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Guide to Stratford-upon-Avon – the place of Shakespeare’s birth and death

Thu 10 Nov 2016

It is a must-visit destination in the UK all year round but a special time to go is when the town celebrates the poet’s birthday, which is the nearest weekend to 23rd April.  This year is an extra special year and it marks the 400th anniversary of his death.

Stratford-upon-Avon has an estimated population of 27,445 but it attracts visitors from around the world that regularly exceed 4.9 million a year, making this small town more popular than the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids.

The town is over 800 years old and the name in Old English means "street".  Visitors can easily spend a day taking in the culture, history and natural beauty. And whilst the majority of visitors come because it is the birthplace of William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon has an esteemed industrial past and was once the gateway to the British canal network from the South West before the road and rail networks took over.

The town was also a thriving market town where from the 15th–19th centuries the town was at the heart of the sheep, wool and tanning trade.

This is all forgotten history because in 1564 William Shakespeare was born to John and Mary Shakespeare in a house on Henley Street, one of the oldest streets in Stratford upon Avon.

William Shakespeare's Home

William Shakespeare's home as a child 

William was educated at the local grammar school, which is still standing only a short distance from his house on Henley Street.

He completed his education at 15 and started courting Anne Hathaway. The picturesque Thatched cottage that Anne grew up in can also be visited in the nearby village of Shottery, which is about a mile west of Stratford-upon-Avon.

Anne Hathaway's childhood home

 Anne Hathaway's childhood home - Image courtesy of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

At the age of 18 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. It is speculated that she was already expecting their first child, Susanna when they married.  They went on to have twins, Hamnet and Judith in 1585, but Hamnet died at 11 years old and is buried in Stratford upon Avon.

In 1590 Shakespeare wrote his first play, Henry VI, Part One, in Stratford-upon-Avon and in 1592 he left to pursue his career as a playwright and actor in London. His wife, Anne, remained behind to raise their children. 

His connections with the town remained strong. In May 1597, Shakespeare bought the second largest house in the town, New Place, and was listed as a resident there in 1598.

It is believed that Shakespeare returned to live in Stratford-upon-Avon by 1913. On 25 March 1616, he signed his will. He was already a sick man, and on 25 April 1616 he was buried in Holy Trinity Church in the town, where he had been baptised just fifty-two years earlier.

Holy Trinity Church - Stratford upon Avon

Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried

The first real theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon was a temporary wooden affair built in 1769 commissioned by the actor David Garrick for the Shakespeare Jubilee celebrations of that year to mark Shakespeare's birthday. The theatre, built not far from the site of the present Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was almost washed away in two days of torrential rain that resulted in terrible flooding.

Today you can go to see the Royal Shakespeare theatre which was built in 1932 in honour of William Shakespeare, arguably the best English language playwright in the world.

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