William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, was a farmer’s daughter who grew up in the village of Wilmcote, three miles north of Stratford-upon-Avon. She would have lived in her family home from birth (sometime in the 1530s) until she married John Shakespeare in 1557 and moved to their house in Stratford-upon-Avon, now commonly know as Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
Today, Shakespeare enthusiasts can still visit Mary Arden’s House and tour the property in which she grew up.
Mary Arden’s House: A Guided Tour
Mary Arden’s House was a working farmhouse up until the 1960s and has been preserved as such. Therefore, features date from the eighteenth to the twentieth century.
Starting the tour from the front garden, visitors will notice an unusual feature: the original Tudor exterior walls of the house were rebuilt in brick during the eighteenth century. However, much of the building’s original timber frame structure still exists inside and has been dated back to 1514 by tree-ring analysis.
Visitors enter the main house via the living room, which features a twentieth century iron stove and a range of domestic artifacts typical of rural life from the past 100 years. This room is part of the original house built in 1514. A few years later, a new wing was constructed that now contains the dairy and a display of traditional cheese and butter making equipment.
The living room leads into the parlor, which houses the high-quality furniture reserved for special occasions. A grand, long-case clock dominates this room along with other dark-wood furniture.
At the back of the house is the kitchen displaying traditional clothes washing equipment. This room leads out to an enclosed farmyard.
The Surrounding Farm
Mary Arden’s Farm is now preserved as a living history experience, where visitors can see, hear and smell what life would have been like for a Tudor farmer. The experience really highlights the fact that Shakespeare was a “country bumpkin” at heart before his move to London. The rural environment from which he came is sometimes evident in his writing. For example, much of As You Like It is set in the Forest of Arden, the nearby woodland from which his mother’s family name derived.
The farm is home to countless rare breeds of farmyard animals and displays of historic farming tools. Regular talks and demonstrations throughout the day reveal the traditional skills needed to run a Tudor farm including wood chopping, cider pressing and cheese making.
A Case of Mistaken Identity
For hundreds of years, visitors have been marveling at the wrong house! Up until 2000, it was believed that Mary Arden’s childhood home was Palmer’s Farm, the white wood-framed building that faces the main road. Because of its size and prominent position, historians presumed that this house was the Arden family home.
In 2000, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust commissioned new research and revealed that Glebe Farm, the smaller property at the back of the farm, was in fact Mary Arden’s house.
By lucky coincidence, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had acquired Glebe Farm in 1968 when the last owners died and the land was to be sold to developers. The property was bought to preserve the character of the farm many years before anyone had suspicions that it was of historical importance.