Visit Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, on the west bank of the River Avon, stands at the hub of many radiating trunk roads, the A34, A46, A422 and A439 among them. It is perhaps the least spoilt “cult town” in the world. It has kept its essential character of a thriving Midland market town. Not only does it possess fine 15th- and l6th-century timber-framed houses but has a good Georgian overlay. However, it cannot be denied that its later prosperity has derived considerably from the fact that on or about 23 April 1564 William Shakespeare was born here and a few days later baptized in the Parish Church of Holy Trinity. Yet it was through the enthusiasm of the actor David Garnck some 200 years later that a Shakespeare Festival was first held. The idea slowly began to attract visitors to the town over the next 100 years and that attraction has now grown and raised Stratford to become England's prime tourist centre outside London.
There was a Bronze Age settlement here and a Romano-British village. A monastery was founded in Anglo-Saxon days and by 1196 the Bishop of Worcester granted the town the right to hold a weekly market. Its growing prosperity led to independence and by the 13th century the great Church of Holy Trinity was being built, and at the same time the prosperous and powerful Guild of the Holy Cross built its chapel. The guild generally assumed the powers of municipal government. Henry VIII suppressed it in 1547. The guild was replaced by a bailiff, 14 aldermen and 14 burgesses. In 1568 the office of bailiff was held by John Shakespeare, William's father. Little is known of Shakespeare's boyhood other than that he went to school in Stratford. In 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, a women eight years his senior. in 1590 he had met William Alleyn, the actor who was to found Dulwich College. About this time Christopher Marlowe made a marked impression on him. By 1592 Queen Elizabeth, her court and the citizens of London had shown their approval of the playwright and in 1597 he was able to buy New Place, regarded as the finest house in Stratford. By 1603 he had been summoned to the court of James I as a member of the King's Players. Between 1610 and 1612 he often spoke of retiring permanently to his native town and possibly did so in the latter year. Four years later on 23 April 1616, his 52nd birthday, Shakespeare died. His tomb in Holy Trinity Church is incised with the following lines:
Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare
To digg the dust encloased heare!
Bleste be the man that spares the stones
And curst be he that moves my bones.
Among the many buildings in Stratford that have direct association with Shakespeare are the reputed and likely birthplace in Henley Street; a glorious Tudor gabled house, Halls Croft, in the Old Town, where John Hall who married Shakespeare's daughter Susanna lived; Anne Hathaway's cottage at Shottery; New Place, the playwright's own home; and just outside of the town Clopton House which is well signposted. Much useful information may be had from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which has its centre comprising museum, library and records collection in a building in Henley Street, opened in 1964. This was designed by Laurance Williams and has some fine engravings on the glass doors by John Hutton, who did similar work for Coventry Cathedral. The statue of Shakespeare inside the building was the work of Douglas Wain Hobson.
The existence of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was due to the enthusiasm and liberality of Charles Edward Flower, the brewer. He first established the Shakespeare Memorial Association. The first theatre was opened in 1879 and over the years demand rapidly outgrew availability of seats. In 1932 the present theatre, by Elizabeth Scott, a cousin of the architect Sir Giles Scott, was opened — fire destroyed the old one in 1926.
There is much to see in Stratford-upon-Avon quite apart from the Shakespearean connections. The 14-arched Clopton Bridge is most visitors' gateway into the town. It was built by Sir Hugh Clopton between 1480 and 1490. The Town Hall at the top of Sheep Street is a fine Palladian building erected in 1767 by Robert Newman. Harvard House on the High Street, between Ely Street and Wood Street, dates from 1596. Thomas Rogers built the house, and his initials and those of his wife, Anne, are carved on the front of the house. Their daughter Katherine married Robert Harvard of Southwark and it was their son, John, who founded Harvard University in the United States. The Falcon Hotel has some of the most attractive timberwork in the town and has not been marred by the modernization achieved at the rear of the building. Opposite the Falcon the Guild Chapel on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane has some remains of a remarkable medieval fresco of the Last Judgment. Next to it stands the ancient Guildhall and next to that the almshouses founded by the guild in the 15th century.
The Bancroft Gardens and walks are well laid out and by the Avon can be seen Holy Trinity with its Georgian pastiche steeple, which was erected in 1763.
The Canal Wharf on the Birmingham Canal is most attractive and the southern section of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal has been completely restored by the National Trust. This canal was first opened in 1816 and has unusual interest because its sections were constructed at different periods with different engineers. Each stamped his own individuality in the bridges and lockhouses which were built.
Stratford-upon-Avon in its original role as a Warwickshire market town is best seen on market day. It is perhaps as well that Stratford's own unique celebration, the annual Mop Fair, is held out of the tourist season on 12 October. This was the day in pre-Tudor times when farmworkers and apprentices offered themselves for hire. The mayor, aldermen and macebearers preside at the Roasting of the Ox. Country-dancers compete with pop-singers. The scene cannot be much different from the days when wandering players and jugglers from Coventry set up their carts on this day to entertain the townsfolk.
Four miles East of Stratford-upon-Avon is Charlecote Hall, home of the Lucy family since the 12th century. A turning North off the B4086 runs alongside Charlecote Park with views of an Elizabethan house, rebuilt in 1558. The octagonal towered gatehouse is completely unaltered since that time. The house, expanded in the 19th century, is now owned by the National Trust. It has much fine furniture and paintings acquired by the Lucys over the ages. It was in the Deer Park, with two rivers flowing through it which meet near the house, that Shakespeare is alleged to have been arrested for deer poaching.
Nearby towns: Alcester, Banbury, Evesham, Henley-in-Arden, Royal Leamington Spa, Shipston on Stour, Warwick
Nearby villages: Admington, Alderminster, Alveston, Aston Cantlow, Bearley, Bidford, Billesley, Binton, Bishops Tachbrook, Black Hill, Broom, Charlecote, Church Honeybourne, Claverdon, Combrook, Compton Verney, Ettington, Exhall, Great Alne, Grove Park, Halford, Hampton Lucy, Honeybourne, Honington, Ilmington, Mickleton, Newbold on Stour, Norton Lindsey, Pebworth, Preston Bagot, Quinton, Redhill, Sherbourne, Shottery, Snitterfield, Temple Grafton, Tredington, Wasperton, Wellesbourne, Wellesbourne Mountfo, Weston-on-Avon, Whatcote, Wilmcote, Wixford, Wolverton, Wootton Wawen
Have you decided to visit Stratford-upon-Avon or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Stratford-upon-Avon bed and breakfast (a Stratford-upon-Avon B&B or Stratford-upon-Avon b and b)
- a Stratford-upon-Avon guesthouse
- a Stratford-upon-Avon hotel (or motel)
- a Stratford-upon-Avon self-catering establishment, or
- other Stratford-upon-Avon accommodation