The skull of Yorick, held by the Hamlet statue in Stratford-upon-Avon ©

Stratford-upon-Avon history: the basics

Stratford-upon-Avon history is usually reduced to one fact: William Shakespeare was born here in 1564. A few embellishments might be scattered on top: he was born in a half-timbered house on Henley Street; his father, John Shakespeare, made gloves for a living; William was one of eight children, the eldest surviving son; we don’t know his actual date of birth (but we observe it on April 23). And that, for most, is enough Stratford-upon-Avon history for one day.

But spare just a couple of minutes – literally, two minutes – and let Stratfordblog take you on a whirlwind tour of Stratford-upon-Avon history: the basics.

Stratford-upon-Avon history: the basics

Sometime around AD 47: the Romans forge a path and use a river ford in the place we now know as Stratford-upon-Avon to travel between the walled fort of Alcester and their fancy Exeter-Lincoln road – the Fosse Way

7th century: the Anglo Saxons invade the area. They like the look of this “straet” that runs down to the “ford” that crosses the “avon” (the words are Old English and Celtic. Avon means river in Celtic) and create a settlement

1196: John of Coutances, lord of the manor, thinks the village would make a splendid town

Also in 1196: King Richard I – Richard the Lionheart no less – grants a charter for a weekly market. A market town is born

Early 1200s: the new market town flourishes, with shoemakers, bakers, blacksmiths, tanners and brewers, among others. Running down the centre of Bridge Street are market stalls that become shops that become houses. Middle Row cuts the street in two, making Fore Bridge Street and Back Bridge Street

1252: first recorded use of the name Stratford. More than 200 burgages (rental properties) now exist

14th century: the first timber bridge spans the Avon, a rickety thing that folk refuse to cross when river levels are high

1480s: Clopton Bridge built at the site of the original ford

15th century: Middle Row now firmly established on Bridge Street. Traders arrive by river and road. The town has a population of around 2,000

1557: Glover John Shakespeare marries Mary Arden, the daughter of a local farmer

1564: William Shakespeare is born around April 23 and baptised in Holy Trinity Church on April 26 (read more about the most famous son of Stratford at Shakespeare: the basics)

1616: Shakespeare dies on April 23

1759: A riled reverend, sick of gawping visitors and in the middle of a dispute with locals, demolishes the last house to stand on the site of New Place, which Shakespeare purchased in 1597

1769: Actor and playwright David Garrick puts on the Shakespeare Jubilee during celebrations for a new Town Hall. Heavy rainfall stops a grand pageant

1814: Toll house built on Clopton Bridge

1810-1860: The Victorians give Bridge Street a makeover, demolishing Middle Row on Bridge Street and tarting up the shop frontages in the trendy Regency style. Stratford-upon-Avon also gets a canal, gas lighting and sewers. The 1859 opening of the steam railway brings an influx of tourists

1875: Land donated for a theatre with a permanent company of actors

1879: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opens its doors

1926: Fire destroys the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre

1932: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre opens

2011: The new Royal Shakespeare Theatre opens following a major redevelopment


Today, Stratford-upon-Avon preserves its character as a market town, with weekly markets and traditional events, such as the Stratford Mop. The tourist industry based around William Shakespeare helps to bring around 2.5 million visitors a year to Stratford-upon-Avon.


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