Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

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.

Northern France, The Battlefield and Museum of Agincourt

Agincourt Battle Site

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect”

William Shakespeare – ‘Henry V’

Having visited the British and Commonwealth War Graves, the site of the German coastal fortifications and Napoleon’s La Colonne de la Grande Armée in Boulogne we were getting an appetite for more military history so thought we might be able to visit a couple of sites that hadn’t previously been part of our plans.

Driving south our first visit was to the site of the Battle of Agincourt where almost six hundred years ago the English King Henry V defeated the largely superior French army of the time during the Hundred Years’ War (which incidentally lasted for 116 years, but the Hundred and Sixteen Years War doesn’t sound quite so catchy).

Agincourt French Knight

Our version of the battle is mostly informed by William Shakespeare in the play Henry V but as with most of his histories this was a highly dubious account of what really happened and modern historians have reached the view that far from being gallant and chivalrous and still celebrated as a golden moment in England’s history the battle was filthy, horrible and merciless.

Weapons were crude and brutal.  Arrows from the longbows of the Welsh archers rained down and where the sword of a knight would not penetrate the armour of a noble foe and did not have the weight to knock a man off his feet, a poleaxe (a long-handled axe or hammer, topped with a fearsome spike) wielded by a common foot-soldier would fell him fast and then it was easy to raise the victim’s visor and slide a knife through an eye.  That was how hundreds of men died – their last sight on earth a dagger’s point.

Sir John Codrington at Agincourt

It turns out that Agincourt is not a tale of chivalry at all, but rather of armoured men hacking at each other to break limbs and crush skulls.  At the height of the battle, when Henry V expected an attack on his rear that never materialised, he ordered the captured French prisoners to be slaughtered, an action today that would almost certainly be denounced as a war crime.

In the cold, wet dawn of October 25th 1415, no one could have expected Henry’s army to survive the day.  He had about six thousand men, more than five thousand of them archers, while the French numbered at least thirty-thousand and were so confident of victory that, before the battle was joined, they sent away some newly arrived reinforcements – it didn’t occur to them that they might need to make some half-time substitutions!

By dusk on that Saint Crispin’s Day, Henry’s small army had entered military legend.

After a short drive we arrived at the site of the battle, just a barren field that doesn’t seem anything special now after all this time and we may well have missed what is now a rather unremarkable meadow in northern France if it wasn’t for the roadside decoration where English archers and French cavalry faced each other once again in row after row of wooden statues.

We stopped for a while and surveyed the field which gave no clues to the battle and then we continued to the Agincourt Museum.

Agincourt Museum Guide

I am not really sure what I was expecting but I was certainly surprised by the place.

I had always imagined that France would have no real stomach for financing and building a museum to commemorate a humiliating defeat but inside there was an unexpectedly balanced account of the battle and the history of the Hundred Years War (which I suppose the French did win at the end of the day so they can afford to be magnanimous about it) and in some of the displays and the explanations I had to remind myself that Henry was the English King and it was the French who were defeated here.

Anyway, six hundred years is a very long time and I don’t suppose it really matters that much anymore?

It is only a small museum and it didn’t take that long to walk around, read the history and try the interactive displays and before very long we were out the other end, back in the car and driving north along the rows of archers to the site of a more recent conflict, the Eperlecques V2 Blockhaus north of Saint Omer on the road to Calais.

Agincourt Archers

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.