Newest Review: ... interesting bits here, but overall I found the idea of a video tour annoying. It is impersonal, as you have no real person to ask questions... more
Birthplace of the Bard!
Shakespeare's Birthplace (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Member Name: karenuk
Shakespeare's Birthplace (Stratford-upon-Avon)
Advantages: The house itself is lovely and historically important!
Disadvantages: The video tour part is restrictive and uninspiring!
Shakespeare's Birthplace is situated in Henley Street, which is in the centre of Stratford, CV37 6QW. It is open every day except Christmas Day. Under fives are free and there are currently extended summer opening hours (until 6pm), which is between June and August. On Fridays (until 26th August), there are twice daily Cradle to Grave guided walks available too.
We paid £19.50 each for an adult five house pass to all the Shakespeare's Houses and Gardens (Shakespeare's Birthplace, Nash's House and New Place, Hall's Croft, Anne Hathaway's Cottage and Mary Arden's Farm). These tickets are valid for twelve months, so you can return and visit them again for free. Children are £12 each, with Concessions £17.50.
You can also purchase a Shakespeare's Birthplace Ticket for entrance to the three attractions within central Stratford (Shakespeare's Birthplace, Hall's Croft, Nash's House and New Place), which costs £12.50 for adults, £8 for children and £11.50 for concessions.
The first impression you get of the exterior is how pretty the old house is and as you would expect, it is a great photo opportunity. While we were there, there was a large Japanese party posing for photographs outside.
The house is to the right as you look at it, with the entrance to the exhibition on the left in a much more modern building. It has a sign on it in large letters saying The Shakespeare Centre and Shakespeare's Birthplace Entrance. This is where you need to go first to buy your ticket and enter the exhibition.
First, you follow the video tour, which is called "Life, Love and Legacy - An introduction to William Shakespeare". There are some interesting bits here, but overall I found the idea of a video tour annoying. It is impersonal, as you have no real person to ask questions, you just have information presented to you on video. It is tightly timed as well, so you have to move around to the next bit when you're told to by the video, rather than linger at interesting bits and move past dull parts at a faster pace! Lights come on and off to illustrate various artefacts and if you're not near enough to them at the time, you miss out, as you can't see them when it's dark. So, not a format I was incredibly keen on!
There are some good parts of it though, including a nice model of the Globe Theatre and a video montage of how Shakespeare permeates our culture even today - including a clip from the Doctor Who story The Shakespeare Code starring David Tennant. There are also many stills and clips from various Shakespearean plays which have been made into films and television dramas, so you can spot famous people like Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judi Dench and Leonardo Di Caprio in them.
After this, you walk through a Hall of Fame with pictures of famous actors who have played major Shakespearean roles, then you leave this part and walk through the gardens and into the old house itself. The gardens aren't as impressive as at the other Shakespearean places, but they are pretty enough. You can see performances here sometimes, in the house and gardens - something called Shakespeare Aloud! - though none took place while we were there. The Birthplace garden dates from the mid-19th Century and features many plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. There is also a bust of Rabindranath Tagore, a famous Indian poet and philosopher, but I did not find it a particularly inspiring garden, when compared to the ones of the other Shakespearean properties.
As for the house, it was William's parents - John and Mary Shakespeare - who lived here and owned it. William had two younger brothers and two younger sisters in 1574, which is when the look of the house is based. William also spent five years living here with his wife Anne, just after they were married and they probably stayed in the two-roomed cottage, which was later added on. (William was just 18 years old, Anne was 26 and three months' pregnant with Susanna when they were married.) Susanna Hall inherited the house in 1616, after William died.
The birthplace was owned by Shakespeare's descendants until the late 18th Century. It was put up for sale and in 1847, the Shakespeare Birthday Committee bought it so it could be kept for the country. It was restored in the 1860s. It boasts that it has retained "many of the original internal structures" including the hearths and rear window positions. There are also "rare items of middle-class 16th Century furniture" in the house as well as replica textiles and items. It is a shame there is not more authentic items that exist though, as quite a few things looked rather exciting, but then reading the information notes, you would discover it was "possibly" or "probably" connected to Shakespeare or his family. Even the ring on display in the exhibition has disputed authenticity - it has a W.S. engraved on it and was found in the grounds of a nearby church, but they have no real proof it belonged to Shakespeare. This is an important point to note and I did feel slightly disappointed not to be able to see more authentic items, but it was a LONG time ago and at least the houses give visitors a good impression of what life was like at the time and how the houses would have looked during Shakespeare's lifetime.
There were a few people around to answer questions and give little talks explaining the history of the place. I liked these and would have welcomed more really, as it's much more interesting listening to the guides than just reading bits of information on the walls. They were dressed in costumes of the time and varied in their interest and enthusiasm for the topic, with the young man in the glover's shop seeming quite shy and quiet, while the older man in the birthroom was much better!
I liked the decor of this house the best, especially the walls covered by brightly coloured drapes, which looked very pretty. The female tour guide explained there was a bed situated in the living room because beds were very expensive then (She said the local Head Teacher of the school earned £20 a year and a bed cost £10.) so it would be a status symbol and there for everyone to see, as well as being available for guests to stay in.
My favourite room was Shakespeare's birthroom containing a large bed, a baby's crib and a little bed which pulled out from underneath the big one. The tour guide in here explained the smaller bed was made with strings pulled across then a straw mat or similar on top and this is how the saying about sleep being "a little ropey" came about. Similarly, the hope that someone will "sleep tight" is because the ropes of the bed had to be kept taut for it to be comfortable.
The house was also where John (William's father) conducted his business from. He was a glover, making leather gloves. He had a barn and workshops at the back and a room he used as his shop. This is set out as the glove shop now and there was a young man there explaining about it and you could try on various gloves if you wished.
On the way out of the house, there is a gift shop, which had a good variety of souvenirs from cheap to quite expensive. You could buy cuddly bears, souvenir mugs, tea towels, T-shirts, bookmarks, Shakespearean figures, books of his works, postcards, history books, as well as souvenir chocolate, fudge and preserves.
Overall, it is worth visiting at least once and if you buy the five-house ticket, it works out good value to see all of the attractions for less than £20 each. The exhibition has many faults, but the house is lovely and you can also take photos, which we did, though you are not allowed to use a flash inside the old house.
Summary: A culturally and historically important attraction.