"In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." - Abraham Lincoln

Posted on August 2, 2018 by Sioux under General
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With a four day break between jobs, I planned a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s a beautiful area and of course historically important as the birthplace of William Shakespeare, widely considered to be the greatest playwright of all time. I also know a theater aficionado who lives there, and he had agreed to take me on a tour of the town. In the meantime, after arriving in the late afternoon, I had time on my hands and daylight to spare. I unpacked and headed out. The weather was on my side and I explored until quite late. 

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                                                                                                                 The name Stratford-upon-Avon is a combination of 

                                                                                                                 the Old English strǣt meaning ‘street’; ford indicating

                                                                                               a shallow part of a river, allowing it to be crossed by walking or driving and avon which is the Celtic word for river. The ‘street’ was a Roman road and the ford, which has been used as a crossing since Roman times, later became the location of Clopton Bridge.

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IMG_9959-LR-(1-of-1) Clopton Bridge allowed trade to flourish in Stratford

Inhabited by Anglo-Saxons since the 7th century, Stratford-Upon-Avon remained a village until 1196, when plans were made to develop it into a town. In the same year, the village was granted a charter from King Richard I to hold a weekly market in the town, giving it ‘market town’ status. 

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There are still many old and historical buildings in the

town, well -kept and looking beautiful, despite the

modern signage now adorning the front façades.

If only the walls could talk!

 

One of Stratford-Upon-Avon’s most historic landmarks is The Old Thatch Tavern, a beautiful pub dating back to 1470. It’s the oldest pub in town, and is the only remaining thatched building. 

Across the way from the tavern is the “Shakespeare Memorial Fountain” also known as “The American Fountain”. The memorial is a beautiful clock tower and includes horse troughs and a drinking fountain. Built in 1886-7 it was gifted to the town by an American publisher in dedication to William Shakespeare and in celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.

I meandered through the town towards the river, passing by the eye-catching statue of Touchstone, the Jester from Shakespeare’s play ‘As you like it’. His jaunty pose and smiling face seem to capture the humour contained in most of Shakespeare’s writings. The imposing 2.2m high bronze statue, which stands atop a 2m high stone base and plinth, was 

              unveiled in 1994. 

There’s an “All year round Christmas shop” too! Called the Nutcracker Shop, it looked so cheerful from the outside and must be a treat to visit at any time of the year!

 

Although established in the year 2000, The Teddy Bear Shop is located in 16th century premises! I went in for a look around but kept my wallet safely stashed in my pocket. I could have spent an absolute fortune! I moved on as there was still so much to see.

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The Barclays Bank building stands on one of the most important sites in the city and was originally the Market House. Replacing a 16th century building, it was renovated in 1821, and the ground floor enclosed in the 1860’s. It was converted to bank 1908.

 

By contrast, the HSBC building has always been a bank and was built in 1883. Above the windows are relief terracotta scenes taken

from some of Shakespeare’s plays.  

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The Town Hall was built in the reign of Charles I, and has survived some almost disastrous events which include being extensively damaged from a gunpowder explosion in 1643. Over a century later it was demolished but re-built the following year. Major alterations in 1863 resulted in the building as it stands today. In 1946 a fire, started from a cigarette, completely gutted the magnificent ballroom, and a valuable painting by Gainsborough was destroyed. Needless to say, this was probably one of the first buildings to have indoor smoking totally banned! 

The Garrick Inn, (pictured right) a timber framed

building dating back to the 1400’s, is reputed to

be the oldest pub in Stratford. An inn since 1718,

it was built in 1594, however the site has been

occupied since the early 1400’s and before! Its rich history includes the notoriety of being said to have been the place where the plague of 1564 started, fatal fires and priest holes (a hiding place for priests used during the period when Catholics were persecuted by law in England). It is said that many former occupants still visit from the “other side”! 

To the right of the inn is the building once known as the Ancient House. Built in 1596 by the grandfather of the benefactor of Harvard University, it passed through the hands of a multitude of owners, including a malt brewer, a blacksmith, a bookseller, a plumber, an ironmonger and even an estate agent. In 1909 the house was purchased by an American millionaire from Chicago. After extensive restoration, it was given to Harvard University and became known as Harvard House.

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The Guild Chapel is possibly best-known and most important historic buildings in the area. Standing opposite Shakespeare’s final home, New Place, the chapel has a long history with the playwright and his family. The building has a history dating back to 1269 and forms an integral and fascinating part of the history of Stratford-upon-Avon. It houses some of the finest medieval wall paintings in Europe, which were covered with layers of limewash on orders given to Shakespeare’s father in the 16th century following the Reformation. Restoration continues as the paintings are recognised as some of the very finest. 

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Built onto the side of the chapel is the Guildhall and Grammar school. Built in 1417, it was initially the headquarters of the Guild of the Holy Cross. After the suppression of the Guild, the building served as the Stratford Council’s meeting place for the next 300 years.

 

The Guild’s school, refounded as The Kyng’s Newe Scole in 1553, and it is here that Shakespeare was educated. It was also here that he received his first experience of professional theater as travelling players performed in the Guild regularly.

 

The building is still used as a school today. Alongside and underneath the school are almshouses, built in the early 15th century as housing for local aged residents and this is still the case nowadays. Although renovated and modernised between 1981-84, much of the half-timbered structure remains as it was built and the range of buildings has changed little in appearance over the centuries. 

I walked down to the Holy Trinity Church, also known as ‘Shakespeare’s Church’ where Shakespeare is buried but it was closed for the day, so I carried on towards the riverside pathway. There are many public benches along the pathway and the ornamentation on one in particular caught my eye. I had a good chuckle, as did a number of passers-by, as we wondered at what mischief had transpired on this bench the night before.  

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In the grassed public park area between the church and the city centre is an old boarded up building, known as The Orangery of the Flowers. An ‘Orangery’ is a building in a garden, generally used for the growing of oranges and other fruit. This one was built in the gardens of a Victorian house known as Avonbank. I could find very little history about the house or the Orangery, other than that it had been used as a school at some stage, and now all that was left was the Orangery. I was later told by my thespian acquaintance that at some time in the future there were plans to convert the building into a bistro-bar for exclusive clientele only. 

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I strolled along the pathway, taking in the sights and sounds of the city while enjoying the fresh evening air, stopping for a while to watch a flock of swans preening and making pretty whilst waiting to be fed. 

On the banks of the Avon is the magnificent building which houses both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the smaller Swan Theatre which was opened in 1986. Both were closed when I got there but I was being taken back the following day by my “personal tour-guide” 

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On the sidewalk outside the theatre is an interesting lamppost, featuring characters from “The Owl and the Pussycat”; Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Fiddler on the Roof”. The heritage lamppost was donated to

Stratford by the State of Israel. This is one of a series of

foreign lampposts along Waterside, and Stratford has the only

International Exhibition of working lampposts in the world.

 

Traditional lampposts have been donated to the town by various

countries, and there are a number from various countries as well

as some from cities throughout the United Kingdom. The Israeli

approach has proven to be the most unique. 

I crossed over the river at a bridge on the Stratford-upon-Avon canal. Built between 1793 and 1816, and covering over 41km in total, the canal boasts the only guillotine-gated stop-lock on a canal. Strolling alongside the river I passed by the Lucy’s Mill Sluice & Weir, and The Stratford Weir.

 

Although the mill is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book, time and fire took its toll and by the late 1960’s the mill was derelict. In 1973 the majority of the buildings were demolished and residences were erected on the site, with the watercourses being retained. Refurbishments in 1998 included a combined fish and elver pass to enable fish and young eels upstream migration. 

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Crossing over the river again and back past the church, I went walkabout in the Bancroft Gardens in front of the theater.

 

Originally an area of land where the townspeople grazed their animals, the gardens occupy the site of former canal wharves, warehouses, and a second canal basin, which was built in 1826 and refilled in 1902.

 

The area is now a continual hustle and bustle of visitors and locals alike; used for picnicking and relaxing as well as being the venue for an open air market. 

A magnificent stainless steel sculpture of two swans rising in flight is the centerpiece of the water fountain. 

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IMG_0004-LR-(1-of-1) The Royal Shakespeare Theatre from the Bancroft Gardens
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The Gower Shakespeare Memorial in bronze and stone, reigns supreme over the gardens, and was installed in the gardens 1888. It features a Shakespearean character, namely Hamlet, Prince Hal, Lady Macbeth and Falstaff, in each corner. 

A life-size statue of Shakespeare was erected in Bancroft Gardens to mark the 400th anniversary of his death.

Once the sun had set the night air got quite chilly, so I headed into the city for some food; and back to the B&B.

 

An interesting afternoon and now for a relaxing evening.

 

I had arranged to meet up with my friend in the morning for a more informative tour around the city.

This memorial to peace was designed by 2 Stratford-upon-Avon high school students and commemorates peace between the nations of Western Europe between 1945-1995. In the centre of the shieldis a soldier with a boy carrying the number 50, the town coat of arms and a dove with an olive branch. 

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