Tourist Information, Judith Shakespeare House, 1 High Street, Stratford-upon-Avon. 0789 293127.
(posted Nov 2011): Coventry (0203 27477).
There was no Shakespeare industry and, come to that, remark-ably little interest in the Bard’s birthplace until the actor David Garrick held a festival to celebrate the Jubilee in 1769. The weather was awful, and it almost ruined the whole thing, but undetered they carried on and Boswell, who was present, thought the Festival a ‘success’.
It is only since that time, in the eighteenth century, that the first small trickle of pilgrims has turned into an annual, twentieth-century, floodtide of camera-toting tourists. Stratford must now be one of the most-visited ‘literary shrines’ in the world, but the town has managed to retain much of its character and has contained the worst excesses that such success usually brings. Stratford-upon-Avon is situated at the heart of England. It is easily reached by train from London, either direct from Paddington with a change to Stratford or by connecting special coaches from Coventry, operated by Guide Friday Limited; this is the ‘Shakespeare Connection’ service from London, Euston. There are good connections to Oxford, Leamington Spa and Reading, as well as from Birmingham, but no service runs anywhere west from Stratford.
It remains an exceptionally tidy town with its wide streets, half-timbered houses and the river flowing through. A market grew up as the surrounding countryside became cultivated and a bridge was built across the river by Sir Hugh Clopton in 1480. On 12 October they still hold the ancient ‘mop’, or fair, in the town which derives from the old statute fair at which the workers were hired for the year.
It was about 1551 that John Shakespeare settled in the town; his eldest son William was born on 23 April 1564, was baptised in the parish church and married Anne Hathaway in 1582. William Shakespeare himself came back from London and lived in New Place, and died on his fifty-second birthday in 1616. His tomb is in the Holy Trinity Church.