William Shakespeare’s birthplace has been a popular tourist attraction for more than 250 years. It is a timbered two story house constructed of “waddle and dobb” (walls of “mud” held together by the criss-crossing of sticks and twigs and painted both inside and out to protect if from inclement weather), packed between oak beams that provide the structure. Upstairs is a room where a meat cutter practiced his trade, with William as his apprentice. Williams’ father thought it best for his son to learn a trade that would bring a steady income. The meat cutter allowed wealthy Stratford women customers to etch their names on a glass window, (still on exhibit, but now encased for preservation; no longer in its original location in the outer wall), using their diamond rings as writing instruments. The apprenticeship did not last long as young William was more interested in the arts and would frequently burst out with lines as they came to mind, disrupting his work and the work of his mentor. The meat cutter finally gave up trying to keep his young charge focused on the trade and Williams’ father decided to let his son follow his own interests even though the arts would not guarantee a steady income. William, like his father, was often cited by the local police for violating community customs and laws. His father was frequently cited for not meeting his civic obligations to the poor as he seldom attended Council meetings, of which he was a member, required of the wealthy, and rarely gave tythe for the needy of Stratford. He felt he had more important things to do with his money and time. William was in trouble for such activities as poaching deer on a neighbors property; a very colourful family with its own agenda.
I preferred visiting when the house was entered casually from the sidewalk on Henley Street, as if you were visiting the family, rather than through the impersonal entry/gallery/pay station recently constructed…with entry now through the back door, entering through the kitchen. And when the local pubs served traditional food, rather than hamburgers and fried chicken for the visiting tourists. Give me a cornish pasty or steak and kidney pie any day. Now it is so commercialized as has all of Stratford, catering more to the tourist than providing the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s time, but a visit to his birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a short walk away, is still an experience of a lifetime.