which was the Counting House for the Guild.
The two upstairs room became a school. The first room is a reconstruction as to what the room would have been like when Shakespeare studied here until the age of 14. The pupils sat on benches. Only the children from wealthy parents studied here. Education was free, but they had to provide all their wax tablets, horn books and candles. Equipment was stored under the bench. At the front was the teacher’s table and chair on a small raised dais. Close to hand was the birch. In Shakespeare’s time the teacher was Master Jenkins. The school day started with prayers in the Guild Chapel at 6am (7am in winter) and ended at 5pm. The pupils had two hours for lunch from 11-1 when they went home. All lessons were in Latin and pupils studied Latin grammar, academic texts and history. English, numeracy skills and basic Latin were taught at the petty school.
Beyond is the C19th classroom which is still used by the school today for PSHE lessons. Desks have been carved by schoolboys down the ages and there are examples of graffiti carved onto the plaster walls.
Behind the two rooms is what was the Master’s Chamber, complete with fireplace, which later became the Prefect’s room. This also has the remains of wall paintings, but of a secular rather than religious nature.
In many ways there isn’t a lot to see here. The juxtaposition of the Chapel, Guildhall and the Almshouses make this one of the few intact groups of Guild buildings to survive in Britain. For those wanting to visit, it is cheaper to buy tickets on line and the tickets are valid for a year. There is good disabled access with a lift to the first floor rooms.
The post code is CV37 9HB and the grid reference is SP 200547.
There are more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/presocialhistory/socialhistory/social/social/shakespeare_school/index.html