About Shakespeare’s Birthplace
The birthplace of world-famous Elizabethan playwright, William Shakespeare, is a restored 16th century house along Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The house is believed to be the place where Shakespeare was born in 1564 and where he spent his childhood.
In the present day, the house on Henley Street is a museum operated by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and is a site of pilgrimage for many a lover of literature.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace history
Whether the origins of the building on Henley Street date back to the 15th or 16th century are disputed. However, by 1552, John Shakespeare was living at the house and that year was fined for leaving a pile of muck on the street outside his home. At the time, John was renting the house and had it divided into 2 parts so that one half functioned as a dwelling and the other operated as his glove-making business.
The house was typical of the time, constructed with wattle and daub around a local oak frame and blue-grey stones. A separate single-bay house known as Joan Hart’s Cottage was later built onto the end of the house when a kitchen was added at the back. The house on Henley Street remained in the family, handed to William Shakespeare‘s daughter.
As Shakespeare bought his own home in Stratford-upon-Avon, he leased the house out when his father died and it was converted into the Maidenhead inn. By the time of Shakespeare’s death in 1616, the house was lived in by his widowed sister, Joan Hart. Shakespeare’s will determined the whole property would go to his eldest daughter, Susanna, and after her daughter’s death in 1670, it returned to the Hart family.
The house fell into disrepair until a newfound interest in the 18th century, as literary notables such as Charles Dickens and Lord Byron began visiting Shakespeare’s Birthplace. On their visits, they signed their names into the walls and windows, come of which can still be seen today.
After the last tenant died, an American showman suggested buying and shipping the home to the US. The keen response by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was to raise money to by the house in 1847 for £3,000. Restoration work soon followed and surrounding buildings were removed to reduce the fire risk.
Shakespeare’s Birthplace today
Today, Shakespeare’s Birthplace is joined by the Shakespeare Centre – a modern glass and concrete building that contrasts with the Tudor Henley Street house. The visitor’s centre displays not only Shakespeare-related exhibits, but houses the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Once inside the house of Shakespeare’s childhood, you are transported back to family life complete with period furniture and John Shakespeare’s glove workshop. The walled garden also provides a slice of the past, containing only flowers and herbs known in Shakespeare’s time. Allow at least an hour to explore Shakespeare’s Birthplace, which is open Saturday through Wednesday from 10am to 4pm.
Getting to Shakespeare’s Birthplace
By car, Stratford-upon-Avon is just off Junction 15 off the M40, near the M42 and M6, and can be reached from London in under 2 hours. There are several car parks in the town centre. The X50 and 2 buses will stop along the A3400, running parallel to Henley Street.