the illustrated shakespeare


This half-timbered building in Henley Street is the suggested birthplace of William Shakespeare. The interior is well preserved, with furniture dating from Elizabethan times. With extensive ground to the rear, it was bought by Shakespeare's father, John, probably in two stages (in 1556 and 1575), though there is good evidence, that he was a tenant of one part, if not both, from at least 1552.

Shakespeare's birthplace is Stratford's most popular historic structure. Being the most frequently visited of all the tourist places. Descendants of the dramatist lived there until the nineteenth century, and it has been a place of pilgrimage for over 250 years.

As originally built, its plan was a simple rectangle, divided into, from north-west to south-east, a parlour with fireplace, an adjoining hall with a massive open hearth, and, beyond a cross passage, an unheated chamber which probably served as John Shakespeare's workshop (working as a glove maker and wool dealer). This arrangement was matched on the first floor by three chambers reached by a staircase from the hall, probably where the present stairs are sited. By tradition, the chamber over the parlour is the birth room. Later, a separate single-bay house, now known as Joan Hart's Cottage, was built onto the north-west end of the house, and the present kitchen, with chamber over, added at the rear.

On John Shakespeare's death, the ownership of the premises passed to his son, William. By that date, Shakespeare was also the owner of New Place, and had little need for the Henley Street premises. As a result, the main house was leased out to a Mr. Lewis Hiccox, who converted it to an inn, known as originally as the 'Maidenhead', later the 'Swan and Maidenhead'. The small, one-bay house to the north-west was put to residential use. By the time of Shakespeare's death, it was occupied by his recently-widowed sister, Joan Hart. Under the terms of Shakespeare's will, the ownership of the whole property (the inn and Joan Hart's cottage) passed to his elder daughter, Susanna; and then on her death in 1649, to her only child, Elizabeth, the wife of Sir John Barnard. Elizabeth died in 1670, bequeathing it to Thomas Hart, the descendant of Shakespeare's sister, Joan, whose family had continued as tenants of the smaller house after Joan's death in 1646. The Harts remained owners of the whole property until 1806, when it was sold to a butcher, Thomas Court.

By then the property had been again divided into two roughly equal parts. Court took over the running of the Swan and Maidenhead Inn, whilst the north-western part remained in the tenancy of Thomas Hornby, a butcher, to whom the Harts had let when they moved away from Stratford in the 1790s. On the death of Court's widow in 1846, the whole premises were put up for sale and purchased for the nation the following year by a body of trustees, whose successors, incorporated by private Act of Parliament, manage the property today.

Photographs taken at this time show the property in a dilapidated state, forming part of a terrace. Over the next fifteen years or so, the trustees, when funds permitted, restored the property, using the earliest known drawing of the Birthplace as a model, but also taking into account surviving architectural evidence. The later houses, which had stood on either side, creating a terrace, were demolished.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust completed the re-presentation of the Birthplace in April 2000. Rooms are furnished as accurately as possible to recreate the interiors as they might have been in the 1570s and include a Glover's workshop