Forgotten Woman of Shakespeare: Mrs Mary Baker

Each year, thousands of people visit Stratford Upon Avon, the home of the Elizabethan poet and dramatist William Shakespeare. They visit Shakespeare's Birthplace, New Place Gardens and Anne Hathaway's Cottage, listening to stories of writing, romantic meetings and the Shakespeare family. But what we don't often hear about is how one woman helped preserve interest in the Shakespeare and Hathaway legend through the nineteenth century. 

Mrs Baker at the Anne Hathaway's Cottage, Internet Archive, Wikimedia Commons

Mrs Baker was said to have been a descendant of Anne Hathaway, and lived in what is now Anne Hathaway's Cottage during the Victorian period. Visitors remember her for allowing them into her home to look around at where Shakespeare would have visited his future wife and her family, offering them not only her time but a drink of water from the well in the grounds. She also offered some of them a handful of leaves or picked some flowers from the garden for visitors to keep as a souvenir. 

Henry Snowden, writing in around 1909, acknowledged that Mrs Baker must have had a 'weary time' if there were many visitors in one day, but was 'always ready to chat about the cottage and the many distinguished visitors she has received'. Mrs Baker also had a Bible that had the births, marriages and deaths of the Hathaway family written inside that she kept by her chair. 

Mrs Baker was clearly proud of her lineage, and that she lived in a home so steeped in history. When she died in 1899, the trustees of the Birthplace Trust, who owned the cottage, decided to carry out some alterations and repair works between 1899-1900. One of these led to the discovery of an old window frame in the living room, which was restored. 

I think that Mary Baker deserves to be mentioned in any history of Stratford Upon Avon that links with the Hathaways and Shakespeares. She was under no obligation to show her home to eager passers-by, desperate for a peek into a building Anne Hathaway and William Shakespeare would have known, and by all accounts treated them with kindness. She gave up her time not out of duty but out of a love of the building and her own heritage, a passion for her ancestors responsible for the legends written about in history books. She therefore contributed to the Shakespeare craze during the late 1800s, encouraging visits and handing out keepsakes plucked from her own garden. In doing this, she created excitement around the story of Anne Hathaway, highlighting the family's part in the Stratford legend, well into her eighties and motivated alone by her love of the story of her home.

Liked this? You might also like 10 Things to Know About Stratford Upon Avon Before You Visit and A Visit to Shakespeare's New Place. 

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Notes and Sources

Snowden, Henry. Shakespeare's Town and Time, (JB Lippincott, Philadelphia, 1909)