There are 5 properties at Shakespeare Birthplace Trust but how many of them actually belonged to William Shakespeare and did he live at all 5? Today, we will take a look at the buildings belonging to the legacy of William Shakespeare by asking :Did Shakespeare own a house?
Shakespeare did, indeed, own a house, two in fact, that were his residences. The drama and incredible story that accompanies these two homes, is worthy of any Shakespeare play.
Travel with That Shakespeare Girl: I have partnered with British History Tours to take a group of just 25 people to Stratford for a week in September 2019. Would you, your class, or your book group like to come with us and write your name alongside Alfred Lloyd Tennyson, Charles Dickens, and John Keats in the registry of Shakespeare’s Birthplace? YOU CAN. Learn more here.
The house itself is relatively simple, but for the late 16th century it would have been considered quite a substantial dwelling. John Shakespeare, William’s father, was a glove maker and wool dealer, and the house was originally divided in two parts to allow him to carry out his business from the same premises
at the time of Shakepeare’s birth his father was renting the property and that ten years later he was able to purchase two freehold houses in Henley Street. The house remained in the family until it was handed down for the final time to William Shakespeare’s daughter and, given that he was born in 1564, it is fairly certain that he was born and brought up there.
Consequently, the main house was leased to Lewis Hiccox, who converted it into an inn known as the Maidenhead (later the Swan and Maidenhead Inn), and the small, one-bay house to the north-west was put to residential use. By the time of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 it was occupied by, his recently widowed sister.
Walter Scott and Thomas Carlyle were among the notables that visited the birthplace and autographed the walls and windows. Many of the signatures still remain on the windowpanes around the house, although the signed walls have long since been painted over.A guest registry book includes the signatures of Lord Byron, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, John Keats, and William Thackeray
Interest in the property again increased when the whole premises were put up for sale on the death of Court’s widow in 1846. The American showman P. T. Barnum proposed to buy the home and ship it “brick-by-brick” to the US. In response, the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (becoming theShakespeare Birthplace Trust by a private Act of Parliament) was established and, with the help of such luminaries as Dickens, the Committee raised the necessary £3,000 and bought it the following year.
The Birthplace recreates a picture of family life at the time of Shakespeare complete with period domestic furnishings, a glass window inscribed with the signatures of visitors to the house over the centuries, and John Shakespeare’s glove making workshop.
Shakespeare’s New Place
After making his fortune in London, Shakespeare bought New Place in Stratford Upon Avon in 1597, at the age of 33, he was at the height of his career at a playwright in London. This is the home he shared with his wife, Anne, and where they would raise their children, and grandchildren.
At the time that he bought New Place, it was the second largest home in Stratford Upon Avon, being built of a newly arrived constructed method of timber and brick. The house was embroiled in a legal battle once it was discovered the son to whom the house was left as an inheritance had murdered the man who originally owned the house. After a complicated legal round about, William Shakespeare was able to negotiate a final and confirmed sales agreement to keep New Place.
The house seems to have carried with it a great deal of tension and turmoil throughout it’s existence. William Shakespeare’s Granddaughter, Elizabeth owned the house with her husband Thomas Nashe up until her death. Once she died, John Clopton owned the house.
They radically altered the structure of the house and by 1756, the Reverend Gastrell owned the house and he was quite annoyed at all the fans of William Shakespeare who wanted to visit the residence. Angry at the visiting fans, he destroyed a mulberry tree out front which was said to have been planted by William Shakespeare. The townspeople were so upset at his actions that they burst the windows on his house. Gastrell retaliated by destroying the entire house and demolishing it in 1759. The townspeople were so mad at him for this act, Gastrell was run completely out of town.
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought the land where the house once stood in 1876 and it is maintained as part of their properties to this day.
Get new episodes sent to your inbox every Monday.
That Shakespeare Girl Newsletter goes out to followers every Monday and inside are links to the latest podcast interview, Did Shakespeare YouTube episode, blog articles, and freebies that are normally for sale in That Shakespeare Shop, but we give them away free to That Shakespeare Girl Subscribers. Sign up here and start getting weekly Shakespeare emails sent directly to your inbox.