By Cassidy Cash, That Shakespeare Girl
When you love William Shakespeare, England represents a kind of Mecca where faithful followers of the bard hope to make a pilgrimage to walk in the footsteps of the world’s greatest playwright. When you finally do make that trip over to the holy land of bard lovers, you want to be sure you see all the key places. Here are the top twelve spots curated by That Shakespeare Girl to make sure you don’t head home until you’ve seen the most important stops on the ultimate Shakespeare adventure.
1. Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Located on Henley Street in Stratford Upon Avon, the most iconic stop for any bard lover is Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Situated conspicuously right in the middle of a busy and crowded street, is Shakespeare’s birthplace. When you walk through the exquisitely maintained Tudor home, you can stand in the very room where a young William took his first breath of life, and where he rather miraculously survived childhood despite many bouts of plague literally right outside his door for the first several years of his life.
Don’t miss items: Make sure you ask the costumed guide to take a picture with you beside the large picture window upstairs. Then as you’re headed out, stop by the glass enclosed window that’s been preserved and see if you can spot a signature of some of the most famous men in the world who also made this pilgrimage before you. If you look close enough, you might spot Sir Walter Raleigh, Charles Dickens, or even Oscar Wilde.
2. Holy Trinity Church
England’s most visited Parish Church sits just around the corner from the Royal Shakespeare Company, on Old Town in Stratford Upon Avon. Housed behind a large stone wall just across from the River Thames sits a humble church with a gorgeous exterior. Walk down a tree lined path to enter the sanctuary and behold Shakespeare’s grave, with the foreboding curse warning visitors against moving his bones.
Don’t miss items: Make sure to stop and look at the other graves inside Holy Trinity Church. You’ll notice that Judith Quiney’s grave is obviously missing from the family graves laid to rest at Holy Trinity Church. No one knows exactly why she isn’t there. Can you find her? Pay close attention to the large stained glass window before you arrive at Shakespeare’s grave, that was a gift to the town of Stratford Upon Avon from the United States. Holy Trinity Church also has a special little gift shop where you’ll want to pick up a memento of your visit to this incredible church.
3. New Place
As you walk down Chapel Street in Stratford Upon Avon, you’ll come upon a glittering set of gates that mark the spot where 33 year old William Shakespeare bought the second largest house in town in 1597. While the original house is now demolished, the site contains a floor map you can walk through of what archaeologists believe is the outline of the original structure. What is really the star of this stop, though, are the gardens. From the knot garden to the medicinal herb gardens, there’s more Shakespeare history than meets the eye and you’ll need a keen eye to find it, but once you do, it’s unforgettable.
Don’t miss items: Nash’s House was once connected to New Place, and now is an adjacent building. Shakespeare’s daughter once entertained Queen Henrietta, wife of King Charles I, here at New Place. At the rear of New Place an old mulberry tree grows, and legend holds the tree is descended from an old tree planted by Shakespeare. After you go through the gate, keep walking, pass through the Tudor Knot garden and go on to the Great Garden. There, you’ll find the Wild Bank of plants which were mentioned in Shakespeare’s works.
4. Schoolroom & Guildhall
Within walking distance of New Place is Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall on Church Street in Stratford Upon Avon. William Shakespeare attended King Edward VI grammar school and the old schoolroom is still there. You can walk through the very room where a young William Shakespeare read his first play, and performed in the annual school performance. Described as “one of the most atmospheric, magical and important buildings in the whole of Britain” by historian and broadcaster, Michael Wood, and within walking distance of Shakespeare’s birthplace, this spot is definitely on the list of don’t miss places.
Don’t miss items: Practice your Tudor school lessons, and write with a real quill and ink. You can also dress up like a Tudor student and take a photo of yourself to keep. Make sure you check out the medieval wall paintings at the Guildhall, and don’t forget to stop at the cute gift shop on the way out (there are really neat Shakes-bears there!)
5. Guild Chapel
If you continue down Church Street in Stratford Upon Avon until it connects with Chapel Lane, you’ll run right into the Guild Chapel. Built by the Guild of the Holy Cross, the prominent religious and social organisation grew to become central to medieval life in Stratford-upon-Avon. During the English Reformation, the paintings on the walls of the Guild Chapel were ordered to be removed, and it was Shakespeare’s father–John Shakespeare–who, as town bailiff, was in charge of making sure that happened. Rather than erase or demolish them, however, John Shakespeare lime washed over the paintings, preserving them. 45o years later, they were uncovered, revealing a slice of what life was like for ordinary townspeople in Stratford Upon Avon almost 500 years ago.
Don’t miss items: Make sure you stop and see all the frescos, walk all the way to the back of the chapel and really take your time with them. The paintings look more like graffiti, really, than high art, but contemplating what they might have represented for Shakespeare and his fellow townspeople before they were washed over is endlessly fascinating.
6. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
Located far enough away from Shakespeare’s Birthplace that I would recommend taking a cab, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage sits on Cottage Lane in Shottery. Well worth the effort to get there, this cottage is the place where Anne Hathaway lived with her family until she married William. Cottage makes the place sound small, but originally it contained over 90 acres of land, and the building itself has 12 rooms. It belonged to the Hathaway family until the late 1800s when it was bought by Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The Trust removed the additions and alterations which had been made to the original structure and returned it to the state you could have expected to see it in Shakespeare’s day. Known as Hewlands Farm when Shakespeare was wooing the young Anne Hathaway, the house is now attached to beautiful gardens and is open as a museum.
Don’t miss items: Make sure you take a look at the wooing chair, which Shakespeare is thought to have sat in to woo Anne Hathaway. There is also a bench right as you start to leave the self-guided tour, and you can see knicks in the side where entrepreneurial family members once tried to sell pieces of a bench said to have belonged to Shakespeare.
7. Mary Arden’s Farm
Another short but worth it cab ride, Mary Arden’s Farm is located on Station Road in Wilmcote (a short distance from Stratford Upon Avon). A working farm, Mary Arden’s farm is designed to show you what kind of livestock and animal life would have been living in Stratford Upon Avon when Shakespeare was a resident there. Mary Arden was William’s mother, and her father Robert, was a member of the Guild of the Holy Cross (which painted the ancient paintings at the Guild Chapel we mentioned earlier). This farm represents the family home where Mary lived up until she married John Shakespeare the late 16th century.
Don’t miss items: At the farm you can see many livestock animals, and you can even learn about falconry, the popular tudor sport so often mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. This excursion costs extra and you do have to call ahead to confirm availability, but when it’s on offer, you can fly beautiful owls and Harris hawks while learning about how their ancestors were used by the Tudors (and possibly Shakespeare himself) for hunting and sport.
8. Hall’s Croft
Back in Stratford Upon Avon on Old Town (Near Holy Trinity Church) is Hall’s Croft. Built in 1613, three years before Shakespeare died, Hall’s Croft is the home of John Hall and Susanna, Shakespeare’s first born daughter. The structure is impressive and includes architecture styles that reflect John Hall held a considerable amount of wealth and status. The displays inside the home additionally add to the Hall’s high society reputation, commiserate with his role as a town medic. In addition to the gorgeous home, the property contains a substantial walled garden with elaborate roses and beautiful borders.
Don’t miss items: There is an apothecary setup here at Hall’s Croft that, while not original to the property or Dr. Hall, the apothecary does showcase some of the medicines and tools it is believed John Hall might have used. There is also a medicinal herb garden here which features many of the herbs Shakespeare’s talks about in his plays, and walking through these gardens with John Hall is one way historians believe Shakespeare would have acquired the medicinal knowledge about plants we find referenced in his works.
9. The Globe theater
You’ll have to travel to London to get to this one, but once there travel to 21 New Globe Walk in Bankside London, and you’ll discover a replica of the theater that started it all! The Globe theater is William Shakespeare’s first theater, which he founded with his friend and colleague, James Burbage. By 1599, the Globe was well established and for 14 years the Globe theater dominated the stage performance industry in London hosting some of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. While the original structure was destroyed in 1644 as a result of the Puritan movement, the structure there now is a painstakingly detailed recreation, which utilized 16th century construction methods and materials to bring Shakespeare’s greatest theater back to life.
Don’t miss items: Make sure you take time to learn about Sam Wanamaker and stop in to see the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, an indoor theater similar (but not a replica) to the Blackfriars. Sam Wanamaker was an American actor passionate about Shakespeare and it was his vision for a recreated Globe which means posterity can enjoy the glorious Globe theater once more.
10. River Thames
This river runs through the heart of London and would be incredibly hard to miss, but just in case you are not aware of the significance of the river to Shakespeare, stop and pay attention. In Shakespeare’s time, the river was a mode of transportation with many playgoers opting to arrive at the theater by river when the roads were too muddy to traverse on foot. You can stop at several places along the river to see potential docking points of boats that might have crossed the river to get to The Globe, and if you want a real Shakespearean experience, you can take a river boat tour from one side of the river to the other and arrive at The Globe just like your fellow Shakespeare fans in the 16th century would have done.
Don’t miss items: You can see Big Ben from the water when you travel on a river cruise, and if you get on the right riverboat, you can even enjoy lunch on the water. Pay attention as you cross over to how the river has changed since Shakespeare’s time.
11. Banqueting House
Located in Whitehall at Westminster, the last remaining part of Whitehall Palace is called Banqueting House. It is one of the only (if perhaps the only) places in England where you can still stand exactly where Shakespeare’s playing company performed their plays. Banqueting House is where Shakespeare staged several of his plays, including King Lear, for King James in 1606.
Don’t miss items: Make sure you look up! One of the highlights of Banqueting House is the ceilings. While the ceilings were not in place when Shakespeare performed there, they are immaculate. Commissioned most likely by Charles I, they were installed by 1636. The paintings represent the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It is also one of the most famous works from the golden age of painting.Interestingly, this ceiling was one of his last sights before he lost his head. The King was executed on a scaffold outside on Whitehall in 1649.
12. National Portrait Gallery
Within walking distance of Banqueting House is the National Portrait Gallery. Housing the most extensive collection of portraits in the world, The National Portrait Gallery started with Shakespeare’s Chandos portrait as the very first portrait this gallery ever owned. After Chandos portrait, The National Portrait Gallery would go on to acquire over 11,000 portraits in statues, paintings, drawings, and miniatures, including no less than 96 representations of William Shakespeare himself.
Don’t miss items: The Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare is the most iconic representation of the Bard in existence today. It is also the one sole portrait thought to be actually of the real William Shakespeare. Also make sure to see the Droeshout portrait, as for a while it was in the running for most likely to be really a portrait from life of William Shakespeare.
Come see these places when you travel with us in 2019:
Cassidy Cash has partnered with British History Tours to offer The Life of Shakespeare tour which will be visiting all 12 of the sites on this list in September 2019. The registration deadline to pay your deposit is February 1, 2019. Save your spot, and find out more at www.cassidycash.com/travelshakespeare
Cassidy Cash, is the host of That Shakespeare Life, the podcast that takes listeners behind the curtain and into the real life of William Shakespeare. Cassidy believe that in order to understand and perform Shakespeare’s plays, understanding the history of the man who wrote them is essential. She uses art, illustrated guides, animated short films, and a podcast to help her fellow Shakespeareans learn something new about the bard. When she is not researching Shakespeare history or creating art about it, she homeschools two boys, enjoys cooking new recipes, and drinking too much coffee. Cassidy lives in Birmingham, AL with her husband, Tim, a mountain of books, and more pets than what’s reasonable. Connect with Cassidy on Twitter @thatshakespeare, or at www.cassidycash.com