Getting Romantic in Stratford on Avon

To celebrate Valentine’s Day we treated ourselves to a weekend in Stratford on Avon.  The weather was perfect; crisp and cold with a hint of frost in the mornings, and glorious sunshine in the afternoons.  Spring is such a beautiful season in the UK and it has definitely started early this year.

I could never tire of going to Stratford.  I always learn something new about the life and times of William Shakespeare, and new details about the town catch my eye, which are worth a photograph. I find Stratford such a stimulating, yet relaxing place, whatever my state of mind.

During Valentine’s weekend there were smatterings of snowdrops under the trees in the churchyard and along the banks of the River Avon. It seems appropriate that snowdrops were brought to England in the early 16th century, so maybe Shakespeare would have seen some of the first ones.

There were white doves circling the spire of Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare is buried.  They sparkled in the winter sunshine reflecting the snowdrops below.

White Doves around steeple.JPG

At the entrance to the church I photographed the small Sanctuary Door and knocker.  This door is set into the massive 15th century doors.  I have passed through it countless times not realising its importance.  But I learned that anyone who held on to the ring in the knocker of the sanctuary door, would be let in and given protection for 37 days.  This was a custom started in Saxon times to protect poor people from the harsh penalties for crime, and even from lynch mobs.  It was upheld across the land and continued well through Shakespeare’s time until 1623.

There was also a striking streetlamp outside our hotel, which I had not noticed before.  It was donated to the town by the Government of Israel.  There are wonderful decorative statues and lamps all around the town, mostly donated by ambassadors from countries where Shakespeare is revered.

Lamp donated by Israely Govt

 We stayed in the Arden Hotel, which is right opposite the Shakespeare Theatre.  In fact the building was previously owned by the theatre along with many buildings along the Waterside.  Naturally many famous people have passed through its doors over the years and inside there are some wonderful photographic portraits of famous actors in role. Put your cursor over the pictures to find the names and roles.

So my Valentine weekend was a great success, perfect weather in a beautiful season in my heart’s true home.  In the Shakespeare Centre I came across a sketch of Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife and mother of his children.  It is the only known likeness of Anne and she was very beautiful.  But she looks so sad.  I suddenly saw her as a real person whom Shakespeare must have loved and missed very much.

Sketch of Ann Hathaway from her lifetime.  The only one in existence

Enjoy some more of my photographs below.


William Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations

Shakespeares Tomb3

This weekend rounds up the celebrations in honour of William Shakespeare’s Birth on 23rd April 1564.  I love to be in Stratford on Avon at this time to soak up the atmosphere so I set off this morning full of joy and anticipation.  I was not disappointed.  There were street entertainers, market stalls, a literary festival and scenes of celebration all around.  And, the sun was shining gloriously.  I have written about the special 400th celebration in 1964 previously so you can read about the events that take place in that post.  But today I would just like to share some of my photos with you.

The river Avon is always a joy to walk beside and today the boaters were out in force.

The walk to Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare and some of his family are buried was beautiful.  On one side is the river, and on the other, blossom trees and wisteria covered houses.  I took a detour through the pretty little garden in memory of those who died in the two world wars.  It is a most peaceful place in the older part of town.

There is a beautiful bespoke Iron chair in this memorial garden which took my breath away with it’s beauty.  It was made in Scotland for the Royal British legion

Memorial chair for Royal British legion

When I got to the church it was surprisingly quiet as the crowds had left.  I was able to wander freely and take in the amazing aroma of the masses of Spring flowers which had been laid in the Sacristy all around Shakespeare’s grave.

On the way back from the church we passed The Other Place and various workspaces belonging to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and of course the theatre itself.  I took my photo from the gardens behind the theatre as that is where I used to sit on the grass and do my homework when i was a schoolgirl in Stratford many years ago.

After this I wandered through the Bancroft Gardens to enjoy the live music and to see the Gower memorial.  This famous memorial was originally outside the theatre but when the theatre was destroyed by fire in 1926, it was decided to move it to its present position overlooking the canal basin.  It certainly is a superb position.  On the top of the memorial is Shakespeare himself and around the base are main characters from the plays.  There is Falstaff, Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal and Hamlet.

In the Bancroft Gardens there is a fascinating flower bed filled with plants that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. They deserve a post all on their own so I will just quickly show you the flags that lined the main streets.  Ambassadors and dignitaries come from all over the world to pay their respects during the annual birthday celebrations and their flags stand proud.

It was a wonderful day and I came home very happy.  I am really looking forward to next year, 2016.

William Shakespeare was born on 23rd April 1564 as I said and I was lucky enough to live in Stratford in 1964 when the 400th anniversary was spectacularly celebrated.  He died, also on 23rd April, in 1616. So next year will be the 400th anniversary of his death at the age of 52.  Great plans are afoot for commemorative events worldwide, and and as it falls on a Saturday it should be a great occasion in Stratford.  It will seem strange to commemorate his birth and his death on the same day, but I hope to be there!

Bust of William Shakespeare

The Remembering Tree, 2013. Bancroft Gardens, Stratford upon Avon

Well it has been a strange and wonderful weekend with its usual ups and downs.

The weather was so lovely today that I set off for Stratford on Avon, where I spent my teenage years, to see the spectacular Christmas lights and decorations.

I always enjoy the walk from Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare’s final resting place, past the Dirty Duck pub where I spent many a happy evening in the 60’s hobnobbing with the likes of Eric Porter, John Hurt and David Warner, through the park, across the Royal Shakespeare Theatre balcony, along the riverside towards the Bancroft Gardens.  I love to pop into the theatre just to see what is coming up ~ Peter Pan and Wendy starts this week (tickets still available), as does the stupendous Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (totally sold out before opening night)!

I usually drift over to the canal basin to see the houseboats before heading into town.  Today however, I was stopped in my tracks by a spectacular tree which seemed to be covered in one of those blankets made out of colourful knitted squares, which is exactly what it was!

I discovered that it was called the Remembering Tree and people had worked from 4am to 11am to fix all those squares in place in memory of someone they loved.  Money raised by this venture was going to a charity which you can read about here.

As it got dark I headed up Bridge Street to see the colourful lights before reaching my destination ~ Shakespeare’s Birthplace.  This year the house is transformed by a laser light show accompanied by some excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays being enacted from inside the house.  It is truly worth seeing.  I apologise in advance for the poor quality of my photos which is partly due to the crowds, partly to my excitement and partly to my battery failing!

Leaving the light show I was stopped in my tracks by a busker singing the most beautiful songs in a tenor voice which flowed like warm chocolate on a cold and frosty night.  After singing his own songs, he sang requests from the small crowd that gathered.  he then sang Christmas Carols.  His name is Karl Loxley and the crowd were deeply disappointed to find that he had no CDs to sell!  Hopefully he will soon and I will certainly be listening out for him.  Listen to Karl sing Bring Him Home.

So those are all the ups in my day ~ only one down to report ~

I was so excited to arrive in Stratford that I forgot to pay for parking!  Of course Stratford wardens are like Rottweilers and they don’t miss a thing ~ so I got a parking ticket.  Do you know it was worth it because I felt as if I had been to a free concert and I had a lovely day!

April 23rd 1964 ~ 400th Anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was born on April 23rd 1564 and died on 23rd April 1616.  1964 was the 400th anniversary of his birth and I was living in Stratford on Avon, which was certainly the most exciting place to be at that time for a theatre mad teenager.

The highlight of my acting career had been the part of Mole in Toad of Toad Hall at St Gabriel’s Convent in Carlisle.  Cardinal Heenan was the honoured guest in the audience.  My part was memorable as it involved a tea party at Toad Hall.  We had real cakes and biscuits.   I had never seen those pink and white marshmallows with a biscuit base and coconut all over the top.  I became so engrossed in examining and eating them that I forgot where I was and had to be prompted to continue my lines.  “Oh, you silly ass, Mole”, as rat would say.  But I think I got away with it.  The Cardinal singled me out for praise afterwards, impressed by the realism I portrayed!

I moved to Stratford from the north of England in 1960, the same year that Peter Hall founded the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and became Artistic Director at the theatre.  Sadly the two events were not connected but our paths crossed over the next few years.  At that time he was married to Leslie Caron and they lived on the Warwick Road near St Gregory’s Church.   I was a teenager at the local girls’ grammar school, Shottery Manor, passionate about literature and especially Shakespeare.

In those days you could pay 4 shillings (20p) to stand at the back of the theatre in Stratford and watch the plays.  From 1960 to 64 when I left school I think I saw every production, often going to the matinee and the evening performances.  My all time favourite was King Lear in 1962 which I have never forgotten.  Paul Schofield played Lear and a young and gorgeous Diana Rigg played Cordelia.

In 1964 when I was doing my A Levels I watched the full history cycle; Richard 11, Henry 1V part 1 and 2, Edward 1V and Richard 111.  I became familiar with actors such as Roy Dotrice, Peggy Ashcroft, a very young John Hurt, and my hero David Warner.  All the girls at school had a crush on him as he was so 60’s with his gaunt look and flowing scarf.  We would hang out at the Dirty Duck pub by the river Avon, barefoot and with flowers in our hair, hoping the actors would pop in after the show, which they often did.  I was such a regular at theatre events that I somehow got to know Peter Hall and Leslie Caron.  I was asked to babysit once for the child of actor Tom Bell and his first wife when they were visiting the Halls.  Tom Bell had become very famous for his part in The L Shaped Room in which he played opposite Leslie Caron.  He and his wife were lovely and I was so sad to see that he died some time ago after a long and magnificent career.

1964 also saw the opening of the Shakespeare Centre where visitors could study every aspect of Shakespeare’s work.  I was privileged to work there part time while at school and full time in the summer after I left.  I loved it.  For the centenary year there was a special exhibition with all the sights and sounds and smells of Shakespearean Stratford.  As I remember it the plays were performed on a loop and the visitors could wander in and sit down to listen for as long as they wanted.  To me it was heaven.  I don’t think any exhibition since has bettered that experience for me.

Every year in Stratford there are celebrations for Shakespeare’s birthday but 1964 was spectacular.  There were flagpoles put up in the centre of the streets leading from the theatre to the Holy Trinity Church where the bard is buried.  Representatives from 115 countries of the world came to unfurl their flag at 11am.  This was followed by a procession of dignitaries, townspeople and pupils from the two Grammar Schools, King Edward V1 school for boys, which Shakespeare himself had attended, and Shottery Manor, the school for girls.  I was in that procession and will never forget it.  After the church service and laying of wreaths at the tomb in the presence of Prince Philip, there was a festival on the Bancroft Gardens.  Primary school children danced around maypoles and there was all the fun of the fair.  It was a glorious day.

I still consider King Lear to be the greatest play ever written, and William Shakespeare to be the greatest playwright.   It is almost 449 years  since he was born and the celebrations will  take place this weekend in Stratford.  But they could never match those of 1964.

Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary

Photos show a portrait of William Shakespeare, A photograph of my old school Shottery Manor, The parade through the town on 23rd April 1964 and a view of Bridge Street from the roundabout at the top.

July 1964 Click this link to show a class photo of our school leaving day,