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Shakespeares Birthplace

Henley Street
CV37 6QW
Tel: 01789 204016
Fax:  01789 296083

From Stratford Tourist Information Centre proceed to the top of Bridge Street.  Turn into Henley Street which is to the right of Barclays Bank. This street is  pedestrianised. Continue up Henley Street and Shakespeare's Birthplace can be  found on the right-hand side.

 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.


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