Stratford upon Avon

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June, 2016

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Stratford upon Avon is on nearly every tourist’s tick list because of the Shakespeare connection, with millions of visitors who want to visit the place where Shakespeare was born and see his grave. It is hard to avoid the Shakespeare influence and the shops exploit it to the full.

The Shakespeare Properties are run by the “Shakespeare Birthplace trust “: which runs five properties with links to the Shakespeare family. The most popular is “Shakespeare’s Birthplace”: itself, a lovely timber frame building on Henley Street. Shakespeare may not recognise the building as it was extended after his death and was extensively restored by the Victorians. The only bit of the house with a direct link to Shakespeare is the limestone floor in the parlour. The rest has all been brought from elsewhere and we don’t even know for sure if the birthroom was actually where he was born…

New Place on Chapel Street was Shakespeare’s final home and he died here. The house has been pulled down although the gardens still exist. This has recently reopened after a very expensive interpretive project.

The other properties owned by the trust belonged to different members of the family. “Hall’s Croft”: in the Old Town and close to Holy Trinity Church was the home of his daughter Susanna and her husband. This gets fewer visitors than the birthplace but is a much nicer building which is furnished as it would have been when they lived here.

On the outskirt’s of Stratford is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, the lovely thatched the childhood home of his wife Anne and Mary Arden’s farm which was the childhood home of his mother. This is now a working Tudor farm.

“Shakespeare’s School Room”: on Church Street is a newly opened attraction and still belongs to King Edward VI school. Dating from the early C15th, this was originally the Guildhall until the guilds were disbanded by Henry VIII. The building was taken over by the Council and the first floor rooms were used as a school. The “Guild Chapel”: still survives next to it and is worth visiting for the remains of its medieval wall paintings.

“Holy Trinity Church”: is a lovely setting overlooking the river. Most people just go to take a picture of Shakespeare’s tombstone and move on the the next place on their tick list. This is a shame as the church has some splendid Medieval misericords as well as the Clopton Chapel with its magnificent tombs.

For those wanting a slightly more tacky Tudor experience, there is “Tudor World”: complete with the photo opportunity of your head through hole in Tudor dress… As well as a museum about life in Shakespeare’s time, they also run walking tours of Stratford with Master Shakespeare telling stories about his personal life, loves and inspirations.

“The Royal Shakespeare Company “: regularly puts on performances of Shakespeare’s work in the iconic theatre buildings next to the river. You can even take a trip up the viewing tower for views across the town. Across the river is the “Other Place,”: a small theatre owned by the RCS and used by local amateur groups for performances. The tiny “Bear Pit Theatre “: on Rother Street is a voluntary organisation aimed to bring together Visual and Performing Art groups in the area.

Even without an interest in Shakespeare, Stratford is a pleasant town to visit with its black and white architecture and the River Avon with its swans. The lovely stone Clopton Bridge dates from the C15th being paid for by the wealthy Hugh Clopton. This is one of the oldest bridges in the country still in use. Originally a toll bridge, the small toll house can still be seen next to the bridge. It replaced a wooden bridge which was impassable when the river was high. This encouraged more people into the town to trade. For those wanting to be a bit more adventurous there is a small had operated chain ferry. Constructed in 1937, it is the last of its kind still in operation. Use this when following the “Riverside Walk.”:

Stratford was the terminus of the Stratford Canal, built at the end of the C18th and provided a link to the Grand Union Canal. The canal basin with its lock has been restored and is a colourful place with canal narrow boats moored up.

The river is a popular tourist attraction with rowing boats to hire and several companies running “cruises.”:

Across the river from the town centre is the “Butterfly Farm”: with its giant brightly coloured butterflies which can be seen emerging from their chrysalis. There is also an impressive collection of insects too with some unlikely sounding names as well as snails, geckos and the brightly coloured poisonous arrow frogs.

Trading on the popularity of Harry Potter and wizardology and witchcraft is the “World of Wizard’s Thatch”: in the Creaky Cauldron, one of the oldest buildings in Stratford. This may be one for the children rather than the oldies who may prefer the “Mechanical Art and Design Museum,”: affectionately referred to as MAD. This is the only one permanent exhibition of its kind in the UK with mechanical model displays and interactive pieces of Mechanical Art. Summed up on the website “If you’re not quite sure what mechanical art is all about, think of the machines and gismos used in Wallace and Gromit, Scrapheap Challenge and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In a nut shell mechanical art is usually beautifully crafted, moving sculptures either made to have an exaggerated purpose or made simply for the fun of it.”

For those wanting to learn a bit more about Stratford, there are guided walks and ghost “walks.”: The “HOHO Sightseeing Bus”: is also a good way to see Stratford and visit the Shakespeare properties.


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