We caught the bus this morning into town, as we don’t have an endless supply of old ladies to chauffeur us around. We had breakfast at the restaurant that was literally right where the bus let us off. We got ourselves some bacon, eggs and toast. It was most delicious, although bacon is weird here. It’s like back bacon but not the same as our back bacon…a little more like ham…and cooked more like ham too, not as crispy….Justine says this is not cooked enough. We wanted to catch the first Hop On-Hop Off bus with a live guide at 10am so by the time we got our food we were a little rushed. But don’t worry, we are power eaters and finished breakfast in 6 minutes flat.
The tour took us around town and showed us the sights…which in Stratford include all of Shakespeare’s houses. The tour was very informative and we learned lots but the most important aspect was it got us around to all of the houses!
The first of the houses was Anne Hathaway’s cottage. Now you may wonder what the critically acclaimed actress of Love & Other Drugs, Alice in Wonderland, Brokeback Mountain & Ella Enchanted has to do with anything…? Well she doesn’t, but Anne Hathaway also happens to be the name of Shakespeare’s wife. When they were married she was eight years older than him (she was a spinster of 26) and three months pregnant (scandalous!). This was the Hathaway’s family home, garden and farm. You could tell they were a wealthy family for the 1500’s. The cottage was simply lovely! It was an old Tudor house with a thatched roof. From our last post you should recognize Todor architecture! Tcot cottage interior was richly decorated for the time and featured 4 beds. This may not seem like a big deal to you but St that time beds were a status symbol. You would put them in your living room so visitors could see you were wealthy enough to own one. You might even put it by the window so passerbys would seek a peek in and notice it. They didn’t look very comfortable though…but more on that later!
The place also had a huge garden. There was an overgrown area of all sorts of wild plants, an area with garden vegetables (including lots of sweet peas) & an orchard where they were apple picking. There was also a maze…if you could really call it that. There were plenty of twists and turns but not once was therea fork in the road. You literally followed one path in and one path out. Lame!
The next stop on the tour was Mary Arden’s farm. We were able to hop right back on a bus to get there, and it just so happened it was the same live guide! Mary Arden was the youngest of eight daughters and inherited the family farm upon her fathers death. She just so happened to marry a Mr. J Shakespeare and gave birth to 8 kids, 6 of which survived and one of which became the most successful writer of all time! This was a real working Tudor era farm. There were many animals for us to see & pet and people dressed up and playing the roles of people on the farm in the 1500’s. We made friends with the boys who were firing up the bread oven. They enjoyed that we were Canadian. Cheeky Buggers! (This seems unimportant, and really it is, but it makes a story later better if you remember this one) The one really liked that we actually say “Eh?” We also made friends with a goat…
We rode the bus back to the start of the tour and walked to the next house, it was quicker than waiting for the bus to begin again. This house was Shakespeare’s birthhouse. It was almost sold to an American in the 1800’s who wanted to take it down brick by brick and rebuilt it in the US. The people of Stratford did not like this idea and raised the money to buy the house at an auction. Afterwards they setup the Shakespeare houses tourist attraction. The birthhouse began with a couple of videos in the Shakespeare Center. They showed how iconic Shakespeare is and how many times his works have been performed. We were informed that during the time of our visit it could almost be guaranteed that someone was performing Hamlet somewhere in the world. The house was a lovely Tudor house like the others and upstairs we were able to see the exact room and bed Shakespeare was born in…gross!
In the gardens there was a couple performing Shakespeare sonnets, monologues and iconic scenes. We saw them perform the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet. Just lovely!
The next house was the Nash house. Here Shakespeare’s youngest daughter lived with his husband who was a drunk and had illegitimate children. More exciting, next to this house was New Place. This is where Shakespeare lived the last years of his life and died at the age of 52. Now you may look at the photo below and wonder if he died because the house exploded. In reality the man who owned the Nash house got annoyed with the tourists peering into his yard and windows. He got into an argument with the town and when he left he tore the house down. The site is currently undergoing an archeological dig to discover more about this famous yet mysterious man. He wrote so much and yet so little about himself….
The final house was where Shakespeare’s eldest daughter and his husband, the town’s doctor, lived. This house was pretty unexciting. It was another Tudor house but that’s all we remember. Kristin says this one had more beds.
We then tried to go to Holy Trinity Church to view Shakespeare’s grave. However there was a wedding going on in the church and they didn’t much fancy tourists traipsing through. Instead we took a stroll upon the river Avon to the theatre area. Here we took a lay down in the park and watched some young boys (toddlers playing).
Next we returned to the church and saw Shakespeare’s grave (and everyone he was ever related to). Shakespeare in buried inside the church so that no one could dig him up and reuse the grave, as was the practice in those days. He went to such lengths to prevent this that there is actually a curse inscribed on his grave markers for anyone who dares move his bones.
Ok here’s the point where you need to remember our earlier story. As we were looking for a supper location we heard a voice in front of us say “Did you enjoy the rest of your day?” Luckily Justine immediately recognized our friend who had been working at the farm, because Kristin just stared at him like he was a crazy person for a minute. It seems he remembered us from our visit and the plans of our day we had told him. It was really hilariously random as he had been working at the farm which was pretty far out of town. He was no longer dressed like he lived in the Tudor era. We were still dressed the same.
We found a pub for supper. The menu looked really familiar…then we discovered that there are
two companies that own most of the lovely cheap bars in Britain. It’s like chain restaurants except they all have different names and feel like fun, independent bars. Tonight Justine feasted on Fish & Chips, while Kristin enjoyed a Steak Pie. We apologize for the photo…we were hungry and remembered the promise to take food pictures kinda late. But here is our partially enjoyed dinner:
We planned on doing an evening tour but it was too early to go there at this point. We killed time by visiting the Gnomeo statue. We know you are confused so we will explain: This is a wonderful statue of William Shakespeare that was first erected in 1756. It depicts the famous playwright with a few of his more famous characters around him. We however call it the Gnomeo statue because we first saw it in a cartoon…Gnomeo & Juliet to be exact. For those of you that haven’t heard of it, it is Romeo & Juliet done with lawn gnomes (and Elton John music)…pretty much the best movie ever. Gnomeo has a little chat with this statue in the movie because in a cartoon statues can talk. Unfortunately, in real life, it did not speak to us.
When it was time for our tour we made our way to the Tudor Museum. We will be visiting the museum during the day tomorrow to actually see the exhibits. At night though they do ghost tours of the building. It used to be an old tavern and a lot of sketchy stuff went down here. The show Most Haunted once stopped in for a quick visit…that turned into a 2 hour special there was so much supernatural activity. It was a 45 minute tour through the rooms of the house lit only by a single lantern. Very spooky! The guide told us and a group of old ladies all of the creepy sightings and scar occurrences that had happened in the past. They’ve had tons of crazy stuff happen! Ghost, spirits, poltergeists…every room had a story & several witnesses on several occasions. Kristin’s favorite part was when she possibly stood in a spirit. The room was cold a sit was but when she was standing in the back corner she felt like she was freezing…goosebumps and everything. The guide then told us that people have seen a figure in a black cloak with red eyes in that corner…very scary!
We wrote this post sitting by the river Avon on a nice park bench. We were also eating McFlurries 🙂
Things We Learned Today:
– The beds we have talked so much about were built kinda different from ours today. The wood frame was similar but then ropes were tied length and width wise across the bed. These held up your mattress and bedding. If the ropes got all slack you wouldn’t have a very comfortable sleep…and there is the origin of the phase “Good Night, Sleep Tight!”
– Beds also featured a canopy in Tudor times. this didn’t just make the beds look pretty, it was also very practical. Thatched roofs were a very cozy home for many bird, insects and rodents. As there was not any ceiling below the thatching it was much nicer to know that you had a layer to keep these unwelcome guests from tumbling into your bed.
– At top 3 killer for women in the 1500’s was due to burns, etc from the fire. It became very hard to deal with the fire in ones home safely in the evenings when the sun went down and light was low. King Charles I became so sick of this that he instituted a rule. Each evening a bell would be rung to signify that people were to cover their fire until another bell was rung in the morning. This was the first curfew (cour the feur…cover the fire)!
– In the Tudor times the town physician was not also the town surgeon. Surgery was done instead by the town barber! He had all of the razors and scissors you would need to cut someone up. As many people couldn’t read at that time the barber would have a visual sign that didn’t need any writing: Red & White Stripes signifying blood & bandages.
– We mentioned earlier that they used to recycle graves. Well when the old bodies were removed the bones were piled in a heap to be burned…creating a bone fire…or a bonfire!
– When Shakespeare was writing, if he could not think of a word that described something perfectly he would simply make one up! His works have become so well known that many of these words have just worked their way into our common vocabulary…for example: bump, dislocate & frugal.
– This one is for all of those out there that think they must shower once or even twice a day… Baths were not very common in Tudor times. And when we say not very common we mean you probably bathed once a year (usually at the end of May or start of June…bringing about June weddings as the bride would actually be clean). For children they were literally ripped out of their clothes, bathed and then sewn into new clothes they would wear until their next bath a year later. However some people were odd. Queen Elizabeth I used to bath 12 times a year! Her father, Henry VIII however was bathed twice in his life: once on the day he was born and once on the day he died. King James I had one bath in his life but found it such an awful experience that he swore to never do it again!
Love, Luck & Lanterns in the Dark…