“ Museum, pub, Micro brewery and gift shop. Bridgefoot, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6YY. tel = =44(0)1789 404600. „
Every 6 months or so I make a ‘pilgrimage’ to Stratford-Upon-Avon to visit my Dentist and to see my Mum who still lives in my hometown. Although I live near Reading, I still visit my family Dentist – perhaps I am happy with him! Anyway, after a period lying in the Dentist’s chair being prodded and polished (not to mention the bill); Mum and I set off to hit the town. Well – go for a cup of coffee – it was about 11am and the wind was whistling up from the River Avon. Parking the car in the Bridgefoot Car Park (opposite the Hilton Hotel), and shoving £1.20 in the machine for 3 hours parking – we crossed the Bridgefoot Road and noticed a new complex where once had been a timber mill. This my friends is a roundabout introduction to Cox’s Yard and my impressions of it. The Complex ========== Cox’s Yard is a collection of various entertainment venues. I know this sounds vague, but as I write this I cannot think of anything better. The centre as I mentioned previously is based on Cox’s Yard, which was where they cut timber bought in on the nearby canal and river. It comprises a number of restored historical buildings complemented by some new ones. It is owned by Charles Wells, the Brewer from Bedford famous for their Bombardier ale. It was built around 1998, though I haven’t seen it in on my previous visits to Stratford. Upon entering the site from the Bridgefoot end, you will discover: * The Jester (a Pub) * A Restaurant * Micro Brewery * Gift Shop * Tea rooms and gallery * Conference Rooms * The Stratford Tales Museum Cox’s Yard is right next to the River Avon and an island (actually a nature reserve) where there are loads of ducks, geese, swans and other waterfowl. For an area where people drink, you would have thought that a rail would have been provided to stop you walking off the end into the water
after a few too many beers. There isn’t and we will come back to that one later. The centre is next to Bancroft Gardens, the river and canal and the main theatre at the bottom end of the town. If you head for the Tourist Information Centre, which is in the vicinity, they will provide you with a map and/or point you in the right direction. Now I’m probably going to disappoint you by not describing all the facilities. This is because of 2 main reasons. Firstly when I visited Cox’s Yard it was a cold February day and it was 11am when the pub and restaurant weren’t open. But, we did wander around most of it. So lets start with that coffee: The Tea Shop =========== As someone who has worked in the Stratford Tourist Industry, the town only comes to life from about Easter onwards. This is when the new season starts at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the coach loads of tourists decide that it is warm enough to venue outside. If you are operating a tourist venue outside of the season – it can be dead! It was quiet in the Tea Shop. Other than another family who like us had escaped out of the cold, it was empty. The single person on duty was deeply engrossed in her book. We both went for coffee though we decided not to bother with the mocha when we discovered that our assistant had not yet learnt to make one! I went for a mint coffee for about £1.60 per cup and upon it arriving on the table – struggled to detect a difference in taste between a minty coffee and my Mum’s non-minty coffee. I didn’t have the heart to complain – she would have probably owned up to not knowing how to make a minty coffee. The shop sold the sort of things a teashop does – though we weren’t overly impressed. What did impress us was a framed copy of a planning decision from Stratford District Council dated 1998. They had refused planning permission for a rail next to the river
because it would have been not in keeping with the look of the nearby waterside. So if you walk of the edge into the River because of a lack of lighting or too much drink – you have Stratford District Council to thank! Microbrewery =========== Situated next to the pub is the Microbrewery where they make Jester Ale. There are regular talks on brewing each Wednesday afternoon (it says in the leaflet). It was closed when we were there – so I can’t really comment on it. Sorry! Jester Pub ======== It was closed when we visited, but a quick ‘butchers’ through the window gave the impression of a large building with many levels and a large collection of ‘wine bar’ type seating. Gift Shop ======= We passed through one of this en-route to the Museum. The merchandise was up market – something that is quite the norm in Stratford. What ruined it was the loud Radio 1 musak in the shop. Presumably it was there for the benefit of the solitary shop assistant who like her Coffee Shop counterpart – had a lot of time to kill. There were toilets (including disabled) in the shop – but these were all out of order when we were there. The Stratford Tales Museum ====================== We were about to leave Cox’s Yard when we made an on the spur of the moment decision to visit the museum. Its entrance is via the Gift Shop. Admission is £3.95 per adult, £2.50 for children and £3.25 for concessions. The Museum is actually located in the old Timber building on three levels, all accessible by stairs and lift. On the first level is a Camera Obscura. From here you can see views of Stratford including the Avon, the Theatre and the Welcome Hotel. The camera is located on the top of a brick tower in the yard and it roams around automatically, the image is displayed on a table-top like screen. Also on the same level are d
etails of how Stratford developed in the middle ages. It was granted a charter to hold markets and this bought a great deal of wealth to the town. Being close to a river and the canal system also gave it transportation advantages. Moving up the stairs to the second level, we found information about the building of the canal system. In an adjoining room was an exhibition about the “The Dillen”. A dillen was the runt of a series of children and this expression was applied to George Henry Hewins – an ordinary bloke who lived in Stratford in the late 19th Century, early 20th Century. Upon entering the room, you switch off the light, start the projector and watch a summary of his life. The Royal Shakespeare Company put on some plays about the Dillen about 10-15 years ago. It makes a change from hearing about the “great and the good” all the time. And onto the top floor. This resembles and attic and contains loads of knick-knacks from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There are also interpretation boards up there explaining about some of the lesser known things about Stratford’s history. These include: * The great fire of Stratford in the Seventeenth century * The Civil War – Stratford was right in the middle of the conflict * Life on the canal * Marie Corelli – the novelist, conservationist and philanthropist, who lived in the town and cruised down the Avon on a gondola. Mindful of her image, she had her photographs ‘touched up’ to make her look more beautiful. Shakespeare is mentioned very little. What I found was very interesting was some information on the ‘Mop’ Fairs. Although they are still held in Stratford this day in October as a funfair, their original purpose was as an agricultural hiring fair. Most agricultural labour was casual in previous centuries, and with the complet
ion of harvesting, many workers needed work for the winter. The Mop was held to bring employers and employees together. Those seeking work wore a ribbon denoting their trade so they could be easily identified. Upon being hired, they were paid a fee, which was then spent in the local pubs! With many hands looking for work, traders came to the town to sell their wares and hence the Mop was born. If you didn’t like your new employer, you had a second chance. Two weeks later is held the ‘Runaway Mop’ where you could switch employers. It is still held today. Both fairs close most of the centre of Stratford and my Mum mentioned that the District is trying to restrict both fairs. More Information ============= To find out more about Cox’s Yard: Ring them on – (01789) 404633 Email them at – Info@coxsyard.co.uk Visit their web-site at – www.coxsyard.co.uk Its open from 9am to 11pm throughout the year. Conclusions ========= February isn’t a good time to visit centres like this. It’s out of season and a bit chilly. We didn’t visit many of the facilities either. The Museum is okay for a wander but is expensive at £3.95 compared with say the Museum of London and the Science Museum. It has some interesting exhibits – but is a bit so so. The rest of the complex is okay – but is nothing special. Charles Wells have tried hard to do a bit of re-generation, but there are many schemes about which are far bigger and more interesting than this one. Someone ought to stop members of public from falling into the river by providing a handrail. It would seem that preserving a certain ambience is more important than preserving life. Councils can make daft decisions! If you do go, do visit the Coffee Shop and give the server more experience of making mocha’s! So to finish it off – it̵
7;s ‘Much ado about nothing’.