Friday, September 14, 2012


Stratford-upon-Avon claims to be the number two tourist destination in England behind London. York also makes that claim. While York has a variety of things to draw visitors (Viking history, the fabulous minster, the medieval buildings, etc.), Stratford-upon-Avon has just one thing, or rather, one person drawing the crowds: William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Shakespeare was born and lived in this town, though he was a frequent visitor to London. His birthplace, the church where he was baptized and is buried, his relatives' houses, and many other buildings touching on his life are found sprinkled throughout the town. The Royal Shakespeare Company has its base here, with several stages offering performances of his works. We went to see a play there (which will be the subject of its own post) and we saw his church (which will also be the subject of its own post). And we wandered through the town.

After visiting Holy Trinity Church (where Shakespeare is buried), we walked into town to see his history. The first place we came upon was Hall's Croft, the home of the Bard's daughter, Susanna, and her husband, Dr. John Hall. Unfortunately, we were there too early to go in, but we saw what we could from the outside.

Jacob wonders why we can't go in!

Wandering down Church Street, we saw the handsome Stratford District Council Offices, which seem a bit timeless.

Stratford District Council Offices

Further down, we came across the Guild Chapel. The chapel is named after the Guild of the Holy Cross who founded it in 1269. Most of the building dates from the 15th century and features some fine craftsmanship.

Guild Chapel nave

Nice stained glass

Other modest decorations chronicling Christ's life

Just down the road is Nash's House and New Place, the location of Shakespeare's final home. Archeological excavations are ongoing to discover more about his last abode. They even have a "Dig for Shakespeare" promotion where you can see finds from the last couple of years.

Latest digging at Shakespeare's last digs

Further down is the High Street shopping district, where we bought Lucy a lolly to keep her going.

Ye olde pub

Ye olde bookstore

Lucy enjoys her lolly

Around the corner was a pedestrian shopping area that led to Shakespeare's birthplace.
On the way we found a cheesy photo-op, though since it was in support of the library, we didn't mind partaking.

Ye olde publick librarie

William "Jacob" Shakespeare

William "Mommy" Shakespeare

Then we saw the house where the Bard was born. It was quite extensive and looked like it would take up too much time, since our tummies were starting to rumble for some lunch. We admired the exterior and headed on to find food.

Home where Shakespeare was born

His coat of arms and motto

His motto means "not without right." The choice of a silver-tipped spear is interestingly appropriate both to his last name and because it resembles a writing implement. We walked to the end of the street and found a Jester Statue. It was donated by Anthony Bird in esteem of the town he was from. The jester is Touchstone from As You Like It. Among the inscriptions on it is this gem from the play: The fool doth think he is wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Jester of Stratford

We couldn't wait any longer for sustainance, so we walked over to the Rother Market. "Rother" in Anglo-Saxon means "cow with long horns." Saturday is market day, so we could find a variety of things to eat.

Rother Market with the American Fountain

Pig roasting! Though we probably should have had beef in honor of Rother

The fountain in the market is called the American Fountain. It was donated by Philadelphian George W. Childs and has fairies from A Midsummer Night's Dream at the top.

We bought some food and headed back down to the River Avon (upon which the town is built) for a picnic lunch.

River Avon with Holy Trinity Church in the distance

Swans, duck, and geese looking for a meal too!

Down by the river is the Gower Memorial. Donated in 1888 by Lord Ronald Gower, he scultped the statues himself over ten years and used his own money to pay for the work. Originally it was further down river and Shakespeare's statue faced the church. The theatre where it was located burned down and the monument was moved in 1933 to its present location. According to the plaque describing the memorial...
The figures around the base are Shakespearian characters: Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff and Prince Hal.
Each stands in front of inidividually-modelled bronze masks with flowers symbolic of each character. Hamlet represents Philosophy with ivy and cypress; Lady Macbeth is Tragedy with poppies and peonies; Comedy is represented by Falstaff with hops and roses; and History is represented by Prince Hal with English roses and French lillies.
Shakespeare up on a pedestal

Prince Hal


Lady Macbeth


After watching the play at the RSC theatre, we walked back over and got some ice cream from one of the boats selling snacks. They had a rather silly sign on their ship, which is what drew us to them.

If only they'd had ice cream back in his day, there would have been less tragedy

It was great fun to visit Stratford-upon-Avon. Next blog post will be about the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Twelfth Night.

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