I grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon so today was a special day for me, seeing my home area through the eyes of others and also seeing places that had been on my doorstep for years but that I'd taken for granted and never visited, or that hadn't been open when I lived here.
As a huge Shakespeare fan, I had been waiting for this day of the tour with bated breath and as good luck would have it, it came round quickly. The weather forecast predicted that the day might not be for the faint-hearted, with rain and drizzle forecast, but all's well that ends well and the day really was such stuff as dreams are made on. Sorry, that's too much of a good thing and I think I'll stop the Shakespeare phrases and get on with the diary entry!
After a lovely breakfast, we walked from our hotel, through Stratford with its lovely Tudor buildings (they're everywhere!), to Shakespeare's birthplace on Henley Street where we had a private tour from the very knowledgeable Ash. This is the property that his parents, John Shakespeare, a glover and bailiff, and Mary Arden owned. It's a substantial property and showed the wealth and importance of the family. Ash then escorted us to New Place, in Chapel Street, the site of the house bought by William Shakespeare in 1597 for his family. Unfortunately, the property no longer stands but visitors can enjoy the exhibition in Nash's House, the museum next-door in the house that belonged to Shakespeare's granddaughter's husband, and also the gardens. It was a bit wet for us to enjoy the gardens.
We then had a break to get lunch and to explore Stratford before meeting at the Guildhall to visit the schoolroom where William Shakespeare was educated by Master Jenkins of the King Edward Grammar School. We enjoyed the presentation by Master Jenkins, in costume and in character- we learned some Latin and two of our number acted out the assassination of Caesar! We also had chance to visit a room in the Guildhall which was used as a chapel and had some remains of paintings on the wall which had been covered up during the Reformation - there was a really good one of John the Baptist. Then, we headed over to Holy Trinity Church to visit the graves of the Bard himself, his wife, Anne Hathaway, and his daughter and her husband, Susannah and John Hall. The verger gave us an excellent talk on the graves.
A little bit more free time gave some of us the chance to visit the Guild Chapel, next to the Guildhall. We'd been told about the medieval-era wall painting in here which had been found underneath the whitewash, so were keen to view them. Apparently, John Shakespeare had had to give orders for the paintings to be covered during the Reformation, as they were seen as Catholic and superstitious, but he doesn't seem to have wanted those covering them up to have done a good job. That's good new for us as it means that they weren't destroyed and parts of them are visible. They are fascinating. The church as produced pictures to show how they would have looked pre-Reformation and they would have been so colourful.
Then, we all met at Hall's Croft, home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susannah, and her physician husband, John Hall. It served as their home for a while, before Susannah inherited New Place after the death of her father, and also as her husband's dispensary. We had an after-hours private tour of the house and then had a meal there. Philippa had a bit of a surprise for us. We'd just been served wine when two actors turned up and entertained us with sonnets, soliloquies and scenes from Shakespeare. They were amazing! They even took requests, which was mind-blowing when you think of how much they must have had to have learned! This was so special and I loved it. Sitting and eating in Shakespeare's daughter's house while being entertained with Shakespeare's work! Incredible! I even ate Tudor frumenty!
On the way back to the hotel, a few of us decided to stop off for a drink at the Dirty Duck, a pub which is near to our hotel and to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and which is known for being frequented by actors. Unfortunately, we didn't see any, but we did have a lovely time.
So, a magical day!
Parting is such sweet sorrow, but I'll be back with my next instalment tomorrow.
If you'd like to join Philippa and I on a Tudor-themed tour next year then you can find out more and register at https://www.britishhistorytours.com/history-tours
Here are a few photos but I'll share more when I get back.
New Place and Nash's House:
Guildhall and Shakespeare's Schoolroom:
Holy Trinity Church: