Around The World in Eighty Minutes – Part Two, United Kingdom

EPCOT England

Following my previous post about visiting World Showcase at EPCOT, Florida, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the ‘real’ countries that I have now visited and make a short comparison.  Of the eleven EPCOT pavilions I have visited six of those showcased and I suppose I have obviously to begin with the United Kingdom:

The EPCOT version is not bad if people from around the World all believe that we live in thatched cottages and fill them with Beatrix Potter prints and spend most of our time listening to Beatles albums.  The presentation is completely inaccurate of course but then it is not just Disney that can get it wrong…

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.  This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

Shakespears's Birth Place Stratford Upon avon

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the wood used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all.  It seemed that she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen or slept t in the master bedroom and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition, and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut. What a stroke of luck!  The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I went to Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous occasions.

Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

24 responses to “Around The World in Eighty Minutes – Part Two, United Kingdom

  1. This is a wonderful story, Andrew, and is repeated more often than we’ll ever know, I’m sure! Tourism trumps history! 😀 I visited Stratford in the late 1980s and again in 2009, and saw so many changes in 20 years, I hardly recognized the place. Tourism is much more developed now at all the favorite English high points for foreigners, including Stonehenge and Bath, of course. It’s an example of global Disneyizing, making popular sites charactrizations of themselves. Even my beloved Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has gone Nemo! But not to worry, we can always find native charm off the beaten track. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your stories and photos!

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  2. I don’t like to tell this heinous tale about my fellow Americans but where my sister lives in Pennsylvania people seriously say they don’t need to go to Europe because they’ve been to Epcot. Need some wine now……

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  3. My boyfriend is English and I will be traveling to England for the first time this coming March. As a frequent visitor to WDW, I am very interested to see how the UK Pavilion stacks up to real life! Thanks for sharing this.

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  4. Where’s the top pic? Is that an Epcot one?

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  5. Great read again, Andrew! I’m so impressed by the puzzle rendition of Mary Arden’s house too.

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  6. Sally's Special Services

    Reblogged this on Texas Tudors's Blog and commented:
    My husband’s ancestors are from Wales.

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  7. Pingback: More From EPCOT World Showcase | Have Bag, Will Travel

  8. Pingback: EPCOT World Showcase – United Kingdom | Have Bag, Will Travel

  9. That takes me back…. used to live in the village of Ettington, many moons ago when I worked in Coventry (mid 80s) 🙂

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  10. Most interesting! Btw, I nominated your blog in the One Lovely Blog Hop. Have a look.

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  11. Well! You learn something every day! There was I, happy in the knowledge that I’d visited Mary Arden’s house in Stratford-on-Avon, when all the time it was elsewhere. Thanks for putting me right, another visit now called for. I live on the Isle of Wight so I can have my fill of thatched cottages but they do grow on you when you see tourist’s reactions to them.

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  12. When we were in the YK last spring I had heard the story of the mistaken house and dating issue. Oops. Well here in Canada it’s all igloos and maple syrup don’t you know. 🙂

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  13. Your mention of Rugby brought to mind the community of Rugby, Tennessee. It was founded in 1880 by Thomas Hughes, an Englishman who wanted to create a utopian community. The town is almost completely abandoned but has been placed on the National Register of Historic places. The library is the most interesting building and contains over 7,000 volumes

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