A Visit to Shakespeare's New Place, Stratford Upon Avon

On May 4, 1597 the celebrated playwright and actor William Shakespeare purchased a new home for himself and his family. By now a success on the London stages, it is often seen by historians today as his 'forever home', a larger house that offered more comfort for the family and gave Shakespeare the opportunity for quiet contemplation to inspire his works. It was the second largest house in Stratford at the time, second only to the town's college. 

New Place was originally the home of Hugh Clopton, who built it during the time of Henry VII in the late fifteenth century. Shakespeare Historian Sir Sidney Lee believes that by the time the family purchased the property it had fallen into disrepair as in the following year the poet ordered stone to repair it and by 1602 paid for an orchard to be laid alongside the house. He also notes that the mulberry tree in the gardens, said to have been planted by Shakespeare himself, was indeed an oral tradition dating back to Shakespeare's lifetime, although was first written down much later, in the eighteenth century. 

Shakespeare paid £60 for the house and according to Lee, took up permanent residence there in around 1611. Between these dates, he states that Shakespeare's main residence was in London as he oversaw performances in the city. He also owned land just outside of Stratford, the house where he was born along with other properties, including a house in Blackfriars, London, by 1612-1613. 

New Place however, with its orchard, mulberry tree, barns and gardens was the place Shakespeare lived while later works such as The Tempest and Henry VIII were released. He also entertained Ben Jonson and Michael Drayton here in early 1616. It was also the site of his death, on 23 April 1616, of unknown causes, although the contraction of a fever, unsanitary conditions in Stratford at the time, a night of heavy drinking (perhaps for his birthday) as well as murder have all been offered as explanations. He was fifty-two years old. 

The house passed to Susanna Hall, Shakespeare's eldest daughter, on his death. Her mother, Shakespeare's wife Anne Hathaway, died too at New Place on 6 August 1623. In July 1643, Queen Henrietta Maria came through Stratford Upon Avon with a military escort during the Civil War and stayed for three days at New Place, entertained by Susanna, according to Lee.

New Place devolved to a number of different owners after Susanna's death, eventually returning to the Clopton family. In 1702 John Clopton demolished the house and rebuilt it as a larger property, passing it to his son Hugh to live in. In 1753 it was sold to a Cheshire vicar, Francis Gastrell, where the history of the house takes a tragic turn. Lee asserts that Gastrell managed to become involved in a number of disputes with Stratford Town Council over taxation, and in defiance chopped down the legendary mulberry tree in the garden of New Place in 1758. The following year, these arguments led to Gastrell further demolishing the whole of New Place to the ground, in an act of spite. Lee says this was to do with the town council, but it has also been said that it was due to tourists peering into the grounds of what was once Shakespeare's home and garden (not forgetting however that Clopton had demolished the original house way back in 1702). 

In 1862 Nash's House (the adjoining house to New Place) and the site of New Place was purchased for preservation, and it still remains open to the public today. 

The foundations of the house have been identified and are marked out in the ground, amid the beautiful gardens that today stand as a memorial to Shakespeare's life and his prosperity by the dawn on the seventeenth century. There are no surviving contemporary sketches or drawings of the original home, although some artists have made educated guesses as to what it might have looked like. There are also statues in the gardens that relate to characters from Shakepeare's plays, such as Henry V, Hamlet and Macbeth, sculpted in bronze by American artist Greg Wyatt, designed to be tactile and full of texture, adding a different dimension to experiencing Shakespeare's plays and characters. There are more artworks, modern sculptures and carvings in the garden. Nash's House, from where you enter New Place, is a small museum, displaying artwork as well as artefacts such as the original purchase of New Place in 1597, bearing the seal of the court. 

Knowing that New Place had been demolished centuries before, I was a little sceptical about visiting here and what could be seen. But those maintaining the site have done an outstanding job. If Shakespeare chose this house for contemplation, rest and inspiration, it makes its tragic end a little more comforting knowing that it is now set aside for people around the world to come and do the same. The gardens really are outstanding, against the backdrop of the church and Chapel Lane beyond. When we visited, there were also far fewer people there than were queuing at Shakespeare's Birthplace or Anne Hathaway's Cottage. Don't discard it. There is something particularly nostalgic about just sitting here on a bench amid flowers, bushes and with the tower of the Guild Chapel in sight, exactly as Shakespeare would have done, more than four hundred years ago. 

I can fully recommend a lovely old pub for lunch, The Garrick Inn, pretty much opposite the road as you leave New Place. Shakespeare would have known it, they do gorgeous food and you can order a pint of Shakes-Beer! 

Liked this? You might also like 10 Facts About William Shakespeare, 10 Things to Know About Stratford Upon Avon Before You Visit and Shakespeare and Powerful Women: Characters on the Stage.


Lee, Sir Sidney A Life of William Shakespeare (Macmillan, New York, 1916) 

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