Stratford Town Walk Continued…
Stratford-upon-Avon, commonly shortened to just Stratford is a market town, 91 miles north west of London, on the River Avon. It receives up to 3 Million visitors annually because of it’s most famous son: William Shakespeare. We left you after part 1 of the walking tour HERE.
We’re on a street called ‘Old Town’ heading north west from the Holy Trinity Church towards Hall’s Croft.
Hall’s Croft, Old Town
It’s the Jacobean home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and her husband, the physician John Hall. The walled garden contains fragrant medicinal herbs, as John Hall would have used in his remedies. Thirty years ago, I bought a reproduction of his only textbook, ‘Select observations on English bodies, or Cures both empericall and historicall performed upon very eminent persons in desperate diseases’ (1657) from this very place. Unfortunately, it proved almost useless for my medical practice! While some physicians practised astronomy or blood-letting, John Hall’s preference was for treatments made from plants, herbs, animal extracts, gemstones and rocks.
“A frog in the throat”
Our tour guide Owen, complete with green rubber frog, regaling us with medieval tales of medieval belief that the secretions of a frog could help heal a sore throat. In the 17th century, holding a live frog in a child’s mouth until the frog died was thought to be a cure for thrush. The was a tacit agreement amongst the visitors to ignore the American claim that they invented the phrase in Victorian times.
We turn right into Church Street and head north.
Alms Houses, King Edward VI School and Guild Chapel
We pass a row of Alms Houses and the King Edward VI School on the right side of Church Street. The School, known to have been in existence from 1295 and re-founded by a Charter of King Edward VI catches our eyes. William Shakespeare attended the School in the 1570s, leading to it being widely known as Shakespeare’s School.
Guild Chapel, at the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane, dates back to the 13th Century when it was built by the Guild of the Holy Cross, a prominent social and religious organisation. Therein, a secret collection exists. The Chapel’s rare and special wall paintings offer a unique glimpse back to that medieval past. Continuing restorations revealed one of the rarest series of medieval wall paintings in Europe. Banned after the English Reformation, deathly depictions of the afterlife had to be destroyed by Royal Decree. In Stratford, that order was executed by John Shakespeare, father of the playwright. But rather than being destroyed, the paintings were covered with layers of lime wash, waiting for centuries to be re-discovered…
Erthe upon Erthe Poem, also known as the Allegory of Death, depicted in this painting occurs frequently in the 15th century, often inserted on the spare leaves at the beginning or end of a manuscript, as well as being inscribed on walls and tombstones. it focused the attention on the inevitability of death and how we should all strive to lead a good life. It teaches that worldly goods should not distract us from our prayers and devotions and that we all end up equal in death and will be judged.
Nash’s House/New Place on Chapel Street
On the opposite corner of Chapel Lane and Chapel Street, stands an empty plot of land that used to be New Place, Shakespeare’s last home. Shakespeare bought New Place in 1597 from the Clopton family for £60 and died there in 1616. It was the 2nd largest house in Stratford. Built of timber and ‘modern’ brick, it had ten fireplaces, five gables, and grounds large enough to hold two barns and an orchard. After Shakespeare’s death, the house passed to his daughter Susanna Hall, and then his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Hall, whose first husband was Thomas Nash, who had owned the house next door. After Elizabeth died, the house was returned to the Clopton family.
We could quote Shakespeare when we heard what evil befell this place. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Julius Caesar, act 3, sc.2, l.74-86.
In 1756, then-owner Reverend Francis Gastrell, unhappy about gawking visitors, destroyed a mulberry tree in the garden, said to have been planted by Shakespeare. In retaliation, the townspeople broke New Place’s windows. Gastrell applied for local planning authority to extend the garden. His application was rejected and his tax was increased, so Gastrell took revenge by demolishing the house in 1759. This greatly upset the citizens and Gastrell was eventually forced to leave town.
Though the house no longer exists, the site is owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which maintains it as a specially-designed garden for tourists.
Continuing north on Chapel Street, it becomes the High Street.
Harvard House on High Street
At 26, High Street, the Americans on our tour suddenly became quite animated. Harvard House stands here, where it was previously known as the Ancient House. Built in 1596 by Thomas Rogers, grandfather of the benefactor of Harvard University, John Harvard, the house has been cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, on behalf of Harvard University, since 1990.
It is closed to the public because much renovation is needed for safety reasons and Harvard University hasn’t paid yet. Maybe after reading this…?
Thomas Rogers’ daughter Katherine married Robert Harvard of Southwark and John Harvard was born in November 1607. In 1637, John Harvard emigrated to Massachusetts, America, where he worked as a preacher before his death from tuberculosis on 14th September 1638. Massachusetts Bay Colony had founded a college in Newtowne, soon renamed Cambridge after the university that many colonists had attended. Having inherited considerable sums from his father, mother and brother, John bequeathed £750 to the fund – more than £3 million today – along with his library of books. In gratitude, the colony named the new school: Harvard College. It is the oldest institution of higher education in America.
Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe
Halfway up the High Street is Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, a franchised chain of sweet shops serving nostalgia. Gobstopper, anyone?
Golden Post Boxes
High Street terminates at a roundabout with five roads including Bridge Street and Henley Street. Before we head up Henley Street towards Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, we stopped to admire two golden postboxes on Bridge Street. They were painted gold in honour of the town’s gold medal winning Paralympian James Roe on the mixed coxed four crew.
Originally intended to be a temporary measure celebrating 2012 London Olympian winners, due to the public response it was later decided the colour change would become a permanent tribute, with Paralympians eligible too. Usually, one postbox was painted gold for each gold medal won with exceptions in locations where multiple postboxes exist like in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Notice the Costa Coffee branch at the end of Bridge Street before it becomes Henley Street? It must be the oldest building that houses a Costa Coffee shop.
Mechanical Art and Design (M.A.D) Museum, 4 Henley Street
M.A.D. Museum is the country’s only permanent venue for mechanical art.
It displays interactive pieces of mechanical art, in particular; kinetic art and automata.
The Nutcracker Christmas Shop, Henley Street
It is Christmas every day at The Nutcracker Christmas Shop, one of four such shops in the U.K. opened 7 days a week.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, Henley Street
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a restored 16th century half-timbered house on Henley Street, where it is believed that William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and spent his childhood years. It is now a small museum open to the public and a popular visitor attraction, owned and managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker and wool dealer. The house was originally divided into shop and house parts so that he could operate his business from the same premises.
Next to the Birthplace is the Shakespeare Centre, visitors centre and headquarters of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, housing its library, documents and collections. There are Shakespeare-related displays and public access to the Birthplace. With costumed actors in attendance, the Birthplace recreates the ambience of family life at the time of Shakespeare, with period domestic furnishings, a glass window inscribed with the signatures of visitors to the house over the centuries, and John Shakespeare’s glove making workshop. A walled garden has been planted with flowers and herbs known during Shakespeare’s time. Of course, there is the obligatory gift shop!
Stratford Walking Tour 2nd Intermission
Usually, the tour begins at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and ends at his grave in Holy Trinity Church but there was a parade that day that required a route change. In any case, we got terribly sunburnt and were parched.
Don’t miss part 3 of the walking tour….the Pubs of Stratford-upon-Avon!
Other Articles about Stratford-upon-Avon and Nearby
Author’s Biography: Melvyn Teillol-Foo (MTF)
Dr Melvyn Teillol-Foo is a contributor on AlphaLuxe web magazine. He was former CEO of PuristSPro.com horology discussion fora. He blends his scientific medical objectivity from the pharmaceutical industry with purist passion, in his musings about watches, travel, wine, food and other epicurean delights.
His travelogue ‘Lazing’ and feasting ‘Grazing’ series of articles have now passed into “mythic legend” on the original ‘ThePuristS.com’ website. Those were the halcyon days when he was “rich and famous” that he remembers with bittersweet fondness.
Dr Teillol-Foo is a quoted enthusiast on the watch industry, appearing in feature articles and interviews by Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune, Sunday Times (London), Chronos (Japan), Citizen Hedonist (France) and other publications. He has authored articles for magazines like International Watch (iW) – both U.S. & Chinese editions, ICON (Singapore), August Man (Singapore), Comfort (China) and The Watch (Hong Kong).