Stratford was originally inhabited by Anglo-Saxons and remained a village before the lord of the manor, John of Coutances, set out plans to develop it into a town in 1196. In that same year, Stratford was granted a charter from King Richard I to hold a weekly market in the town, giving it its status as a market town. As a result, Stratford experienced an increase in trade and commerce as well as urban expansion.
The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and receives approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The name is a combination of the Old English strǣt, meaning 'street', ford, indicating a shallow part of a river or stream, allowing it to be crossed by walking or driving and avon which is the Celtic word for river. The 'street' was a Roman road which connected Icknield Street in Alcester to the Fosse Way. The ford, which has been used as a crossing since Roman times, later became the location of Clopton Bridge. A survey of 1251-52 uses the name Stratford for the first time to identify Old Stratford and the newer manors. The name was used after that time to describe the area specifically surrounding the Holy Trinity Church and the street of Old Town.
The settlement which later became known as Stratford was first inhabited by Anglo-Saxons following their 7th century invasion of what would become known as Warwickshire. The land was owned by the church of Worcester and it remained a village until the late 12th century when it was developed into a town by lord of the manor, John of Coutances. John laid out a new town plan in 1196 based on a grid system to expand Stratford and allow people to rent property in order to trade within the town. Additionally, a charter was granted to Stratford by King Richard I in 1196 which allowed a weekly market to be held in the town, giving it its status as a market town. These two charters, which formed the foundations of Stratford's transformation from a village to a town, make the town of Stratford over 800 years old.
John's plans to develop Stratford into a town meant Stratford became a place of work for tradesmen and merchants. By 1252 the town had approximately 240 burgages, as well as shops, stalls and other buildings. Stratford's new workers established a guild known as the Guild of the Holy Cross for their business and religious requirements.
Many of the town's earliest and most important buildings are located along what is known as Stratford's Historic Spine, which was once the main route from the town centre to the parish church. The route of the Historic Spine begins at Shakespeare's Birthplace in Henley Street. It continues through Henley Street to the top end of Bridge Street and into High Street where many Elizabethan buildings are located, including Harvard House. The route carries on through Chapel Street where Nash's House and New Place are sited. The Historic Spine continues along Church Street where Guild buildings are located dating back to the 15th century, as well as 18th and 19th century properties. The route then finishes in Old Town, which includes Hall's Croft and the Holy Trinity Church.
During Stratford's early expansion into a town, the only access across the River Avon into and out of the town was over a wooden bridge, thought to have been constructed in 1318. However, the bridge could not be crossed at times due to the river rising and was described by antiquarian John Leland as "a poor bridge of timber and no causey [causeway] to it, whereby many poor folks and other refused to come to Stratford when Avon was up, or coming thither stood in jeopardy of life." In 1480, a new masonry arch bridge was built to replace it called Clopton Bridge, named after Hugh Clopton who paid for its construction. The new bridge made it easier for people to trade within Stratford and for passing travellers to stay in the town.
The Cotswolds, located close to Stratford, was a major sheep producing area up until the latter part of the 19th century, with Stratford one of its main centres for the processing, marketing, and distribution of sheep and wool. Consequently, Stratford also became a centre for tanning during the 15th–17th centuries. Both the river and the Roman road served as trade routes for the town.
Despite Stratford's increase in trade, it barely grew between the middle of the 13th century and the end of the 16th century, with a survey of the town showing 217 houses belonged to the lord of the manor in 1590. Growth continued to be slow throughout the 17th century, with hearth tax returns showing that at most there were approximately 429 houses in the town by 1670. However, more substantial expansion began following several enclosure acts in the late 18th century, with the first and largest new development by John Payton who developed land on the north side of the old town, creating several streets including John Street and Payton Street.
Before the dominance of road and rail, Stratford was the gateway to the network of British canals.
In 1769, the actor David Garrick staged a major Shakespeare Jubilee over three days which saw the construction of a large rotunda and the influx of many visitors. This contributed to the growing phenomenon of Bardolatry which made Stratford a tourist destination.
Stratford-upon-Avon is within the Stratford-on-Avon parliament constituency which has been represented by Nadhim Zahawi since 2010. Stratford is within the West Midlands Region constituency of the European Parliament which is represented by seven MEP's.
Stratford is governed by three tiers of local government:
Stratford is 22 miles (35 km) south-east of Birmingham. It is close to the Cotswolds, with Chipping Campden 10 miles (16 km) to the south. Suburbs and areas of the town include Shottery, Bishopton, Bridgetown, Tiddington, and Old Town.
Stratford's location next to the River Avon means it is susceptible to flooding, including flash floods.
Stratford has a temperate maritime climate, as is usual for the British Isles, meaning extremes of heat and cold are rare. Sunshine hours are low to moderate, with an average of 1512.3 hours of sunshine annually. Rainfall is spread evenly throughout the year, with an annual average of 614.8 mm (24 in), with over 1 millimetre (0.039 inches) of rain recorded on 114.1 days per year according to the 1981-2010 observation period.
Stratford's warmest month is July, with an average maximum temperature of 22.8 °C (73 °F) and January is the coldest month with an average high of 7.4 °C (45 °F). The average summer maximum temperature is 22.7 °C (73 °F), with a winter average high of 7.5 °C (45 °F).
In 2011, Stratford-upon-Avon had a population of 27,445 which was an increase from 25,505 in 2007. The town's population is set to increase over the next few years following government approval to build 800 new homes in Shottery, which also includes plans for a new relief road, up to 500 new homes planned in the Bishopton area of the town, and 270 homes on the Loxley Road.
Apart from tourism, which is a major employer, especially in the hotel, hospitality industry and catering sectors, other industries in the town include boat building and maintenance, bicycles, mechanical and electrical engineering, food manufacture, Information Technology, call centre and service sector activities, a large motor sales sector, industrial plant hire, building suppliers, market gardening, farming, storage and transport logistics, finance and insurance, and a large retail sector.
Major employers in the town include the NFU Mutual Insurance Company (and Avon Insurance), AMEC, Sitel, Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, B & Q and Pashley Cycles. There are, nominally, three theatres run by the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, which attract large audiences and income for the town.
The regular large influx of tourists is the major source of the town's prosperity, receiving between 2.5 million and 3 million visitors annually. Stratford is a major English tourist town due to it being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, whom many consider the greatest playwright of all time. In 2010 the District Council spent £298,000 on tourism promotion and supports an official open-top tour bus service. In 2010 Stratford-on-Avon District Council launched a re-branded official tourism website for the Stratford area called Discover Stratford after opening a new tourist information centre on Henley Street in May 2010, which has since moved back to the original location on Bridgefoot.
Apart from the town centre, Maybird Shopping Park, usually referred to locally as "The Maybird Centre" or simply "The Maybird", is a large shopping centre situated on Birmingham Road, approximately a five-minute drive from the town centre, which features numerous shops and is a very well used part of the town. Shops featured at the Maybird include Asda Living, B&Q, Argos, Pizza Hut, WHSmith, Subway, The Big Fish, Game, Jollyes Pet Shop, Boots, M&S Foodhall, Sports Direct, New Look, Outfit, Poundstretcher, Pets at Home, Halfords, Matalan, Next and Costa Coffee, the latter of which is the second Costa Coffee shop in Stratford, with another located on Henley Street. A large Tesco supermarket is located next to the Maybird, behind B&Q. On the same road is a smaller Aldi store.
Directly opposite the Maybird, on the other side of Birmingham Road, is Maybrook Industrial Estate, a smaller shopping centre which includes stores such as Staples, Carphone Warehouse, Maplin Electronics and Carpetright.
The Rosebird Centre is a much smaller shopping centre located on Shipston Road and contains a large Waitrose supermarket, Pets Corner pet shop and Rosebird Centre Pharmacy. The pharmacy also serves as a medical centre, acting as a branch of the main Rother House Medical Centre on Alcester Road. An Avonvale Veterinary Centre is soon to open in Rosebird Centre.
In the town centre, Town Square, which is to revert to its old name, Bell Court, is undergoing extensive work and will fully reopen in 2017. Plans reveal there will be a new Everyman cinema in the Square, as well as a Byron Hamburgers restaurant. There are also plans for a full redevelopment of Bards Walk shopping arcade on Henley Street.
The town has a number of supermarkets, including Tesco on Birmingham Road, Aldi on Canners Way (just off Birmingham Road), Morrisons on Alcester Road, Marks & Spencer on Bridge Street (plus M&S Simply Food in Maybird Shopping Park, Birmingham Road) and Waitrose at The Rosebird Centre on Shipston Road. A small Sainsbury's store is located on Bridge Street.
The first real theatre in Stratford was a temporary wooden affair built in 1769 by the actor David Garrick for his Shakespeare Jubilee celebrations of that year to mark Shakespeare's birthday. The theatre, built not far from the site of the present Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was almost washed away in two days of torrential rain that resulted in terrible flooding.
To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1864 the brewer, Charles Edward Flower, instigated the building of a temporary wooden theatre, known as the Tercentenary Theatre, which was built in a part of the brewer's large gardens on what is today the site of the new, and temporary, Courtyard Theatre. After three months the Tercentenary Theatre was dismantled, with the timber used for house-building purposes.
In the early 1870s, Charles Flower gave several acres of riverside land to the local council on the understanding that a permanent theatre be built in honour of Shakespeare's memory, and by 1879 the first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had been completed. It proved to be a huge success, and by the early 20th century was effectively being run by the actor/manager Frank Benson, later Sir Frank Benson. The theatre burned down in 1926, with the then artistic director, William Bridges-Adams, moving all productions to the local cinema. An architectural competition was arranged to elicit designs for a new theatre, with the winner, English architect Elisabeth Scott, creating the Royal Shakespeare Theatre we see on the riverside today. The new theatre, adjoining what was left of the old theatre, was opened by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, in 1932. The new theatre had many illustrious artistic directors, including the actor Anthony Quayle. Sir Peter Hall was appointed artistic director (designate) in 1959, and formed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1961.
The RSC also runs two smaller theatres, the Swan Theatre, which was created in the 1980s out of the shell of the remains of the original Memorial Theatre and is modelled on an Elizabethan theatre, quickly becoming one of the finest acting spaces in the UK, and The Other Place theatre. Along with the RST, the Swan Theatre closed in 2007 for refurbishment and reopened in November 2010. The Other Place, a Black box theatre, was extended to become the temporary RSC Courtyard Theatre, opening in July 2006 and was the home of the RSC while the RST was being refurbished – its interior is similar to the interior of the refurbished RST. The Courtyard Theatre closed in 2015 and was replaced by The Other Place in March 2016, which returned as a 200-seat studio theatre within the steel extension in which the Courtyard Theatre was located.
Stratford is also home to The Bear Pit Theatre which was founded in 2008 as a voluntary organisation. It has 100 seats and is part of the Little Theatre Guild. The Attic Theatre, located next to the river, hosts productions from Tread the Board theatre company.
The Waterside Theatre (which is not part of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex) re-opened in December 2004, then closed again in September 2008. During this span, the theatre housed the Shakespearience visitor attraction. This has now been turned into the Clore Learning Centre, the Royal Shakespeare Company's education and events venue.
In 1986, Stratford-upon-Avon was the venue for the disastrous provincial try-out of the ill-fated musical Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel.
Stratford ArtsHouse, previously the Civic Hall, is home to Orchestra of the Swan, an international chamber orchestra staging up to 10 orchestral concerts with international soloists per year. Kempe Studio of The Rudolf Kempe Society, whose patron is Dame Judy Dench, is based in a house at 58 Waterside called The Muses and hosts musical events and masterclass lessons. No. 1 Shakespeare Street holds regular evenings of live music.
Tudor World is a museum which explores the time when Shakespeare lived. It is based in a Grade II* listed town centre Tudor property and is the only museum in the country dedicated to Tudor times. Every week there is a walk around the town with Shakespeare. The Mechanical Art and Design museum, but better known as MAD museum, is a museum in Henely Street of "brilliant-but-bonkers machines" made by Kinetic artists. Items on show include mechanised flipbooks and a musical typewriter.
There are five houses relating to Shakespeare's life which are owned and cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. These include Hall's Croft (the one-time home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, and her husband Dr. John Hall) and Nash's House, which stands alongside the site of New Place which was owned by Shakespeare himself, wherein he died. In Shottery is Anne Hathaway's Cottage, the home of Shakespeare's wife's family prior to her marriage. Mary Arden's House (Palmer's Farm), the family home of his mother, is in Wilmcote. Elsewhere in the district are farms and buildings at Snitterfield, that belonged to the family of Shakespeare's father.
In addition, King Edward VI School, located on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane, is a grammar school thought to have been attended by William Shakespeare. In 2016, the school room where Shakespeare is believed to have studied opened to visitors.
Stratford has one library, located in Henley Street within a medieval building. Since 2008, Stratford has hosted the Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival, which holds two literary events a year, with one event in spring and a shorter festival in autumn. The festival has talks from celebrity guests, workshops and educational programmes and has become one of the most noted literary festivals in the country, with speakers including: Kirsty Wark, Alan Johnson MP, Baroness Shirley Williams, Tom Kerridge, Sir Tim Rice, John McCarthy, Michael Rosen, Howard Jacobson, Jeffrey Archer, Michael Palin, Jeremy Paxman, Alastair Campbell and Paul Merton.
Every year, Shakespeare's birthday is celebrated in Stratford. The celebration takes place over two days on the weekend closest to 23 April, the date of his birth, and includes musical performances, drama and a parade through the town. In 2016, events were held in Stratford to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.
The Garrick Inn is reputedly the oldest pub in Stratford, with an inn existing on the site since medieval times. The Dirty Duck, located along Waterside, is a popular pub for actors performing at the nearby RSC theatres.
For the last ten years, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has held a beer and cider festival in the town.
Henley Street, one of the town's oldest streets, underwent substantial architectural change between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Shakespeare's large half-timbered dwelling, purchased by him in 1556, was in 1564 the birthplace of his son William. According to a descriptive placard provided for tourists there,
"The property remained in the ownership of Shakespeare's direct descendants until 1670, when his granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard, died. As she had no children, Elizabeth left the estate to her relative Thomas Hart, Shakespeare's great-nephew. The main house became a tenanted inn called the Maidenhead (later the Swan and Maidenhead) following the death of John Shakespeare in 1601. Members of the Hart family continued living in the small adjoining cottage throughout the century."
At the end of the 19th century, Edward Gibbs "renovated" the building to more closely represent the original Tudor farmhouse. Adjacent to Shakespeare's Birthplace stands the Shakespeare Centre, completed in 1964 and not far from the Carnegie Library, opened in 1905.
The large half-timbered building which now comprises numbers 19, 20 and 21 was formerly the White Lion Inn. It is first mentioned in 1603. and was adjoined on the east by a smaller inn called the "Swan". In 1745 the latter was purchased by John Payton, who also acquired the "Lion" five years later and rebuilt the whole premises on a greatly enlarged scale. (Cal. of Trust Title Deeds, no. 147.) The work was completed by James Collins of Birmingham, builder, in 1753. (Contract, Trust Title Deeds, no. 167.) Payton "brought the house into great vogue" though Byng in 1792 complained that "at the noted White Lion, I met with nothing but incivility" (cited from Torrington Diaries (ed. Andrews), iii, 152). Payton was succeeded as innkeeper by his son John, and its reputation as one of the best inns on the Holyhead road must have contributed not a little to the prosperity of the town. Garrick stayed at the "White Lion" during the Jubilee of 1769 (Saunders MSS. 82, fol. 20) and George IV, as Prince Regent, visited it when he came to Stratford in 1806. Its great days came to an end after John Payton the younger sold it to Thomas Arkell in 1823. The building is now home to the Enchanted Manor Museum at the Creaky Cauldron and Magic Alley; the Box Brownie Café; Doug Brown's Really Good Gift Company; and the Not Just Shakespeare Tourist Information Centre.
Henley Street is now a major tourist and shopping precinct with many al fresco cafés and street entertainers.
Sheep Street runs from Ely Street eastwards to the Waterside. It was a residential quarter in the 16th century, some of the buildings were rebuilt following the fire of 1595, although many, such as Number 40, date from 1480. Formerly a two-story building that was extended in the early twentieth century has a lower story of substantial close-set studding: the upper is of more widely spaced thin vertical timbers.
As the name suggests Sheep Street, which leads down from the Town Hall to Waterside and the RST, was from early times and until the late 19th century, the area where sheep, brought from the neighbouring Cotswold Hills to be bought and sold. Today it is the restaurant centre of the town.
The Shrieves House is one of the oldest still lived in houses in the town and Shakespeare is said to have based his character of Sir John Falstaff on one of the residents, his godson's uncle. Oliver Cromwell is thought to have stayed here in 1651. He wrote a letter from the town to Lord Wharton on 27 August 1651, before the Battle of Worcester.
Behind The Shrieves House is a museum called "Tudor World" with recreations of 16th century life in theatrical settings.
Just off Sheep Street is Shrieves walk, a very quaint walkway with several small independent stores, including a Vintage Clothing shop.
This area of Stratford, which runs from the foot of Bridge Street to Holy Trinity Church (and leads directly off Sheep Street and Chapel Lane) runs alongside the River Avon and offers access to the Waterside Theatre and all areas of the RST.
The Bancroft Gardens and river area is a very popular place for people watching, enjoying picnics and river activities. In the summer the River Avon is busy with rowing boats, motor boats and river cruises. The Birmingham to Stratford Canal is busy with colourful narrowboats passing through or mooring up in the canal basin Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. There are often jugglers, fire-eaters and magicians entertaining the public on the lawns. On the edge of the gardens is a water fountain, known as the Swan Fountain. It was unveiled in 1996 by the Queen Elizabeth II to recognise that Stratford has been a market town since 1196. It is from here the Stratford Town Walk meet every day (even Christmas Day), to offer a guided walking tour of the town. The tour passes the Shakespeare houses, Royal Shakespeare Theatres, 15th century timber-framed buildings, William Shakespeare's school and visits Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried.
Waterside is also the location of The Dirty Duck pub which is frequented by actors from the nearby RSC theatres, theatre critics and theatregoers.
Harvard House is located at 26 High Street. Other attractions include the Stratford Butterfly Farm, which is on the eastern side of the river and the Bancroft Gardens and Stratford Armouries located three miles (4.8 km) from the centre of Stratford on Gospel Oak Lane.
Each year on 12 October (unless this is a Sunday, in which case 11 October) Stratford hosts one of the largest mop fairs in the country. Ten days later, the smaller Runaway fair is held.
Stratford is 22 miles (35 km) from the UK's second largest city, Birmingham, and is easily accessible from junction 15 of the M40 motorway. The 7 miles (11 km) £12 million Stratford Northern Bypass opened in June 1987 as the A422.
Stratford-upon-Avon railway station has good rail links from Birmingham (Snow Hill station, Moor Street station) and from London, with up to seven direct trains a day from London Marylebone. Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway railway station opened on 19 May 2013 to the north of the town.
The Stratford on Avon and Broadway Railway Society aims to re-open the closed railway line from Stratford-upon-Avon to Honeybourne, with a later extension to Broadway, Worcestershire. The Honeybourne Line is being extended towards Honeybourne from Cheltenham Racecourse to connect with the Cotswold Line. The Cotswold trains run by Great Western Railway go to Worcester Shrub Hill, Worcester Foregate Street, Great Malvern and Hereford westwards and eastwards to Oxford, Reading and Paddington. Rail passengers currently have a very long and inconvenient journey via Birmingham Moor Street (changing here for Birmingham New Street) or continuing on via Birmingham Snow Hill, and onwards to reach Worcester Shrub Hill and places westwards. Rail passengers heading eastwards to Oxford and Reading would have to change trains at Banbury. The Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway connected Stratford with the main line of the London and North Western Railway at Blisworth until passenger trains were withdrawn in 1952.
The town has numerous cycle paths, and is the terminus of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal where it meets the Avon. A park and ride scheme was launched in 2006. The Stratford greenway is a 5 miles (8.0 km) traffic free cycle path, which used to be part of the rail network until the early 1960s and is now part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (routes NCR 5 and NCR 41). Starting from town it heads along the river and racecourse towards Welford-on-Avon and Long Marston with a cycle hire and café available at the start of the Greenway at Seven Meadows Road.
The manually powered Stratford-upon-Avon chain ferry was opened in 1937 and links Waterside, roughly halfway between the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, with the water meadows on the opposite side of the river. It was the last of its kind to be built in Britain.
Birmingham airport is 18 miles (29 km) to the north-west, with scheduled flights to many national and international destinations.
Stratford is also home to several institutions set up for the study of Shakespeare, including the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which holds books and documents related to the playwright, and the Shakespeare Institute.
William Shakespeare is believed to have studied at King Edward VI School. Previously an all-boys school, from September 2013 up to 25% of the year 12 intake can be girls. It is one of the few remaining grammar schools in England, selecting its pupils exclusively using the 11-plus examination. There is also an all-girls grammar school, Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls, colloquially known as 'Shottery School' after its location in the village of Shottery, a short distance from the town centre. Finally, there is a non-selective secondary school, Stratford-upon-Avon High School, formerly known as the Hugh Clopton Secondary Modern School, which was demolished to make way for the new high school. There are no independent secondary schools in the town, but there are many primary schools, including St. Gregory's Catholic Primary School, Stratford-upon-Avon Primary School (often known locally as "Broad Street" due to its location), Bishopton Primary School, Willows C of E Primary School and Thomas Jolyffe Primary School both state and independent, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon College.
Stratford-upon-Avon Rugby Club is situated on Loxley Rd at their home ground Pearcecroft. The club fields three senior sides and a colts under 18 team with the 1st XV currently playing in Midlands 1 (West). The club also has a large mini and junior section. Stratford-upon-Avon Cricket Club Ground is by the river opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The first match recorded there was in 1880; it has hosted first-class games since 1951 and women's One Day Internationals since 2005. Stratford Town F.C. are based at the DCS Stadium in Tiddington; they won the Midland Alliance in the 2012/3 season and were promoted to Division One South & West of the Southern Football League. The town's parkrun event started in February 2016 and operates on the Recreation Ground every Saturday at 9 am.
Stratford Racecourse is located along the Luddington Road, about one mile from the centre of town which holds 18 meetings every year. It is a National Hunt course with an oval track of approximately a mile and a quarter and is considered to be one of the UK's leading small racecourses.
With the RSC in the town, many famous actors have at some point lived or stayed Stratford or the surrounding villages. Some of these include:
Other notable residents include: