Mary Hathaway-Baker was one of the last Hathaways to live in the cottage. She was a direct descendent of Anne Hathaway’s brother, Bartholomew, and lived in the cottage from her youth until her death in 1899. Now a tenant of the cottage, Mary was running it as a museum very efficiently, so much so that it had become an internationally recognised tourist attraction for those making pilgrimages to Stratford on the hunt for places Shakespeare would have known. Indeed, the visitor books Mary was keeping at the time reveal that she received visitors from as far away as Australia.
If you were a visitor to the cottage back in the late Victorian period, it would have cost sixpence each for entry, and Mary or one of her granddaughters would regale you with stories of the courtship of Anne and William. They may have even told you the story of the famous ‘Courting Settle’ which they claimed was the very bench on which Shakespeare and Anne would sit when he came to visit. If you were extremely lucky, Mary may have offered you a piece of the ‘Courting Settle’ for you to take home, for a small fee of course. She would get out a knife and carve a small piece off as a souvenir. Unfortunately, modern day experts have dated the bench to the mid-1700s which means that it is not old enough for this story to be true. Did Mary know this and was she purposefully tricking her visitors to help line her pockets, or was it a family story that she had believed herself from a young age? Unfortunately, we may never know.
In 1892 Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was the second property to be acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to preserve it for future generations. Mary and her family were allowed to remain living there, and were, in fact, paid by the Trust to continue acting as tour guides and custodians. At this time Mary sold a large proportion of her family furniture to the Trust, which means we still have these pieces in the cottage to see today. They vary in age quite dramatically, as the family lived here for almost 400 years, but it’s exciting to think that many of these items have been in the family for generations. Some even go as far back as the 1500s, so these items may have been in the cottage when Anne lived here!
In 1911 Mary’s son, William, left the cottage, and so he was the last Hathaway to reside here. However, many modern day descendants of the Hathaway family are still local to Stratford, and do come and visit the cottage occasionally.
In the final blog post we will take a look back at the Hathaway stories we have explored and review the changes we are making to the cottage to reflect these stories.
Catch up on this fascinating project through the posts below.