Walk 84: Stratford upon Avon Town Walk: To walk or not to walk…that is the question…

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 4 miles (6.44km)

Time to walk: You can’t put a time limit on this walk as it’s in two distinctive parts, one of which is around the town so there’s some serious browsing to be done!

Difficulty: Easy, flat & all on mainly hard paths

Parking: Parking in Stratford is expensive so we drove across the river & parked for free in a housing estate. It took us about 15 mins to walk back, but we saved £4

Public toilets: Plenty around the town

Map of the route: Looks a bit bizarre as we were ‘exploring’. It doesn’t include the river stretch at the start of the walk as that’s quite easy to follow

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We’ve been coming to Stratford upon Avon for years. Why? Because it’s just one of those towns you never get tired of. Yes, it’s full of tourists, but somehow it’s big enough to accommodate everyone without feeling too crowded

Today’s walk will also take us where the tourists don’t always go & you’ll see places in this town you’ve never seen before

So what shall we tell you about Stratford upon Avon? Well what do we leave out? We’re going to cover a lot of the history as we go so here’s a quick synopsis..

Stratford was originally inhabited by Anglo-Saxons & remained a village before Lord of the Manor, John of Coutances, set out plans to develop it into a town in 1196. In the same year, Stratford was granted a charter from King Richard I to hold a weekly market in the town. As a result, Stratford experienced an increase in trade & commerce as well as urban expansion

Oh…& it also has something to do with some bloke called William Shakespeare!

Shall we go?

Let’s Walk!

1. Today’s walk can easily be split into two – one before lunch & one after, or just keep going. The map only relates to the afternoon part as we confess we forgot to reset our tracker for the riverside part!

Today we’re going to do the riverside part first. If you want to waste your time visiting Stratford’s Tourist Information Centre then please do – they were awful customer experience people (“Your walk map is 10 years out of date – yes, but it’s still relevant & you’ve nothing to replace it so what can you offer me – nothing”!)

Anyway..we’ve offered to produce them a new leaflet…

Today’s walk starts by the Swan Water Fountain Sculpture near Bancroft Gardens. The land has never been developed due to flooding, but was once used as common land for grazing sheep & pigs. In 1816 the canal arrived & two basins were built to cope with the through traffic of coal, lime & timber

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2. To the left’s the Royal Shakespeare Theatre…

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The Royal Shakespeare Theatre opened in 1932 on the site adjacent to the original Shakespeare Memorial Theatre (opened 19 April 1879), which had been destroyed by fire on 6 March 1926, & whose name it took. The architect was Elisabeth Scott, so the theatre became the first important work erected in Britain from the designs of a woman architect. It was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1961, following the establishment of the Royal Shakespeare Company the previous year

3. The area we’re in is the Stratford basin & there are so many people trying to cash in, however commercial they might be..

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Also around here are several statues that are worth a look at…

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Hermaphroditus was the handsome son of the god Hermes. A nymph, Salmacis, discovering him by a stream & tried to seduce him. When he rejected her she hid & waited until he removed his clothes & entered the water

Salmacis then entwined herself around him calling on the gods to join them together forever. Her wish was granted & their bodies blended. Hermaphroditus asked his parents to curse the water so that anyone who entered it would be transformed into a being with both male & female organs

4. Walk towards the Theatre…they have a good way of using the telephone boxes in Stratford…

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On the right’s a row of 18th century cottages, once described as “residences of the humbler sort”. The brick facades have been built over the timber frame constructions…

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5. Pass the Theatre. Today’s performance was Julius Caesar

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Towards the rear of the new building is the adjoining Swan Theatre

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It occupies the Victorian Gothic structure that formerly housed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre which preceded the RST. The Swan Theatre has recently been refurbished as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s £112.8 million transformation project. The whole building is now accessible for the first time for all visitors, performers & staff

6. There’s a fabulous lamp post nearby (unfortunately the picture’s a bit dark)

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At the top of the lamp post, as if seated on the cross bar, are statues of a man with an ass’s head (the character Bottom from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer night’s Dream) & a man playing the fiddle. Above the lamp is a statue of an owl.

This is one of a series of foreign lamp posts along Waterside. Indeed, Stratford has the only International Exhibition of Working Lamp posts in the world. The visitor book of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust revealed the high numbers & diversity of foreign visitors to the town

The man playing a fiddle is a depiction of Tevye (or Topol) from ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, a story by Shalom Aleichem, the great comic writer of Yiddish culture

7. Continue down Waterside past the larger 18th century houses on the right. Many tourists never venture out of the town, but there’s a very good hostelry here known by a couple of names & what we like is the dual-sided pub sign

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One side says The Black Swan & the other The Mucky Duck. It was also previously known as The Ferry House (we’ll see why in a minute) & The Malt House, as it was once a granary

8. Opposite the pub’s the Chain Ferry which takes paying passengers across the river. It normally only operates in the summer

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The chain ferry opened in 1937 & was the last of its kind to be built in Britain. By 2006, the ferry was carrying 100,000 people a year & it was proposed that it be moved to make way for a new bridge. However, in 2010, the ferry resumed service at its original location after an overhaul & restoration work, undertaken by the local boating firm, Avon Boating Ltd

9. Walk into the Theatre Gardens…

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Glance across to the right & you’ll see ‘The Other Place’. The Other Place is a black box theatre owned & operated by the Royal Shakespeare Company. In 2006, an earlier version of the theatre closed & reopened as the temporary & larger Courtyard Theatre while the Royal Shakespeare & Swan Theatres were redeveloped. In March 2016, The Other Place was reinstated as a 200 seat studio theatre

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The gardens, originally surrounded an 18th century house rebuilt in 1866 & occupied by Charles Flower, founder of The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Today only the Orangery remains, so pass by it & look at the wonderful pictures on the other side…

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10. Exit the garden back into the road &, on the left’s The Holy Trinity Church which contains Shakespeare’s grave. Walk up the avenue of lime trees…

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Love the fact that when entering this lovely church you really have to crouch to get through the old wooden door. And what a gem we find inside…

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Firstly can we say how fab the volunteers are in this church. It’s free to enter, but if you wish to go into the Chancel to see the graves, then they ask for a £3 donation. We had a good old natter with an elderly gentleman volunteer – what a star!

There’s been a church on this site since at least 713 when a Saxon monastery was built here, although a church was mentioned in the charter of 845 signed by Beorhtwulf, King of Mercia. It’s likely the Normans replaced the wooden building with a stone one

The present building dates from 1210

11. Walk up the left side to visit the Clopton Chapel…

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The big tomb is that of Joyce Clopton & her husband George Carew, Earl of Totnes. On the left are effigies of William Clopton & his wife Anne. Stratfordian Hugh Clopton became Lord Mayor of London & was a great benefactor to the town. He completely rebuilt the Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross & provided the stone bridge over the Avon which carries his name & the traffic to this day – we’ll see that shortly

12. Pass through into the Chancel to arrive at the Bard’s tomb…

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The other thing that’s worth looking at here are the ‘Misericords’ which are the 26 carved wooden seats. They were for those attending long services allowing them to rest without actually sitting down. They date from the 1400’s & some depict life in those times…

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13. Time to move on. so exit the church & continue along Mill Lane…

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The road ends around the corner. On the left’s a new building which stands on the site of Lucy’s Mill…

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Head down the alley on the right to arrive at the bridge…

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This is a great spot to stand & watch the world go by. Have a look to the left towards Lucy’s Mill as they’ve left the Mill Race intact

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14. Across the bridge turn left back towards the town…

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This is a lovely stretch of riverside walking with great views back across the River Avon towards the church…

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There’s a couple of weirs & a lock along here. It’s a great dog walking stretch & we met quite a few new ‘doggie friends’ along here. It’s also an excellent fishing spot, especially when the Avon barbel arrive

15. Pass by the other side of the Ferry point again…

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The RSC looks pretty impressive from this side of the river…

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16. The Bandstand’s on the right & then the Boat Club building. The Club was given a couple of Boat Houses on Waterside in 1875 by Charles Flower who we mentioned earlier. The present building was built in 1897…

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…&, at the top of the hill, turn left onto the magnificent Tramway Bridge. Now…we can’t just cross this bridge without mentioning another of Stratford’s attractions, The Butterfly Farm

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17. If you want to go there turn right, but we’re turning left across the Tramway Bridge, built in 1826 for a horse drawn tramway to haul coal, lime & timber from the wharfs in Straford to Shipston-on-Stour & on to Moreton-in-Marsh

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Stand on the bridge & look to the other one on the right….

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This is Clopton Bridge which was built in the early 1490’s & paid for by Hugh Clopton, who we came across in the church

18. At the end of the bridge is a pub & restaurant…Cox’s Yard

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This was once Cox’s Timber Yard, established in 1830. It remained a wood yard until the District Council bought it in 1990 in order to preserve the last reminder of what was once an extremely busy trading waterfront

19. Turn right & walk round the basin to have a look at The Gower Memorial…

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A statue was created in 1888, the work of Lord Ronald Gower. The monument shows Shakespeare seated on a pedestal

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He’s surrounded by characters from his plays – Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal & Falstaff

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So that’s the river part of our walk done. Walk back down to the statue of the swans to begin our look at the town itself

20. From the statue walk straight up Sheep Street…

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On the corner’s a supposedly recommended ‘chippy’, but we’ll leave that to the end

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21. Sheep Street was once the site of a sheep market dating from 1265 & is a really great browsing streets with restaurants, art galleries, museums & shops, most of which are in buildings dating from the 15th century to the present day

On the right Shrieve’s House is a 17th century merchant’s house…

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Supposedly one of Warwickshire’s most haunted houses, it was once owned by the person who Shakespeare allegedly based the character of Falstaff on, William Rogers. Have a peep up the very old courtyard…

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Today it houses Tudor World, an interactive museum

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22. Further up Sheep Street on the same side are the superb Whitewall Galleries. Pop in & see what they’re exhibiting, whilst at the same time hanging onto your wallet!

 Over the road, now occupied by a restaurant, No.4 dates back to 1492, although the facade was updated around 1900

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Surely the restaurant with the name ‘Lamb’s’ nearby must be having a nod & a wink?

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23. At the top of Sheep Street’s the Town Hall. The present Hall is not the first standing here. It was originally the site of the market hall built in 1643, damaged during the Civil War & then rebuilt in 1767

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David Garrick, a well known Shakespearian actor in those days presented the statue of Shakespeare that sits on the walls today to celebrate the opening. In 1863 major alterations resulted in a Hall very much like it is today. Ill fate dogged it again in 1946 when fire, started from a cigarette, completely gutted the Ballroom. A valuable painting by Gainsborough of David Garrick was destroyed

 Across Sheep Street from the Hall’s a small open space…

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It too has a rather complicated history, initially being a medieval trading centre, known as the Corn Exchange in the mid 1800’s. A Victorian Corn Exchange was built here, but was demolished in 1958

24. This is an interesting corner of Stratford. Stand outside the Town Hall & look across at the Victorian building that houses HSBC…

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It was built in 1883. Look at the mosaic above the front door & then also the frieze round the edge that depicts scenes from many of Shakespeare’s plays

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25. Turn right & over the road The Giggling Squid Thai Restaurant occupies another beautiful building…

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In the 1600’s the property was the home of the Woolmer family who were one of the wealthiest in the town. The Garrick pub’s next door

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There’s been an inn within the current Elizabethan, half-timbered building since 1718. An earlier medieval building on the same site was also used as an inn. The precise date of the construction of the current building isn’t known, however, it’s considered to be around 1596 with parts dating back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Stratford

It was previously called The Greyhound, as well as The Reindeer, before its name was changed to The Garrick Inn after the actor David Garrick in 1795. It’s thought that a bout of plague may have started within the original inn in 1564 after a weaver’s apprentice, Oliver Gunn, died of the disease there. The phrase ‘hic incepit pestis’ which translates as ‘here begins the plague’ was written in Gunn’s burial entry. However, it’s unclear whether these words were added to the burial register in order to indicate the local plague outbreak starting at this location

It’s also claimed that the pub is haunted.  So love the cheesy marketing to get people in…

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26. We’re heading left away from the Garrick down Chapel Street past HSBC. The stunning nine gabled property, now occupied by a hotel, was originally two 16th century hotels specifically for wealthy Tudors…

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The reason on this stretch our map looks bizarre is we were wandering from one side of the street to another as there’s lots to photo

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27. Much of the west side of this street was destroyed by fire in 1594 & was rebuilt in brick. One of the buildings that escaped the fire was the magnificent Falcon Hotel dating back to the 1500’s

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That Falcon’s still watching your every move!

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28. Back across the road’s Nash’s House which dates back to the 1600’s. Thomas Nash married Shakespeare’s grand daughter

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It’s also where Shakespeare died in 1616. The property was knocked down by a peeved owner in 1768. One thing that struck us was the number of ‘heavies’ standing round the entrances..

29. Next door’s the amazing Guild Chapel

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The Chapel is one of the most important buildings in the town with a history dating back to the 13th century & with an association to the Shakespeare & Clopton families. Let’s have a look inside…

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The best thing about this Chapel are the wall murals …

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The Chapel houses some of the finest medieval wall paintings in Europe, covered up on orders given to Shakespeare’s father in the 16th century following the Reformation, when he was the then Chamberlain of the Corporation of Stratford. They were discovered under layers of limewash many hundreds of years later & are recognised as some of the very finest surviving today

30. Adjoining the Chapel is the Guild Hall, now part of the school, which dates back to 1417. Shakespeare allegedly received his education here

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Following a £1.8 million restoration it opened its doors to the public for the first time on 23rd April 2016, the 400th anniversary of the death of the Schoolroom’s most famous former pupil. You can sit in the same classroom as he did in the 1570’s & visit the Council Chamber where his father served as Mayor

31. Next door is a row of Almshouses thought to have been built in 1427 to house the elderly & infirm. There were originally 22 dwellings, but many have now been knocked together…

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…& then slightly further on is The Windmill Inn

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This pub holds the longest unbroken licence in the town & dates from the Bard’s time. It was built in 1599 & became an ale house a year later

32. Opposite is Mason Croft which was once owned by eccentric best-selling author Marie Corelli. It now houses the Shakespeare Institute & is part of Birmingham University

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Another grand building is on the corner of the road…Trinity College. Once a school, it was built as a private house in the 18th century, originally with two storeys. The third was added in 1872

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This is a lovely corner of the town as at the end is yet another grand building which was built in 1690 by tobacconist William Warry. It’s now a school

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33. It’s now time to turn left & leave this beautiful area of Stratford & head into a part called Old Town…

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This area was where the original settlement in the town happened, before the new one was built under the watch of the Bishop of Worcester in 1196. The only part of the original Anglo Saxon area that remains is Holy Trinity Church we visited we visited earlier

There are many elegant properties on this road which were once the homes of wealthy gentry & date back to 1760

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34. Further along on the left’s another Shakespeare property…Hall’s Croft

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Hall’s Croft was owned by William Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna Hall, & her husband Dr John Hall whom she married in 1607 – perhaps they all met at The Windmill for an ale or two!

The building is listed grade I & contains a collection of 16th & 17th century paintings & furniture. There’s also an exhibition about Doctor John Hall & the obscure medical practices of the period. The property includes a dramatic walled garden which contains a variety of plant life that John Hall may have used in his treatments. John & Susanna Hall later moved to New Place, which William Shakespeare left to his daughter after his death

35. Slightly further along’s the Dower House & also Avon Croft which were once a single house dating back to the 16th century & owned by the local Clopton family who seem to be cropping up quite regularly

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36. If you haven’t already visited the church then it’s straight ahead, but our route lies right down College Street…

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…& then right into College Lane

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…& then right again into Bull Street

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Bull Street was originally the tenanted homes of poorer people, but now they’re highly desirable town centre properties

37. Turn left into Chestnut Walk…

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The houses along here face the Paddock on our right & were home to more wealthy people. At the end of the road turn right into Rother Street. Walk through the park for a couple of hundred yards

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This is the Firs Garden which was once part of a 17th century farmhouse

38. Continue along Rother Street past the Police Station. Next door’s Mason’s Court a 15th century building…

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The locals call this Stratford’s oldest building although we can’t find the evidence to support that claim

Now…we must give mention to the local Hospice bookshop on the right. This is simply an ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ & you could spend a lifetime in here – please go in & have a look

39. We’ve now arrived in the wide open space & straight ahead of us is the impressive American Fountain. It was once the site of the cattle market from the 12th century

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The Shakespeare Memorial Fountain & Clock Tower (as it’s officially known) was presented to the town of Stratford by American journalist George W Childs of Philadelphia in 1887. Built to honour not only William Shakespeare, but also Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, the monument was unveiled at the time by actor Sir Henry Irving

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Victorian Gothic in style, the fountain, which no longer provides water, is constructed mostly from Peterhead granite & freestone, resembling a small gothic cathedral of sorts, complete with a set of bells designed by JA Cossin‘s of Birmingham & a clock above each face on which sits a caricature of a fairy from Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream

40. Over the road on the left hand side is Stratford’s last remaining thatched building..The White Swan

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The interior dates back to the mid 15th century

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41. Cross back over to another pub…the White Swan which was originally a farmhouse dating back to the 15th century

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Walk about 50 yards up the street looking for the archway into The Minories on the left

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50. Pass through the narrow alley ways …

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…to arrive at Henley Street

51. We’re now right in the centre of this lovely town so make sure you allow enough time to explore Henley Street. As we emerge into the street, the Shakespeare Centre’s just to the left

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The Centre was built in 1964 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s birth. It houses a library, exhibitions & the local archive. Before passing his birthplace next door, have a look at the charming statue of ‘The Fool’ at the end of the street…

This fine bronze statue of the fool, portrays the Jester ‘Touchstone’ from the play ‘As you like it.’ An inscription states “The fool doth think he is wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” & another Shakespeare quotation states “O’ noble fool, a worthy fool”

52. Retrace your steps back up Henley Street…

Just past the Centre is Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The house itself is relatively simple, but for the late 16th century it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker & wool dealer, & the house was originally divided in two parts to allow him to carry out his business from the same premises

There are differing views concerning the origin of the building, which possibly dates back to the 15th century, but more likely was built in the mid 16th century

Records show that in 1552 John Shakespeare was fined for leaving a pile of muck outside his home in Henley Street, proving that he lived in a house there at the time. The house remained in the family until it was handed down for the final time to William Shakespeare’s daughter &, given that he was born in 1564, it’s fairly certain that he was born & brought up here

53. Henley Street’s a great browsing place with a real eclectic mix of shops, cafes & restaurants, including one for budding Wizards & a Christmas shop!

On the same side of the street’s the magnificent library building…

The library was due to be demolished in 1901, but was restored using much of the original timbers with support from Marie Corelli & the American millionaire Andrew Carnegie

54. At the top of the street’s the old market hall which is now occupied by Barclays Bank

Now have a walk back down the other side of Henley Street. The Stratford Sweet Shop is worth a visit as they make their own peanut brittle

55. Turn left into Meer Street & then left again into Wood Street to return to the High Street…

…from where it’s a left turn down Sheep Street again to return to the start of this walk

So that’s a pretty in depth look at the charming town of Stratford, a place we thought we knew quite well, but soon realised that wasn’t the case. There’s so much to see & we still feel we’ve only just scratched the surface

Now…about those chips. Very disappointing & expensive is all we’ll say, so don’t bother!

Go Walk!