Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon has become a place of pilgrimage for the literary minded since the 18th century. Today, the house in Henley Street has been preserved by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is open to the public.
A Tour of Shakespeare’s Birthplace
The highlight of any visit to the house is the birth room itself. Located on the first floor, the room is dressed with traditional 16th-century wall-cloths and green and red textiles. The room is located above the parlor which would have been the warmest room in the house, and therefore the best place for the Bard’s heavily pregnant mother, Mary Arden, to rest.
In truth, there is no firm historical evidence that Shakespeare was actually born in this room at all, but circumstantial evidence suggests it is very likely.
You can find the parlor and hall on the ground floor where the young Shakespeare would have grown up and where his parents would have entertained guests. Interestingly, the parlor display features a bed which would have been a sign of John Shakespeare’s wealth.
The Hall (which sounds too grand for this small room) is where the Shakespeare family would have gathered at noon for the main meal of the day. A large, original fireplace features 16th-century cooking utensils including a spit for roasting.
The Glover’s Workshop
On the far side of Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a reconstructed workshop where John Shakespeare would have made gloves. John would have had animal carcasses carted in from local farms and butchers and tanned the leather in the garden – luckily, the reconstruction doesn’t include the original smells of the time!
He would also have had apprentices learning the glove making trade who were fed and housed in the attic. When you climb the stairs to the room above the workshop, be sure to glance up into the eaves and see where John’s apprentices would have lived.
Joan Hart’s Cottage
Shakespeare’s Birthplace is actually made up of two houses: the main Shakespeare residence occupies around four fifths of the building and the remainder belonged to Joan Hart, Shakespeare’s sister. It is suggested that John Shakespeare originally gave the cottage to his son when he married Anne Hathaway in 1582. William Shakespeare subsequently owned the cottage until his death in 1616 when he bequeathed it to his sister, Joan. She lived in the cottage with her family for the next 30 years and the house passed into the Hart family.
The Rear Wing
Shakespeare inherited the main house in 1601 when his father died. Although it’s believed that Shakespeare wasn’t living in the house during this period, he built a rear wing which now houses the kitchen and buttery. It is believed that this part of the house was used as a tavern called The Maidenhead – perhaps run by Shakespeare’s tenant. In the 18th century, the tavern was renamed The Swan and Maidenhead.