STRATFORD UPON AVON

The provincial town of Stratford upon Avon lies in the heart of England.

It is one of the most celebrated and visited towns in Great Britain.

It is also the town where I was born.

There are two historical connections as to why this town is so famous.

Firstly as the birthplace of writer William Shakespeare.

Secondly as the place where conspirators supposedly met to hatch the plan for the Gunpowder Plot.

The era of Shakespeare overlapped with the meeting of the Gunpowder Plot conspirators at Clopton Manor in 1603.

William Shakespeare is, of course, without doubt Stratford’s most famous citizen.

Born here in 1564, he became a respcted playwright during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and later her cousin James I until he died in 1616.

William Shakespeare rests today in a tomb inside the Holy Trinity Church about half a mile from the centre of Stratford and at the waters edge of the Avon.

Had he not journeyed back to Stratford to agree the deal to reserve his final resting place, then it is quite possible that he might have been killed along with King James and all the Government Ministers in execution of the Gunpowder Plot for the state opening of Parliament on 5th November 1605.

If that plot had not been foiled at the eleventh hour.

There are many observers who believe that as a catholic sympathizer, William Shakespeare knew more than he ever let on.

Stratford has been a town since it was granted a charter by King Richard in 1196.

Over the coming centuries, craftsmen, carpenters, blacksmiths, brewers and bakers would establish their trade here .

Ale Houses, Taverns and Inns would ply their trade too with ale malted from the barley crop grown in the Warwickshire fields.

William Shakespeare was an opportunist maltster during his lifetime,

Wealth gained from writing plays financed investment into land where he could grow his own barley, malt it with the expertise of his wife Anne Hathaway  and sell it to the alehouses of England.

No doubt when the great man sat beneath the Mulberry Tree at his luxurious  brick built home in town, he must have salivered at the prospects of early retirement.

The town continued to prosper and develop despite outbreaks of plague, famine and fire.

A major factor was its  proximity to the cities of Coventry and Birmingham as well as to the castles at Warwick and Kenilworth.

Not least also its strategic position on the route to the university city of Oxford and the trek to the bright lights of London.

But the town lies on the beautiful willowed river Avon on which white swans live out their existence, just as they did in William Shakespeare’s heyday.

Reference to William Shakespeare as the Swan of Avon is surely no historical accident.

Clopton Manor lies in view of one of the most pictuesque sections of the Avon.

Hugh Clopton was responsible for the erection of the stone bridge across the Avon which is but a stone’s throw away to his ancestral home.

It is hard to imagine just what kind of impact all of this could have had on an aspiring, audacious and ambitious young man such as was William Shakespeare..

Amid the new era of protestism and the age of the visiting pageant theatre, the few thousand citizens of Stratford were scrutinized about their allegiance to the crown.

Clearly there was a feeling within Stratford for a number of years that catholicism could not and would not be suppressed.

Many who participated to meet at Clopton Manor were local citizens and known catholics.

One was even a cooper who made the  wooden barrels which would hold the gunpowder later stored below the Houses of Parliament.

The modern era of Stratford upon Avon has brought a canal, a railway, a brewery, a public school and a Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.

William Shakespeare was just one of the many Stratfordians who left the town for London in the land of new opportunities but the likes of James and Richard Burbage among others are not forgotten.

The Stratford upon Avon of today is not so different from the past.

Tourists flock to the town from all over the world by virtue of the railway and the M40 motorway to embrace and connect with the heritage and legacy William Shakespeare left behind.

Few leave without at least re-tracing some of the steps William Shakespeare might have taken in his daily life in this pleasant, agreeable town and engaging to watch a performance of  at least one of his plays at the riverside Memorial Theatre.

The  school room at King Edward VII School at which William Shakespeare was educated for a few years is still there.

The birthplace cottage of the great man is found a few hundred metres away and fascinates the visitor.

The Cornmarket.  The Market Cross.  The Market Square.  The Clopton Stone Bridge.

The brick built house known now as New Place.

The Guild Hall.

The intertwining streets of Swine, Rother, Sheep and Henley which brought Stratford upon Avon to life for generations.

Stratford upon Avon is indeed a rightly celebrated town.

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