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STRATFORD TP ON A VON.
ITS 18SOCIATION WITH SHAKESPEARE-HIS BIRTHPLACE—THE SCHOOL-NEW PLACE-THE CHURCH
-THE VICINITY-PROCEEDINGS CONNECTED WITH THE PURCHASE OF SHAKESPEARE'S BIRTHPLACE.
Of late years, if Shakespeare's plays have been less frequently acted on the stage, their influence in the closet appears to have increased; and the veneration of the people for the poet, their admiration of his talents, and their respect for his memory, have also augmented, rather than otherwise, with the passing time. Great men and eminent women have made, and make, pilgrimages to his birthplace; his birthday is celebrated by fêtes and rejoicings; Shakespeare clubs have been formed; and towards the close of the first half of the nineteenth century, when the poet had been nearly two hundred and fifty years in his tomb, a project was started, and successfully carried out, for purchasing the house in which he was born, that it might become the property of the nation for ever. This proposal concentrated the attention of the admirers of the dramatist still more upon Stratford. For a time, that small town in Warwickshire became “the observed of all observers ;” and as an appropriate “Epilogue" to this beautifully illustrated edition of the plays of Shakespeare, we shall devote a few pages to his native town and its locality; and to the proceedings connected with the purchase of the house in which he first saw the light-thus rendering it the most complete edition extant of the works of our national dramatist.
Upon the river Avon-one of the sweet rural streams of Englandt-stands the town of Stratford,f which has now a population of about 4,000 inhabitants. It is a clean and quiet place; of no large size; is without any manufactures; and has very little traffic. Formerly, its principal means of communication with the surrounding country for purposes of trade, was afforded by the Stratford and Avon canal, which joined both the Warwick and Birmingham, and the Birmingham and Worcester canals. The road from London to Birmingham, by Oxford, also ran through it. Within the last few years, the Stratford and Moreton railway has been constructed, opening a communication with the central part of Gloucester; and from thence with the chief towns throughout England. It is a branch of the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolver.
* Ben Jonson.
+ There are three rivers of the name of Avon in England: the Upper Avon, which flows through part of Northampton, Leicester, Warwick, and Worcester counties; the Lower Avon, which waters portions of Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, and Somersetshire; and the Hampshire Avon, which rises near Devizes, and falls into the English Channel, near Christchurch.
In our notice of Stratford, our principal authorities have been Wheler's History of Stratford, Smith's History of Warwickshire; Moule's English Counties Delineated: And Lees' Stratforil as connected with Shakespeare. VOL. III.
hampton main line. The traveller, getting out of the train at Stratford, or riding carelessly through it, were he ignorant of what has imparted to it an ever-enduring interest, might pass on carelessly, without any particular wish to explore its interior. “ Were he told that he was in Stratford—the birthplace, the chosen retreat, and the grave of Shakespeare—he would, however, look on all about him with very different sentiments. He would eagerly examine every spot connected with our great bard, or that existed when he dwelt here; especially would he desire to realise the Stratford of Shakespeare ; to divest the place of all that has been added to it since be walked about its streets; and to reconstruct whatever has been destroyed."
Stratford is of great antiquity, and derived its name from having a ford across the Avon, upon the great street or road. The site, as we find from Domesday-book, #3 held by a Dugdale, “ three centuries before the Conquest.” It early became the seat of a Saxon monastery; and then the bishops of Worcester became lords of the manor, by gift from Ethelaud, viceroy of the Wiccans. The town continued to form a part of that bishopric for several centuries subsequent to the Conquest; the bishops bad a park there; and their attention to the locality continued to be displayed at every possible opportunity. Stratford, however, was always an inconsiderable place in ancient times. “ Its importance was increased by Sir Hugh Clopton, a Lord Mayor of London, in the reign of Henry VIII., and a native of Warwickshire ;t who built a substantial stone bridge over the river, which still exists," bearing the inscription_“Sir Hugh Clopton, Knight, Lord Mayor of London, built this bridge, at his own proper expense, in the reign of King Henry ye Seventh.” He also erected a mansion in the town, called the great house;" and at that period he was, probably, the most eminent man connected with Stratford. Edward VI. granted the place a charter of government, by “bailiffs and burgesses ;” and established a grammar-school, in connexion with the old guild. In the third year of that monarch's reign, the then Bishop of Worcester exchanged the manor of Stratford with John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, afterwards Duke of Northum. berland, for lands in Worcestershire.
Notwithstanding its antiquity, the appearance of the town is modern ; for it suffered much from fires. In the “olden time," a country town was “but a rude assemblage of los timber-houses, many of them thatched, and without upper stories-perhaps the lesser ones even without chimneys, and thus fires were perpetually happening. So in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh years of Queen Elizabeth's reign, two dreadful fires occurred at Stratford, consuming two hundred dwelling-houses; and in 1614-only two years before Shakespeare's death-another fire is said to have consumed fifty-four houses in less than two hours: probably many of them were merely thatched cottages, formed of very combustible materials. It is necessary to bear this in mind when gazing at the timber structure in Henley-street, where Shakespeare's father lived; for, however inadequate it may appear now as the residence of a substantial family, it a doubtless, in Queen Elizabeth's time a dwelling of note, when compared with the lor wattled cottages that the lower order of people then inhabited."'
* Thorne's Rambles by Rivers.
+ The Cloptons derive their name from the manor and mansion-house of Clopton, near Stratford, sba have been in their possession five centuries and a-half. Lees' Stratford as connected with Shakespeare.
Stratford, in Mrs. Beecher Stowe's opinion, is “characterised by an air of respectable, standstill, meditative repose."'* It has twelve principal streets, one of which is Henleystreet. The buildings erected since the poet's time are in general neat and commodious ; whilst many handsome and capacious dwellings strike the eye of the visitor, in various parts of the town and its environs. It is a pleasant town; but “the gentle river, the quiet meadows, the old woods, the pretty villages, which are as interesting in themselves as many a locality which the topographer has been delighted to describe, appear to have no value but in connexion with him who was born here and died here—who knelt in the church, and conversed with neighbours in the streets; and gazed upon the river, and rambled amidst the meadows and woods; and had been familiar with all the features of these scenes, that two centuries and a half of change have not obliterated.”+ It is as the Stratford of WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE—as the places which he frequented--that the town and its locality are thought of by his countrymen, and by the foreigners who are induced, by their veneration for the dramatist, to visit them.
And when at Stratford, the first footsteps of the traveller are usually directed to the house in which Shakespeare was born-an edifice on the north side of Henley-street, now much altered from its pristine state; humble as that was when compared with the babitations of the respectable middle classes of the present day. As time passed on, the owners found their prosperity decay. They were compelled to part with much of the land attached to the house, which, in Shakespeare's time, constituted a good orchard, and a well-laid-out garden. Then the house was divided and subdivided into smaller tenements; and thus, the appearance of the house in which the illustrious—the “myriad minded”—man was born, became, in its exterior appearance, completely changed.
Shakespeare's father had other tenements in Stratford, two of his houses being in Henley-street; but tradition bas invariably pointed out the one which was the birthplace of his celebrated son; and has also distinguished the chamber in which he was brought into the world. The evidence of tradition is strengthened, if not absolutely confirmed, by a deed of the year 1596, which that indefatigable Shakespearian explorer, Mr. Halliwell, discovered. In that deed, the house on the north side of Henley-street is described as being“ in the tenure and occupation of John Shakespeare ; and we can now," says its discoverer, “safely regard the humble dwelling as the earliest home of our great dramatic poet.” The records of the Stratford corporation show, that fines were levied upon John Shakespeare for his property in this street, which is, in the civic documents, described as consisting of “two messuages, two gardens, and two orchards, with their appurtenances.”
The property was retained by John Shakespeare during his life. At bis death, in 1601, it descended to William Shakespeare, as his heir-at-law, with his other property ; and the poet, in his will, made in 1616, bequeathed his home called the New Place-of which we shall speak hereafter—"and two messuages, or tenements, with the appur. tenances, situate, being, and lying in Henley-street, within the borough of Stratford,”'S to his daughter Susanna. Shakespeare's sister, Joan, who had married one William Hart, resided in one of his houses; and in his will, he “ devises unto her the house, with the appurtenances, in Stratford, wherein she dwelleth, for her natural life, under the yearly rent of twelve-pence."|| It has been supposed, though the locality is not mentioned, that * Sunny Memories of Foreign Lands.
† Land we Live in. Life of Shakespeare.
See vol. i., p. xxxiii.
this house was the poet's birthplace; but if so, it is rather curious, that, in the bequest to Susanna, words were not inserted to indicate the life-interest of Joan. As Shakespeare had other property in Stratford, we are inclined to believe that Mrs. Hart did not reside in Henley-street; but, however this may be, the house in question ultimately came into the possession of her family. As already stated,* Shakespeare's only son died before his father. His two daughters married—Susanna, Dr. Hall; and Judith, Thomas Queeney or Quiny. The latter had several children, who were all deceased previously to the year 1639; she herself died in 1662—and with her that branch of the poet's family expired. Dr. and Mrs. Hall left one daughter, Elizabeth, who married, first, Thomas Nash, Esq.; and, secondly, in 1649, Sir John Barnard, of Abingdon, Northamptonshire. Lady Barnard died in 1670, leaving no children ; and thus closed the lineal descent from Shakespeare. Lady Barnard, who had inherited her mother's property, by her will, dated 1669, bequeathed the birthplace, and adjoining premises, to Thomas, the second son of Joan Hart, with remainder to his brother George. They continued in the possession of the Harts upwards of a century; fortune apparently frowning upon them, and compelling them to subdivide the property, and ultimately, in 1806, to abandon it. In that year, William Shakespeare Hart sold “Shakespeare's birthplace" to Mr. Thomas Court; and, with his family, except an elderly female, removed to Tewkesbury. There, in 1848, resided Thomas Shakespeare Hart, the eighth in descent from the sister of the dramatist: and a writer in one of our periodicals says—“Some years ago we saw these Harts at their house near Tewkesbury. They were very poor. The descendant of Joan Hart was a rush-chair maker."
The premises on the north side of Henley-street (originally one house) were divided soon after Shakespeare's death; and one part of them was converted into an inn, called in old title-deeds, the Maidenhead. It is now known as the Swan and Maidenhead, How it acquired the double title has not been ascertained; but some suppose, that the sign of the Swan was adopted by one of Shakespeare's immediate successors, out of compliment to the “Sweet Swan of Avon"—the other name having allusion to “his sovereign queen and patroness, the fair ‘vestal throned by the west.'”. Before the Harts ceased to reside on the premises, the remaining portion had become a butcher's shop, one of the Harts following that trade. On the site of the garden and orchards, originally belonging to the “ birthplace,” an hotel, known as the White Lion, has been built.
On the opposite page, we exhibit the houses which John Shakespeare possessed in Henley-street, under the different aspects. No 1, at the top, is from an original drawing, made by Colonel Delamotte, in 1788. The houses, it will be observed, then presented one uniform front; and there were dormer windows, connected with rooms in the roof. A plan, accompanying Mr. Wheler's account of those premises, shows, that they occupied a frontage of thirty-one feet. The centre view is from an original drawing made by Mr. Pyne, after a sketch by Mr. Edridge, in 1807. At that time the dormer windows were removed, as also the gable at the east end of the front; and the house had been shorn of much of its external importance. The bottom view is from a lithograph engraving in Mr. Wheler's History, published in 1824. At that time the premises were divided into three distinct dwellings. The Swan and Maidenhead formed the eastern half; the western portion had been divided, in 1807, into two tenements; * See vol. i., p. ix.
† History of Stratford.