ANGELA POWNALL visited Stratford-upon-Avon where Shakespeare’s life and work began and where his legacy is stronger than ever.
More than 400 years after his death, William Shakespeare is still widely thought of as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s greatest playwright.
It all began in a small town in central England. Shakespeare was born, lived and began writing his perennially popular works in Stratford-upon-Avon.
But Stratford-upon-Avon did not become famous as the birthplace and home of the Bard until 250 years ago.
The first Shakespeare Jubilee was held in 1769 to mark the bicentenary of his birth (albeit five years late for reasons unknown).
The festival attracted London’s high society who made the 100-mile trip up the Fosse Way to Warwickshire where Stratford sits on the River Avon.
The event’s success was far from apparent at the time. Heavy rains caused the River Avon to burst its banks and led to widespread flooding.
Many of the Hoi Polloi quickly retreated to London before the end of the festival. Despite the washout, actor and theatre manager David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee belatedly put Stratford-upon-Avon on the map as the Bard’s home.
Almost three million tourists now visit Stratford-upon-Avon, which has a population of more than 27,000, every year. (Don’t let that put you off! It is possible to avoid the crowds by visiting the main sights outside of summer or early or late in the day.)
Shakespeare’s phenomenal life began in a large 16th century half-timbered house in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon town centre where he was born in 1564 to John and Mary Shakespeare.
The Shakespeares were wealthy and owned the largest house on Henley Street.
Today the house sits incongruously alongside high street stores and coffee shops. Despite the passage of time, Shakespeare’s birthplace is strikingly well preserved, and restored.
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