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Anne's Childhood Home Through the Years

The structural changes of Anne Hathaway's family home through time

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is timber framed (sitting on a limestone plinth) with dormer windows and a thatched roof. The core of the present cottage was constructed as a farmhouse by Old Stratford Manor in around 1463. Today, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust cares for the property and welcomes visitors to learn about the life of Anne Hathaway and the 13 generations of Hathaways who made the cottage their home. 

Originally a three room farmhouse, the family continued to develop its structure to suit their needs. 

The cottage looks in very poor repair, with damaged thatch and ivy climbing the walls. The outbuildings in front of the road-end of the cottage have a broken door and missing planks. The lawn, though mown, looks unkempt, and the bushes surrounding it are straggly and untidy.
Anne Hathaway's Cottage cir. 1850

The central part of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the oldest, with felled timber dating from 1462/3 used in its construction. It is thought to have been finished in 1463 using a cruck construction (a curved timber frame that supports the roof of a building). When the farmhouse was first constructed the building would have comprised of just three downstairs rooms: the kitchen, parlour and the open hall. Today the original medieval kitchen, parlour and cross passage remain. The stones in the kitchen, which are the same today as when they were first laid, are blue lias limestone. They were likely quarried from Wilmcote, not far from Shottery, and added during the time of John Shakespeare (Anne's Grandfather). Prior to that time the medieval house would've had a dirt floor only.  

The Hathaway family rented the cottage until 1610, when Anne’s brother, Bartholomew, purchased the freehold for £200.This was a time when the number of rooms a person had in their home reflected their status in society, and Bartholomew was a very prosperous sheep farmer with some wealth. As the owner, he was able to make improvements to his home, and extensive building work began. The cottage was constructed in two principal phases: the eastern, lower section dates from the mid-fifteenth century; while the higher, western section was built in the seventeenth century, by Bartholomew's descendants.

Bartholomew added a two-storey extension to the end of the cottage. Unlike the original section, which was a medieval cruck framed house, the addition was box-framed and more typical of the early 1600s style. Bartholomew was now required to remodel the original part of the house to include an upper floor, in order to link the two sections together. This meant that by 1615 the cottage had grown in size to ten rooms, with two chimneys to spread the heat through the house. This heat circulation would've been desired in the winter months when, instead of glass windows, shutter on the open windows would've been the family's only other protection from the cold. 

John Hathaway, Bartholomew's grandson made further alterations in 1697. A stone, brick and timber extension was added onto the eastern end of the older eastern range.  The extension consisted of two rooms so today the cottage consists of 12 rooms in total. The new chimney stack still bares John’s initials and the date of completion.

The financial hardships experienced by the Hathaways in the eighteenth century meant that very few structural changes were made to the cottage thereafter. This has resulted in much of the original fifteenth century structure surviving, as the cottage has experienced little modernisation.

The Shakespeare Jubilee (held in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769) encouraged interest in the home of William Shakespeare, and by the end of the eighteenth century the farmhouse at Shottery had become a place of literary pilgrimage. From this point on images of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage appear with the characteristic contrasting black beams and white frontage, set in an idealistic cottage garden.

Rethatching Anne Hathaway's Cottage post fire.
Rethatching the Cottage (1954)

By 1838 the house had been divided into three cottages to accommodate three separate families, with the remaining Hathaways staying in the middle section. A small gabled building was built on the south side of the cottage to provide a communal toilet for residents; however this was demolished in the 1860s. After the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s acquisition in 1892, the cottage underwent a period of restoration and rejuvenation, including a re-landscaping of the gardens by Ellen Wilmott in the 1920s. The partitions that were added when the cottage was split into three were removed, and windows were replaced. 

Behind a large plume of smoke and steam, the cottage is just visible, notable the roof timbers with no thatch. In the foreground two firemen with a hose are trying to douse the thatch; another, actually standing on the house wall, is raking the thatch down. A fourth fireman at the extreme right is raking something on the ground.
Fire at the cottage (1971)

Sadly, in 1969, a fire caused some damage to the west end of the building, which thankfully just effected a small area of the cottage. The Trust endeavoured to repair the cottage following the fire, and the roof was completely re-thatched and a decorative block cut ridge was introduced. The original thatch with a flush ridge was restored around 1997.

In the late twentieth century modern amenities were added to the site – such as a coach park and a block of toilets for visitors.

A ladder runs to the top of the road end of the cottage, and at the top three firemen are placing a tarpaulin over the far side of the roof. To their left, both sides of the roof are covered with tarpaulins. At the foot of the ladder are three more firemen, and the ground around them is covered with piles of straw.
Rethatching after the fire (1971)

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