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Acquisition of the Cottage by the Trust

Learn more about how Anne Hathaway's Cottage came into the keeping of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

In 1892 Anne Hathaway’s Cottage was the third of the Shakespeare properties to be acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Nearly 50 years after the successful purchase of William Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the Trustees heard that Shakespeare’s wife's childhood home was up for sale. With the power of the 1891 Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Act behind them, they decided to act.

Seen from the road, the cottage is half-hidden by a very overgrown hedge. The further, taller, section is clearer, and the beams are visible, although not painted black; a small bay window is also visible. The winter light and the bare trees showing above the cottage give a feeling of desolation.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage c. 1885

Stratford-upon-Avon had experienced a steady growth in the number of visitors coming to see the places associated with Shakespeare’s personal life throughout the nineteenth century. During the latter half of the 1800s a Hathaway descendant, Mary Baker, had been running popular tours of the Cottage. The Trust quickly realised the historic importance of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. When they heard that the executors of the deceased owner’s will were looking to sell the cottage, they began to seriously consider the possibility of raising funds to buy it. 

In the summer of 1891 negotiations were entered into with the executor, Alderman William Thompson. Thompson’s asking price for the Cottage was £3,300. This was considered far too high by the Trust’s Committee and they refused.

Anne Hathaway's Cottage Admission ticket, costing sixpence. The ticket is yellow, and is issued by the "Trustees and Guardians of Shakespeare's Birthplace". At the foot is the name Richard Savage, Secretary and Librarian to the Trustees.
Admissions ticket to Anne Hathaway's Cottage, 1898-1899

  •  Find out more about the 'Love settle' on display in the cottage

In March of the following year, concerns were raised among the Trustees when they saw Thompson had placed an advert for the property in two London newspapers (the Daily Telegraph and the London Star). The Trust feared they would lose the cottage forever and approached Thompson again. He agreed to lower the price to £3,000.

A meeting was held by the Trust’s Committee and the matter was carefully considered. The Trust only had £2,814 2s. in its account, so it was a financially problematic purchase. Further pressure was put on the Committee to make a decision when Mary offered to sell her original furniture and visitor books to the Trust if they were able to purchase the cottage. The Committee voted to accept the offer. The only objection came from the vicar of Stratford (the Reverend George Arbuthnot) who protested that the price was still too high.

The conveyance of the sale for Anne Hathaway’s Cottage happened on 24 May 1892. Mary then asked a further £500 from the Trust for the furniture, and wanted to continue living as custodian of the cottage.  By July the Trust had agreed to pay Mary the £500, and to allow her to live rent free in the cottage on a salary of £75 per year to act as a guide. Her son was also allowed to remain in the house to assist her, but the Trust wrote in a condition that she must work within their rules and regulations.

On the raised hearthstone stands a modern metal fire basket in front of a metal fireback; the back wall is soot-stained. On a shelf over the fireplace stand plates and pots. Still in the fireplace but not on the hearth is a corner cupboard on the right, and a seat on the left, half obscured by a chair in front of it. In the foreground on the right is part of a dresser which appears to have a drop-leaf.
Kitchen of the Cottage, c. 1901

Soon after, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage opened its door to the public as the newest Trust property. Despite charging a one shilling entrance fee (a significant amount for the time) the financial return was initially poor. In the first year the most the cottage ever made was £28 8s. 3d in a month.  

In an effort to align the appearance of the cottage with the romantic narrative associated with it, the Trust tried to improve the conditions of the cottage and the garden setting. In 1893 a small strip of land to the north was purchased, the old drain replaced, the cottage wall underpinned and a boundary fence erected. The roof was re-thatched in 1896, and the entire cottage was cleaned and repaired.

Mary, now very frail, continued to give tours until her death in 1899 and twelve years later her son William retired as custodian. Frederick Bennett (previously employed at Shakespeare's Birthplace) took over from the Bakers, but continued Mary’s style of guiding. Over time tours became standardised, and more typical souvenirs and postcards were sold. The Trust continued to make improvements – although the cottage was not connected to mains water until 1910 and open fires were still used for warmth in the 1950s. In the 1920s and 1930s the Trust acquired the land surrounding the cottage, establishing the gardens and rural setting that can be seen today. Visitor numbers have continued to increase and Anne Hathaway’s is now one of the Trust’s most iconic properties. 

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