Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

“Step back in time for all the sights, smells and sounds of a real Tudor farm and explore the house where Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden, grew up.”  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Website

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 for the very reasonable entrance fee of £1.30 (it now costs £12.50) 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!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber 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, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen 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 a sticky 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.  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.  Visitors would still come!

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 visited 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.

32 responses to “Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon

  1. A nasty shock for the trust I am sure when the scientific evidence became available. Yikes. Interesting post Andrew.


  2. Memories there Andrew… I used to live in the village of Ettington back in 85-86 🙂


  3. Good stuff, although £12.50 seems steep to see the inside of anyone’s house, genuine or not!


  4. There are a lot of historic sites that get things wrong. I wonder how many buildings around the world are not what we claim they are.


  5. There you go, nothing like a bit of romantic delusions about the house Shakespeare’s mum was born in – she is worth all the fuss for she bore a great son, without whom our lives would indeed be much poorer 😀


  6. I can always rely on you for information, Andrew! More stuff I didn’t know. 🙂 I haven’t been to Stratford since a school trip so you can guess how long that is! Must be due a return. And I’ll look out for that Shakespeare book too.


  7. Pingback: Entrance Tickets – Mary Arden’s House, Wilmcote near Stratford upon Avon | Have Bag, Will Travel

  8. Ho Ho Ho! The dating of tree rings is called dendrochronology and Wikipedia has two incredibly complicated explanations of what is essentially a very simple process. Both webpages do have a couple of very good “Whoops!” on them
    try looking at Art History
    try Creationism and dendrochronology
    and Trees contradicting the global flood


  9. What a very interesting article.
    My parents visited what they believed to be Mary Arden’s house, my mum especially enjoyed the visit and was so proud that she’d been there. I have no idea whether she ever learned the truth.


  10. I often wonder if some of these places are for real. I imagine mistakes can be made but that was a pretty big one. Surprised you didn’t ask for a refund.


  11. Interesting, I’ll ask about your refund! It’s only about 45mins away but never been, but I am interested in the replica medieval farm that is now part of the overall museum. Waiting for Easter to die down though.


  12. Bloody Pommy conmen.
    By the bye, ”””when a historian”””
    an Englishman would say “””when AN historian””” not ‘a’;
    Really Andrew, you must take more care. luckily derrickjknight hasn’t been by.


  13. Don’t you find it absolutely amazing that they can cut a beam and date it exactly, yet there were no records kept at that time.. 😉


  14. Personally I don’t worry too much about some of these historical facts. But I am impressed by the buildings whether it was her house or not.


  15. Well I can forgive the dating mistake in a less-technological age, but waxing lyrical about sitting in front of the fire and which room she slept in were obviously stretching it a bit (a lot) even before they knew about the mistake!


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