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Women of the Cottage

Three women whose influence helped to make the Cottage what it is today

Anne Hathaway

The portrait shows Anne Hathaway with light-brown straight hair, on which she wears a grey and white rolled band. Her face is pale, her eyes wide and dark, her nose long and straight, and her mouth is small and slightly pursed. She wears a lace collar.

The daughter and eldest child of the Shottery farmer Richard Hathaway, Anne was likely a very responsible and relied upon part of her family. Helping around the farm with tasks like milking the cows, making butter, she was certainly taught to work hard on the family farm. Anne put the Cottage on the map when she married William Shakespeare in 1582. Though he was to become the world's greatest writer, when they married he was only an 18 years old-- much younger than a typical groom of the time. Anne, however, was 26 was a very average age to marry, though much older than Shakespeare. Together, William and Anne had 3 children, and lived in the Birthplace, then in New Place. Anne died in 1623, the same year the First Folio was published. 

Susanna Taylor

At the head of the letter (which is mounted in a book) is a small but detailed drawing of the chair, showing some of the carving on the back. The letter is addressed to "Mr Jordan", but the text here is too small to read.
Letter from Samuel Ireland to John Jordan with a drawing of the Courting chair he purchased from the Hathaways on his visit

Up until the mid-1700s the Hathaway house and property had been passed down through the male line of Bartholomew Hathaway. But in 1746 John Hathaway passed away and as the remaining male heir, the property was then passed to his mother and three unmarried sisters-- Sarah, Elizabeth, and Susanna. But when his mother, Sarah and Elizabeth passed away, their shares of the property were either left or sold to Susanna and her family. 

By the late 1700s appreciation of the life of William Shakespeare had grown. This attracted pilgrims to Stratford-upon-Avon. Now poor, the Hathaways of this period, including Susanna Hathaway, were beginning to market their heritage to help make ends meet. During this period as well, Susanna Hathaway married William Taylor, losing the family surname. She was the first to begin showing interested visitors around the cottage, and would continue to do so for another 50 years. 

Indeed, Susanna may likely have been the one to greet the travel-writer Samuel Ireland into her home upon his visit in 1792. Samuel had a fascination with Shakespeare memorabilia and was anxious to purchase anything he could with a connection to Shakespeare: the courting chair and the Hathaway bed in particular he offered to buy. Having slept in the Hathaway bed since childhood, Susanna refused its purchase by Samuel Ireland. Thanks to this, the Hathaway bed remained in possession of the family.

The great-granddaughter of Susanna was our next significant woman: Mary Baker. 

Mary Baker

Mary Baker sits outside the cottage door. She wears dark dress, largely covered at the front by a white apron; on her head is a white bonnet, which flows over her shoulders, a bit like a nun's wimple.. On her left is a wooden table with two books, one open resting on the other, which is very fat (probably a Bible). She has an elderly face with half-smile which looks welcoming.

The transformation of the family home of the Hathaways to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage seen today was the lifetime project of one of its last tenants, Mary Baker. Mary was a descendant of Anne Hathaway’s brother, Bartholomew, and throughout the latter decades of the nineteenth century she gave tours of her home and fostered the romantic narrative that we still associate with the Cottage.  

Before Mary’s time as custodian of the Cottage, it had gained attention from eighteenth century and early nineteenth century bardolaters. George and David Garrick were some of the earliest visitors, visiting the Cottage in 1742. By the time the railway arrived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1864, the Hathaway home was attracting a steady stream of national and international visitors; becoming a popular subject for painters and photographers; and appearing in most Stratford guidebooks. George May’s 1847 Illustrated Companion to Stratford-upon-Avon, for example, featured a section called The Poet’s Rural Haunts, where May imagines Shottery as where ‘the poet (Shakespeare) and his future bride must have often strolled together’.

Mary Baker stands on the pavement outside the front gate; she wears dark jacket over a white dress, a white bonnet tied under her chin, and she is resting on two sticks. Behind her the garden hedges are trimmed, and the cottage looks in good condition, with roses climbing the wall of the section nearest the road.
Mary Baker in foreground

In the summer of 1844, clergyman William Harness was one of the earliest tourists to be taken around the house by Mary. He records that Mary’s tour emphasised the Cottage as the place of Anne and Shakespeare’s courtship, and she encouraged him to imagine intimate scenes between them. Thereafter, Mary gave each of her guests a personal tour, serving tea and ‘a Shakspearean pork-pie’ in the spot that ‘Will Shakspeare used to make love to his Anne”. She handed out flowers from the garden and also allowed visitors access to the well where they could ‘derive inspiration’ from the place that Shakespeare drank. The highlight was the courting settle ‘on which Shakespeare did his wooing’ and guests could purchase shavings of. From Mary’s visitor books, it is known that these guests included Charles Dickens, Mark Lemon (founder of Punch), General Ulysses S. Grant, President James Garfield and Mark Twain.

American tourists particularly loved Mary and the Cottage. Edward L. Wells, a teacher from Oregon, wrote about his travels to Stratford in 1883.   Wells described Mary as “a fine old woman,” who “told me stories of the olden time, and picked ... some lavender and a snowdrop for me to send to dear ones across the sea.”  The Cottage often appeared in American magazines and publications, with travel writer William Winter cementing the place of Mary and the Cottage in the romantic American imagination in his popular work Shakespeare’s England (1886). Winter describes Shottery and the Cottage as where Shakespeare strolled ‘hand in hand with the darling of his first love’. After Mary’s death, one newspaper wrote that it was American tourists that would miss her most.

The picture show the oath and steps leading to the front door. To the right of the path are some tall, dark shrubs, while on the left bushes grow up the wall of the cottage. Mary Baker stands outside the front door, quite a distance; she wears a white head covering, a grey dress to her shins with a white apron over it, and she appears to be holding an open book in her hands.
Mary Baker in front of Cottage, 1892

Mary’s tours and stories were legitimised by her status as a living descendant of the Hathaways. Mary emphasised her pedigree by showing guests the Hathaway lineage written inside the family Bible. When James Walter visited in the 1880s, he reported that the Cottage was -

nearly in the same condition as when Shakespeare paid his love visits, whilst the fact of its being still tenanted by a descendant of his wife’s father helps wonderfully to realize to visitors its many charming and romantic associations.”

Mary Baker sits by the fireplace, wearing a white apron over a dark full-length skirt, and tight-fitting white bodice with a large round black collar, possibly of fur. Beside her us a small round table on which is a fat book; nearer the camera on the left are a longer table, a chair and a stool.
Mary Baker in Cottage Parlour 1888


In the last decade of the nineteenth century, the volume of tourists had increased so much that Mary fretted she could no longer make a cup of tea for everyone. As Mary aged, guests became concerned about the future of the Cottage. Some, like James Walter, hoped that the Cottage would be bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and be professionally preserved. In 1892 Walter’s hope came true and the Trust purchased the Cottage. Mary remained custodian, selling the Hathaway family furniture for £500 in exchange for remaining rent-free with an annual salary of £75.

Mary died in 1899 after slipping on the Cottage’s stone steps. She had led Cottage tours for seventy years. One notice of her death recounted that ‘in the minds of most visitors, Mrs. Baker’s personality was indissolubly associated with the cottage ... There can hardly be a town in the kingdom where hearts will not be touched by the news of her sad end.’  Her son William, took over her role but retired in 1911.   

In the foreground is the newly-dug grave with the piles of earth around it; on the right, a clergyman in cassock, surplice and stole is just closing his prayer book. A crowd of formally-dressed people surrounds two sides of the grave, and behind them can be seen the chapel.
Image of Mary Baker's Funeral

After Mary’s family, the Trust standardised the tours of the Cottage and started selling more conventional souvenirs. However, Mary’s influence can still be seen in the presentation of the Cottage today, with the Trust describing it as ‘the most romantic of Shakespeare’s family homes where the young William Shakespeare courted his future wife’ and the love settle’ is still there for visitors to see.   

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