Visiting the Bard: Stratford-upon-Avon (1)

Awhile ago I saw a bus in Evesham with a Shakespearean quote…

I filed that information away for later use. 

Later use finally arrived this week and I decided to follow Romeo and head to Stratford-upon-Avon from Evesham. The bus is an X18 and the route it follows is: Norton, Harvington, Iron Cross, Salford Priors, Bidford-on-Avon, Binton and finally Stratford-upon-Avon with a frequency of one every 30 minutes. It was do-able and I did the navigation and packed my goodies and hit the road really early on what was a glorious weekend of summer weather.  My map said that there were a few things worth seeing, although I would really aim for Shakespeare’s birthplace, the War Memorial and finally his grave. Anything else is incidental. 

The trip was interesting because the route passed close Evesham Country Park where the Evesham Light Rail is; and that is also on my list of places to see. The villages seemed interesting, especially Bidford and I may do a morning trip out there as they have a very nice War Memorial which I managed to snap from the bus.

I was not too sure about where the bus stopped in Stratford although the timetable showed me a square with “Shakespeare’s Birthplace” on it, as well as a “Jester’s Statue”. However, our bus stopped very close to something called “The American Fountain” (aka the Shakespeare Memorial Fountain (which was slap-bang on the edge of the morning market) and a clear shot was not going to happen. The fountain was a gift of the American newspaper publisher and philanthropist George Childs, and was intended as a tribute to Queen Victoria, whose Golden Jubilee was being celebrated, to Shakespeare, and to the relationship between the USA and England.

There are a lot of inscriptions on the fountain, but the primary one reads:

THE GIFT OF AN AMERICAN CITIZEN

GEORGE W. CHILDS. OF PHILADELPHIA

TO THE TOWN OF SHAKESPEARE, 

IN THE JUBILEE YEAR OF QUEEN VICTORIA’

It is a grade II* listed structure and it was unveiled on 17 October 1887. More information on the tower is available on the Historic England listing.

The town looks more or less like this:

(1024 x 1054) (Image from an information board)

Now where was this Jester? I followed a sign that supposedly led to “Shakespeare’s Birthplace” and that led me to a pedestrianised street that had an old house almost in the centre. I could not find any signage or information board on the house so can’t assume anything yet. However, looking at the map above it appears that I should have gone around the back of the house. Now that’s kind of illogical. The position of the sun and constant foot traffic made getting a proper front view almost impossible so I settled for the next best thing. The house is a restored 16th-century half-timbered house situated in Henley Street, and it is believed that William Shakespeare was born there in 1564 and spent his childhood years there.

The Jester Statue was close by too.

It portrays the Jester ‘Touchstone’ from the play ‘As you like it.’ The inscription reads:

“The fool doth think he is wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”

and another reads:

 “O’ noble fool, a worthy fool”.

The statue, is by James Butler MBE of Radway, and is a gift to the town by one of its local businessmen, Mr. Anthony P Bird OBE. It unveiled in 1994.

So far so good, what else was in the vicinity? I looked around the shops and there was a Peter Rabbit, Harry Potter and a Teddy Bear shop interspersed with the usual gimmicky souvenir and coffee shops. It did not inspire confidence I am afraid. 

The timber frame buildings were beauties though, but some may have been modern reproductions too.  After a quick loo break I found myself close to the waterfront and canal basin which was more or less where I wanted to be. It was quite a pretty area with lots of boats and swans and a lock gate and a memorial that I wanted to investigate. I decided to snack and have a look around while I was in the area.

The memorial I wanted to see is known as the Gower Memorial or Gower Monument, and it comprises a round pedestal on a square plinth with a figure of Shakespeare deep in thought and seated in casual pose,  holding a pen and scroll.

There are four detached small plinths to the corners, each with a bronze figure of a Shakespearean character.

Falstaff

Lady Macbeth

Hamlet

Prince Hal

The monument was constructed in Paris over a 12 year period between 1876-1888 by Lord Ronald Gower and various associates and craftsman. It was unveiled at a ceremony attended by Oscar Wilde on 10 October 1888, at its original location in gardens to south of the Memorial Theatre. The monument was moved to its current location in 1933 following the rebuilding of the theatre after the devastating fire of 1926.  It is a Grade II* listed structure. (Text from Historical England entry)

I have to admit this was a very impressive memorial, and it was really worth seeing. The Google street view does not show the monument as it is hidden behind two vehicles which made it very intriguing.  I recrossed the bridge over the canal which a narrow boat was busy transiting. The canal connected to this is the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. 

I consulted another map that would show me my next destination which was the grave of Shakespeare. I had marked off the location of the War Memorial too, but completely forgot about it at this point. It was not too far away and no long detour would be needed to get there. I could cut across an area known as Bancroft Gardens and grab any interesting images along the way. The small monument below was erected to commemorate 50 years of peace between the nations of Western Europe 1945-1995.

Young Will by Lawrence Holofcener, Sculptor

The Country Artists Fountain was made for the 800th anniversary celebration of the granting of the Charter for Market Rights by King Richard I (the Lionheart) in 1196. The fountain was sculpted by Christine Lee and is made of stainless steel and brass. It was unveiled by the Queen in 1996.

In the near distance was a large building which is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre. Unfortunately the former did not photograph well but I did get a great photo of the latter.

The street I was now in was called Southern Lane and  it ran into Old Town Street. The Remembrance Gardens are situated where the two streets intersect, The memorial was not my primary goal on this day though, but it was nice to find it so close to my final goal.

There are at least 4 separate memorials in the garden and I will dealt with them in my blogpost at allatsea,  suffice to say the garden is well kept and pleasant to visit.

William Shakespeare is buried in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the church has coachloads of visitors coming to see the final resting place of the Bard.  It is an old church with an extensive churchyard and I was not the only person there on this day.

The church exterior is difficult to photograph as it is quite large but well treed and the sun is behind it making a decent image a non event. Inside it was quite impressive, but there was a large crowd inside the Chancel where the grave is. I decided to wait for things to quieten down and then try my luck.

The handout gives the following information: The present building dates from 1210, with the oldest sections being the tower, transepts and nave pillars. The North and South Aisles were added in the 1300’s and the Chancel in the late 1400’s.  William Shakespeare was baptised here, he worshipped here and he is buried here.

The Clopton Chapel is very impressive and it contains the tomb of Joyce Clopton and her husband George Carew, Earl of Totnes (d 1629). There are also effigies of William and Anne Clopton. 

And then things had quietened down and I was able to get into the Chancel to see the grave.

There are 5 graves beyond the railing and the first two on the left are of Anne Hathaway, the wife of William Shakespeare (1556-1623) and next to her is the grave of William Shakespeare (1564-1616).  The other graves are of his daughter Suzanna, son-in-law Dr John Hall and Thomas Nash, his grandson-in-law. 

The inscription on his grave reads:

Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

There is a bust of the Bard close to the grave that was commissioned In 1621 by Shakespeare’s son-in-law, and it was made by Gerard Jansen, and it is considered to be a good likeness of him. 

The inscription reads: 

Judicio Pylium, genio Socratem, arte Maronem
Terra tegit, populus moeret, Olympus habet.

Stay, passenger, why goest thou by so fast?
Read, if thou canst, whom envious death hath placed
Within this monument: Shakespeare, with whom
Quick nature doed; whose name doth deck his tomb
Far more than cost; sith all that he had writ
Leaves living art but page to serve his wit.
Obiit ano doi [anno domini] 1616. Aetatis 53. Die 23 Ap.

In 2016 a non-intrusive GPR survey also revealed that the Shakespeare family members were not buried in a large family vault but in shallow graves beneath the church floor.  William Shakespeare’s and Anne Hathaway’s graves are less than a metre deep. The findings also suggest Shakespeare and his family were not buried in coffins but simply wrapped in winding sheets, or shrouds, and buried in soil. It also revealed that the skull of William Shakespeare was missing. 

It was almost time for me to go, I took some photo’s and made my way back to the nave and looked for the church War Memorial while another large coach party was filling the space I had just vacated.

The church is very beautiful and there was a lot to photograph but I am running out of space in this post. Unfortunately I regret being unable to get a proper full image of the church but that may be possible from across the river (makes note for next time).  I will however leave some random images and will continue overleafforwardbut

 

Random Images of the Church 

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