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THE BARD'S RURAL HAUNTS.
BY EDWIN LEES, F.L. S.;
Author of the “BOTANICAL LOOKER-OUT," &c.
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY E. ADAMS.
18 5 4.
After knowing this, the minute labours of the topographer become of little worth ; nor shall we enter a field interesting only to the mere groper after manorial or antiquarian lore. We shall not repeat here the chronicles of a Dugdale or a Wheler; for it matters little who held the site of the town “three centuries before the Norman Conquest;” or how a Saxon monastery came to be there, which was destroyed; and how the Bishops of Worcester became possessed of the place, and who followed them. These matters we leave for those whom they may concern; our business is to aid the pilgrim who may journey hither to the shrine of his idolatry, and trace Stratford principally in its connection with SHAKESPEARE.
The author of “Rambles by Rivers” has traced the ideas of a stranger in connection with Stratford so justly, that though the pride of a native may not be much flattered by the remark, we shall quote it and act upon it; since whatever interest Stratford possesses, is now entirely associated with and linked to the reputation of SHAKESPEARE ; and happy are those who, like Washington Irving, while aiming to follow the footsteps of the “immortal bard,” can add lustre to their own names in describing the local haunts of him who pictured all the phases of “many-coloured life.”
“Stratford is a clean, quiet town, pleasantly situated on the right bank of the Avon : it is a place of no large size, without any manufactures, of little traffic. Its buildings are not very remarkable: one who knew nothing about it, might ride carelessly through it, without a wish to stop his horse. Were he told that he was in Stratford-the birth-place, the chosen retreat, and the grave of Shakespeare, he would, however, look on all about him with very different sentiments. He would eagerly examine every spot connected with our great bard, or that existed when he dwelt here ; especially would he desire to realize the Stratford of Shakespeare, to divest the place of all that has been added to it since he walked about its streets, and to reconstruct whatever has been destroyed."'*
To do this satisfactorily would, however, require a considerable effort of that imagination that “ bodies forth the form of things unseen;" for, as respects the town of Stratford itself, little indeed remains tangible that met the eye of Shakespeare in its integrity. The Church, the Guild Chapel, the stone bridge, part of Middle Row, an old house in High Street, above the Town Hall, on the opposite side of the way, bearing the date of 1596 on its front, and the memorable dwelling in which Shakespeare himself was born, are nearly all the relics of much importance left of the olden times of Stratford. Nor, indeed, is this to be wondered at, from the lapse of time and the continual changes taking place in renovating the fronts of old houses.*
Stratford was an inconsiderable town in ancient
* Thorne's Rambles by Rivers—the Avon, p. 159.
+ Here and there an old timber-framed tenement of curious ancient character may be seen on the ontskirts of the town. The subject is analyzed at some length in Mr. Halliwell's folio Shakespeare, vol. 1.
times, having a ford over the river upon the great street or road, and so derived its name. Its importance was increased by Sir Hugh Clopton, a lord mayor of London, in the reign of Henry VII, and a native of Warwickshire, who built a substantial stone bridge over the Avon, still existing, and also a “great house" in the town, where doubtless in his time he was the great man! The town still progressing, a charter was granted to it by Edward VI, and the “ bailiffs and burgesses of Stratford-upon-Avon” constituted. A grammar-school attached to the old guild was also provided for, which is interesting as connected with Shakespeare's education. Here, then, in a market town of about a thousand inhabitants, we find John Shakespeare settled in 1555.
But a country town at this time was but a rude assemblage of low timber houses, many of them thatched, and without upper stories—perhaps the lesser ones even without chimnies, and thus fires were perpetually happening; so, in the thirty-sixth and thirty-seventh years of Queen Elizabeth's reign two dreadful fires occurred at Stratford, consuming two hundred dwelling-houses ; and in 1614-only two years before Shakespeare's death-another fire is said to have consumed fifty-four houses in less than two hours-probably many were thatched cottages, formed of very combustible materials. It is necessary to bear this in mind, when looking for vestiges of old Stratford, and also when gazing at the timber structure in Henley-street, where Shakespeare's father lived; for however inadequate it may appear now as the residence of a substantial family, it