Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford upon Avon
Shakespeare's Birthplace
Summary
A rambling half-timbered house on Henley Street where, it is believed, Shakespeare was born and spent his childhood years. By the time the house was purchased by a charitable trust in 1847 it had fallen into great disrepair. A careful program of refurbishment and restoration was carried out, and a modern visitor centre more lately added, so that today's visitor can get a good glimpse into what Shakespeare's early life would have been like.

William Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare, moved to Stratford with his wife Mary in 1529. We know that by 1552 they were resident in Henley Street, so it seems likely that William lived here upon his birth 12 years later. We do not know for certain that this was the house where he ws born, but it sems very likely, given that the house was in the ownership of the Shakespeare family for over two centuries after his death.

Gabled roof of Shakespeare's Birthplace
The gabled roof
A modern visitor centre is attached to the house, and here you will find detailed exhibits covering Shakespeare's work, his life, and times. The visitor centre is extremely well done, and contains a wealth of detail on Shakespeare's life and career. One of the most intriguing exhibits is a scale model of the Globe Theatre in London, in which Shakespeare was part owner.

The house itself is relatively simple, but for the time period of the late 16th century it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling. There are interesting displays of family life, with period domestic furnishings, and John Shakespeare's glove making workshop laid out ready for the day's work. One of the more fascionating displays is a glass window inscribed with the signatures of visitors to the house over the centuries. Among the scratched signatures are some famous names in literature and the theatre, including actress Ellen Terry and novelists Sir Walter Scott and Charles Dickens.

The garden door at Shakespeare's Birthplace
The garden door
There is also a display relating the peculiar tale of Mrs Hornby. This redoubtable lady was a tenant and custodian of Shakespeare's Birhplace in the early 19th century. When her rent was increaed in 1820 Mrs Hornby left in a huff, and subsequently moved across Henley Street, and there set up a shop displaying what she claimed were genune Shakespeare curiosities. This 'unofficial' Shakespeare centre vied with the 'official' house across the road for the time - and money - of curious visitors.

To the rear of the house are small, peaceful gardens, planted with flowers and herbs that would have been known at Shakespeare's time.

Our verdict
A fascinating place to visit, with one caveat; the house is small, and was never meant for the number of visitors it now receives. Passage through the building can be awkward, and it is sometimes difficult to get a clear look at the exhibits and the structure of the house due to the press of humanity all about you. The guides are very good, and friendly, and do their best to answer questions. My advice is to visit as soon as the house opens, before the tours descend en masse.