the illustrated shakespeare


In the latter years of Shakespeare's life, as he began to retire from his London life for Stratford, he purchased, what would become known as 'New Place', supposedly, for around £120. Living there from 1597 until his death in 1616, at the time, one of the largest houses in the town, purportedly the second largest (the largest being the College in Old Town, which, until the Reformation, had housed the priests who served the parish church). The original house was demolished during the 18th century, though its foundations and grounds can be seen, which includes a recreation of an Elizabethan Knot garden, containing colourful mixture of herbs and flowers, beyond which is the 'Great Garden' with its formal yew hedges.

John Leland, on his visit to Stratford-upon-Avon around 1540, included in his description of the town a 'praty howse of brike and tymbar', built by Hugh Clopton, who would later become Lord Mayor of London, opposite the Guild Chapel, referred to in his will as his 'Great House', and later as 'New Place'. The Cloptons sold New Place in 1567. Thirty years later, in 1597, it was acquired by William Shakespeare.

Ownership of the house descended through Shakespeare's family until the death of John Barnard, the second husband of Shakespeare's grand-daughter, Elizabeth, in 1674. It was then sold to Sir Edward Walker, who left it to his daughter, the wife of John Clopton. In this way it passed back into the ownership of the family that had built it. Around 1700, John Clopton radically altered, if not totally rebuilt, the house. Finally, in 1759, it was demolished by its last owner, the Reverend Francis Gastrell. There does survive a drawing, plan and description (all from memory) on which to base a re-construction of the house as it was in Shakespeare's day. A five-bay timbered house fronted the street, with buildings behind, grouped round a courtyard. In the centre of the courtyard was a well. This last feature still survives today, together with some foundations and cellars which have also been exposed.

With this property went a substantial amount of land comprising of both ground immediately to the rear of the house and large garden area reaching further down Chapel Lane in one direction and across the backs of neighbouring Chapel Street properties in the other. Over the years, some of the land has been built over, whilst other parts have become detached from where the New Place foundations lie. However, in the early 1860s the Shakespeare scholar, James Orchard Halliwell, led a fund-raising campaign to bring the premises back under a single ownership and to maintain them as a memorial to Shakespeare. This was achieved by 1876 and the property vested in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1891. Soon after the First World War the gardens were redesigned in a style which would have been familiar to Shakespeare: a geometric Knott Garden, immediately to the rear of the site of New Place, and the Great Garden beyond with its long border.

Today the site of New Place and the Knott Garden is reached through the neighbouring property to the north, Nash's House which itself contains furnishings of Shakespeare's period. The rooms on the lower level of the current building include some early seventeenth century oak furniture. Upstairs, there is an exhibition dealing with the history of Stratford-upon-Avon before and after Shakespeare. Named after a Mr. Thomas Nash, husband to Elizabeth, Shakespeare's grand-daughter, and is currently owned by the Shakespeare Trust