A half-timbered building in Henley Street, with its extensive ground to the rear, was bought by Shakespeare's father, John, probably in two stages (in 1556 and 1575): there is good evidence, though,
that he was a tenant of one part, if not both, from at least 1552. This is the house where Shakespeare and his brothers and sisters were born and brought up.
As originally built, its plan was a simple rectangle, divided into, from north-west to south-east, a parlour with fireplace, an adjoining hall with a massive open hearth, and, beyond a cross passage, an
unheated chamber which probably served as John Shakespeare's workshop (he was a glovemaker and wool dealer). This arrangement was matched on the first floor by three chambers reached by a staircase
from the hall, probably where the present stairs are sited. By tradition, the chamber over the parlour is the birthroom. Later, a separate single-bay house, now known as Joan Hart's Cottage, was built
onto the north-west end of the house, and the present kitchen, with chamber over, added at the rear.
On John Shakespeare's death, the ownership of the premises passed to his son, William. By that date, Shakespeare was also the owner of New Place, the second largest house in Stratford, and had no need for
the Henley Street premises as a home for himself or his family. The main house was therefore leased out to Lewis Hiccox, who converted it into an inn, known as the Maidenhead (later the Swan and
Maidenhead). The small, one-bay house to the north-west was put to residential use. By the time of Shakespeare's death, it was occupied by his recently-widowed sister, Joan Hart. Under the terms of
Shakespeare's will, the ownership of the whole property (the inn and Joan Hart's cottage) passed to his elder daughter, Susanna; and then on her death in 1649, to her only child, Elizabeth, the
wife of Sir John Barnard. Elizabeth died in 1670, bequeathing it to Thomas Hart, the descendant of Shakespeare's sister, Joan, whose family had continued as tenants of the smaller house after her death
in 1646. The Harts remained owners of the whole property until 1806, when it was sold to a butcher, Thomas Court.
Photographs taken at this time reveal a dilapidated property, forming part of a terrace. Over the next fifteen years or so, the trustees, when funds permitted, restored the property, using the earliest
known drawing of the Birthplace as a model, but also taking into account surviving architectural evidence. The later houses, which had stood on either side, creating a terrace, were demolished.
By then the property had been redivided into two roughly equal parts. Court took over the running of the Swan and Maidenhead Inn, whilst the north-western part remained in the tenancy of Thomas Hornby, a
butcher, to whom the Harts had let it when they moved away from Stratford in the 1790s. On the death of Court's widow in 1846, the whole premises were put up for sale and purchased for the nation
the following year by a body of trustees, whose successors, incorporated by private Act of Parliament, manage the property today.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust completed the re-presentation of the Birthplace in April 2000. Rooms are furnished as accurately as possible to recreate the interiors as they might have been in the 1570s
and include a glover's workshop.