London Drum

Stratford-upon-Avon – Shakespeare’s home

Address: Shakespeare’s Birthplace: Henley Street · Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: 22 Cottage Lane, Shottery · Holy Trinity Church: Stratford-upon-Avon Contact: Shakespeare’s Birthplace: 0178 920 4016 · · Anne Hathaway’s Cottage: 0178 933 8532 · · Holy Trinity Church: 0178 926 6316 · Time required: 9-10 hours (including travel time to/from London) Train stations: 2-2½ hour train journey from Marylebone (zone 1) to Stratford-upon-Avon (outside the zones)

Craig’s review… The first thing that you need to know about Stratford-upon-Avon is that it’s a totally different place to Stratford. If you catch the tube to Stratford then you’ll end up by the old Olympic Village in east London. The Stratford-upon-Avon that we’re talking about is 100 miles away – a slight difference!

The only reason that you’d want to spend a whole day here is if you’re the world’s biggest William Shakespeare fan. That is literally the only reason for coming here (you can trust me on this). Did they make you read him at school? It was like learning another language and I’m coming out in a cold sweat just thinking about it. I remember our teacher made us slog through Macbeth because it was full of blood and fighting, so presumably they thought that would keep us interested (pupils love a bit of blood and fighting – especially at break time).

I think we did Othello as well – was that the one where she dropped a tissue and he stabbed her in the face? King Lear. That one had an old fella who went nuts and his daughter jumped in the canal. Romeo and Juliet. Everybody says that one is romantic but all I remember is Romeo committing hari-kari and Juliet sucking up a toxic miasma. If that’s romance then I think I’ll stay single, thank you very much. I’m actually thinking about re-writing that play with me in the lead role, but I’ll have to make a few changes in case they make it into a movie. For starters, I don’t care how pretty she is, I’m not climbing up a balcony to sing her a song – not with my knees. She’ll have to bloody well come down here if she wants a kiss.

My first impression of Stratford when I pulled into the station was that it was just like any other town, except with fancy lampposts. Things started to look up when I walked five minutes down Greenhill Street to the market (on the corner of Wood Street and Rother Street), because that’s when you see your first few Tudor houses with bent walls and thick oak beams. They’ve got a nice thatched pub on the corner that looks like it might fall down if you lean on it. There are some more Tudor-style houses down the High Street, Chapel Street and Church Street. All three roads run in a straight line and they’ve got the best architecture in town (especially the ones down Church Street).

Now head up Windsor Street and turn right into Henley Street. This is the Holy Land of Shakespeare, and you can see his original house just past the Shakespeare Centre. I am finding it very difficult to bite my lip here, because ten-feet next to that 16th-century gem is a modern monstrosity that is about as in-keeping with the street as a tutu at a funeral. Just shut your eyes and join the mile long queue of tourists outside (that’s the only way to get inside the house).

Once you’ve sped through the first few rooms of the exhibition – they’ve got a copy of the Folio and a few theatre props, but that’s about it – you’ll enter the back garden of Shakespeare’s home. It looks like an English country garden with pretty little flowers and a pear tree. It was quite nice having a sit down in the sun while they acted out some Shakespeare scenes.

They don’t perform a whole play though, just his ‘greatest hits’ – the famous lines that everybody knows. They take requests and shout them out the across the garden. Obviously I didn’t understand a word of it (it’s Shakespeare!), but when you’re sitting five-feet from the lupins and tulips and lavender it’s certainly worth the entry fee. They even had an old geezer limping around playing the lute. Unfortunately they also had a load of kids running around on the lawn having mock sword fights with wooden sticks – they were giving them sword fighting lessons with their mums and dads watching on. So in one ear you’ve got “to be or not to be” and in the other ear it’s all “clack clack clack clack clack ow!”

When you get inside the actual house you can have a walk around every room from top to bottom. It’s certainly a creaky old place but under the old roof beams are obviously modern tables and chairs that don’t fit the scene at all. The highlight is supposed to be the room where he was born, but they’ve decorated it with a modern bed with one of those electric fireplaces with crappy fake flames. I appreciate that none of his original possessions have survived the passage of time, but come on guys! You could have at least tried to make the objects look original.

I liked the architecture of the house, and the sound of the floorboards creaking, but I thought the rest of the decorations were a bit amateurish, to be honest.

The building that saved my day was Anne Hathaway’s cottage (Shakespeare’s wife). It’s about a mile outside of town and I decided to walk the entire way, but in hindsight I definitely recommend getting a bus – otherwise you have to march down an ugly main road for fifteen minutes, past the car wash, past the job centre, past the suburban semis and B&Bs; the last half mile is down a country lane with roadside nettles and berries and a couple of pretty thatched cottages. Then you come to her chocolate box cottage that seems too good to be true.

It’s like something out of a Disney movie, and inside the house it’s even better. In fact, it’s everything that Shakespeare’s house should and could have been. There’s big ribs of oak everywhere you go, low-slung ceilings and floorboards that creak and speak as you walk across them.

There are rickety old chairs, rocking chairs, timber-framed beds, and kitchen cupboards hanging with black pans and soot-stained pots. It’s like something lifted out of time. If I had to visit just one building then this would be it. Forget the Shakespeare stuff… Anne Hathaway’s country cottage is what you need to plan your day around.

If you still have some time left then you might like to walk along the river. Once you’ve made it past all the tourist tat it turns into a nice woodland path that takes you down to the 13th-century Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare is buried (you have to pay a few quid to get into the burial chapel).

Most holidaymakers fly home believing they’ve seen his tomb in Westminster Abbey, but that statue in Poets’ Corner is actually just a monument – his real bones are buried underneath a slab of stone set against the altar.

To sum it all up, then… if you’re a huge fan Shakespeare and you’re desperate to see his house then give it a try. But if you take my advice then you’ll just visit the Globe Theatre exhibition instead.

Worth a visit? Value for money? Good for kids? Easy to get to?

I also recommend… If you’re interested in Shakespeare then you definitely need to visit the Globe Theatre. There are some more copies of Shakespeare’s Folio on show at the British Library and Victoria & Albert Museum. If you want to see a Shakespeare-style building in London then try Staple Inn

London Squire bookThe owns and has spent the last decade reviewing the capital’s landmarks, attractions and hotels. His guidebook is available from Amazon

Events in Stratford-upon-Avon

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