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Shakespeare Connected - Shakespeare's New Place: Artefacts and Inhabitants

This blog introduces a Shakespeare Connected online exhibition on the archaeology of Shakespeare's last home.

Will Mitchell

A Shakespeare Connected exhibition in collaboration with Will Mitchell, Archaeologist at Staffordshire University.

New Place was William Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon, purchased in 1597 at a cost of £60. It was a place for him and his family to call home. New Place was the largest residential house in the borough and the only one with a courtyard. For Shakespeare, New Place was more than just a building: it was a place of work, leisure, social status and ambition. Shakespeare’s house was remodelled or demolished into a new house, which itself was demolished in 1759. 

In archaeology, the term ‘artefact’ is used to mean any object made by a human being or produced/altered through human activity. The most common artefacts recovered from the New Place Excavations (and arguably on any archaeological site from this period) included pottery, building materials and animal bone waste. 

New Place - South East View - Phillip Watson
South-easterly reconstruction of Shakespeare’s New Place. The house originated as a late-medieval, timber framed, open-hall house, which was constructed around a courtyard (Copyright Phillip Watson).

Through comparative analysis (relative dating) techniques, archaeologists have been able to use these artefacts to date the features and buildings. Also, the objects give insights into the lives of the residents of New Place and the activities undertaken by them, including their household work and hobbies.

The artefacts show us that the ground upon which New Place was constructed had already seen human occupation and activity dating back several thousand years to the prehistoric period.

The numerous developments on the site have shaped its story. The site was once within an Iron Age farmstead, its location chosen because of the proximity to the River Avon. Objects from the 13th century reveal the development of the site into a housing plot and the construction of the first timber-framed building on the site. The construction of New Place by Hugh Clopton around 1483 is documented, and the life of its residents can be imagined through the artefacts.

New Place Excavation Finds
A finds tray containing pottery recovered from the excavations of New Place. The tray contains pottery ranging from the 13th to 19th centuries.

Following the residency of Shakespeare, his family, and his descendants, New Place was demolished around 1702 and an entirely new and radically different house was built in its place. This only survived for a few decades, as in 1759 the then owner Reverend Francis Gastrel removed all trace of the property above ground, and the surviving artefacts record these events. Evidence of earlier investigations of the site undertaken by the antiquarian and Shakespeare scholar, James Orchard Halliwell Phillipps, in the 1860’s provide us with an insight into early archaeological excavation techniques.

This on-line exhibition presents artefacts which help present a fascinating account of many archaeological layers.

To view Will Mitchell's exhibition in full, click here