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About Shakespeare's Birthplace
John and Mary Shakespeare were wealthy enough to own the largest house on Henley Street. This was the house where William Shakespeare was born and lived until his mid-twenties, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of his family. When Shakespeare was growing up there were no newspapers or magazines, and certainly no computers or social media. The primary method of communication was simply to talk, so Shakespeare’s world was full of sound and the house would have been full of voices!
John Shakespeare lived and worked in this house for fifty years. When he married Mary Arden she came to live with him and they had a total of eight children, including their third eldest, William. In 1568 John became the Mayor of Stratford, which was the highest elective office in the town. On Sunday, dressed in his fine red robes, he would have been escorted to Holy Trinity church to attend mass. It was because of his father’s status as Mayor that William was privileged enough to have attended the local grammar school to begin his education.
Just like today, Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon would have been a busy, vibrant place. It was an established market town, attracting people from the surrounding villages to buy and sell goods each week. A local business, Greenways of Henley Street, operated a weekly carrier service to and from London, transporting new spices and other luxurious imports into Stratford to awaken the senses of those who lived there.
The Glover's Workshop
William Shakespeare's family home doubled as a workshop for his father's business as a glove maker. The area behind the house would have been used to support John Shakespeare's business with outbuildings storing animal skins and liming pits. The family is likely to have kept a pig, horse and some hens. They would have grown vegetables, herbs and fruit trees for cooking and medicine. Today, the recreated workshop provides a fascinating insight into John Shakespeare's prestigious trade as a glover
When John Shakespeare died in 1601 William inherited the house. He leased part of the property and it became an inn called the Maidenhead (and later the Swan and Maidenhead). The inn remained until 1847. When Shakespeare died he left the house to his eldest daughter Susanna, and when she died she left it to her only child, Elizabeth.
Although she married twice Elizabeth had no children, so when she died the house fell to a descendant of Joan Hart, one of Shakespeare’s sisters. The house was owned by the Hart family until the late 18th century, until it went up for sale and was purchased by the Birthplace Trust in 1847. We have cared for it ever since.
For the official guidebook of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust visit our online shop.