On Saturday 20 August (at 11am) a splendid new oak and bronze gateway will open on the original threshold of Shakespeare’s New Place, inviting visitors to walk in the playwright’s footsteps, explore a dramatic new landscape and exhibition, and meet the man behind the famous works. This is the place where Shakespeare had his family home for 19 years, and where he died four hundred years ago. Now the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has transformed this internationally significant heritage site into a window on the world of William Shakespeare for the 21st century.
The re-imagination of Shakespeare’s New Place is the biggest and most enduring project anywhere in the world to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016. The £6 million capital project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, and the Wolfson Foundation, and through public donations raised through a host of initiatives spearheaded by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
Dr Diana Owen, Chief Executive Officer of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust said, “Working with an outstanding community of artists, designers and craftspeople we have created together an extraordinary place of inspiration for everyone to enjoy. The re-opening of Shakespeare’s New Place means we can now tell the complete story of Shakespeare’s life from boyhood to father, husband, businessman and playwright and of his enduring ability to inspire artists today. New Place is a stunning and innovative addition to the precious landscape of our beautiful historic town. ”
Shakespeare was 32 when he bought New Place in 1597, and it remained his family home until his death there in 1616. It was the largest house in the borough, a prestigious residence with 10 fireplaces, up to 20 rooms, and extensive gardens. Sadly, the last house to occupy the plot was demolished by the infamous Reverend Francis Gastrell in 1759, and the largest surviving part of Shakespeare’s estate has been preserved as a garden ever since.
Today, visitors can trace the footprint of Shakespeare’s lost house, discovered during the archaeological excavation of the site, outlined in engraved bronze inlaid in the spectacular stone paving. A swathe of golden plants in a bronze-clad raised border link the three zones of Shakespeare’s mansion and enfold his original well. Festive pennants representing all of Shakespeare’s plays turn in the breeze above the plants, while his sonnets and longer plays are represented by a ribbon of white bronze darts set into the stonework.
Around the new garden, specially commissioned sculptures conjure up the world that influenced Shakespeare, and his enduring influence in our world today. A magnificent bronze tree takes centre stage in the Heart of the Home (the Shakespeare’s family living quarters), its branches swept over a massive sphere which is burnished bright on one side, and in deepest shadow beyond. His Mind’s Eye is the work of renowned sculptor Jill Berelowitz, a powerful metaphor for the irresistible force of Shakespeare’s imagination. Surrounded by a circle of pleached hornbeams and a 30m curved oak bench, with Shakespeare’s desk and chair at stage right, this is the perfect spot to contemplate Shakespeare’s works – and take a picture.
Behind the garden on the site of New Place, the sunken Tudor Knot Garden, which is on the national register of historically important gardens in its own right, has been fully restored for the first time since it was created in 1920. The Victorian Great Garden beyond, with its sweeping lawns, herbaceous borders, and famous mulberry trees, has been retained and the original Wild Bank of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works has been reinstated.
A dynamic new permanent exhibition brings to life the story of Shakespeare’s New Place and the personal life of its most famous occupant and his family – casting new light on Shakespeare as a father, husband, citizen of Stratford-upon-Avon - as well as the famous playwright. The exhibition centre is housed in the meticulously restored and extended Grade I listed Tudor house next door to the site of New Place. (Nash’s House belonged to Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Nash.) A new first floor viewing platform gives views over historic Stratford-upon-Avon to landmarks Shakespeare would have recognised, including the neighbouring Guild Chapel and the school he attended (both open to visitors).
The whole site is now fully accessible for the first time. Ingenious architecture, landscaping and planning ensure that the gardens as well as the exhibition are wheelchair friendly, and in total sympathy with the Grade I listing of the site, making New Place a place for everyone to connect with Shakespeare.
Shakespeare’s New Place is open from 9am – 5.30pm (10am – 4pm in Winter) everyday, except Christmas Day. Entry to Shakespeare’s New Place is included in the Town Houses pass (Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Shakespeare’s New Place & Hall’s Croft - £17.50 adults / £11.50 child, discounts for groups, concessions and online bookings) and valid for 12 months unlimited entry. Stratford-upon-Avon (CV37) residents can enjoy free entry on presentation of a community card (proof of residency required).