Must See Shakespearean Sites In England
William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, is undoubtedly the most famous playwright in the English literary canon. His plays, which include the likes of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Macbeth, are still performed in many languages to audiences across the world. Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, Shakespeare retained close links with the town throughout his life and visitors to the area can still find many buildings that have connections to ‘the Bard’ and his family.
It was, however, in London that Shakespeare made his name and fortune. For it was here that he helped establish the Globe Theatre in Southwark – the place where many of his plays were first performed. Today, Shakespeare fans have a fascinating selection of attractions to choose from when indulging their interest in the Elizabethan writer. These are the ten most important and popular Shakespearean sites in both London and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The Original Location of the Globe Theatre
Tucked away in the unremarkable Park Street in South London’s Southwark lies a space of significant importance in English history – the location of the original Globe Theatre.
The theatre was built by Shakespeare’s own playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, in 1599. Much of the timber structure was salvaged from an older playhouse, The Theatre in Shoreditch. Although not certain, it has often been thought that the first play to be performed at the Globe was Shakespeare’s Henry V.
In 1613, a fire broke out during a performance of Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, destroying the theatre. Rebuilding efforts soon commenced, swiftly completing a new Globe on the same site, but Shakespeare himself died two years after its reopening. In 1642, shortly after the outbreak of the English Civil War, Parliament forcibly closed London’s theatres. The ban on theatres would only be lifted following the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660, but this would come too late for the Globe – it had been pulled down to make way for tenements at some point in 1644 or 1645.
Archaeologists rediscovered the site of the theatre beneath a car park in 1989. Today, markings on the ground show where it stood, accompanied by information boards and a commemorative plaque.
Find the site of the original Globe Theatre on an Interactive Map of England.
Reconstructed Elizabethan Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames River, London.
The Globe Theatre, where Shakespeare staged many of his plays, was demolished in the 1640s. As the Bard’s work continued to be enjoyed into the 20th and 21st centuries, various replicas of that original building – with greater or lesser accuracy – have cropped up all across the world, from Dallas to Tokyo. Perhaps the most important, however, stands on London’s Bankside, only 230 metres away from the site of the original Globe Theatre.
Having relocated to England in the 1950s, the American actor and director Sam Wanamaker was instrumental in getting the project off the ground. He worked for many decades to raise funds for the project, also encouraging historical research that would ensure that the new building was as close to the original as possible. The result was a thatched structure built from English oak that used many of the construction techniques familiar to 16th-century carpenters – rather than having steel girders, as most modern buildings do, the timbers were held together by mortice and tenon joints. The result is a building unlike any other in central London.
Named ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’, this new theatre first opened to the public in 1997 with a production of Henry V. Shakespeare’s plays are still performed here regularly, allowing visitors a fantastic insight into what Shakespeare’s first audiences would have experienced.
Shakespeare’s birthplace and childhood home in the centre of old Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire.
William Shakespeare started his life in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, in 1564. Remarkably, the house where it is believed that he was born, and where he spent his early years, still survives in Henley Street.
The timber-framed, wattle and daub structure is thought to date from the late 15th century. By the 1560s it was owned by the Bard’s father, the glove maker and wool salesman John Shakespeare, who used it as both a family home and a place of business. John died in 1601, with William becoming legal owner of the property, although he probably never lived here as an adult. At his death, ownership passed to his sister, Joan Hart, and thence to her descendants, the Hart family.
Given Shakespeare’s fame, the building was attracting tourists from at least the 1740s, and possibly earlier. Many famous visitors signed their names on the wall, including prominent 19th-century writers like Walter Scott and Charles Dickens. This fame did not prevent the structure experiencing neglect, and it became increasingly dilapidated. Fears that the house would be transported to the United States led the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to purchase the house in 1847. They then oversaw a significant restoration project in 1858, removing the 18th-century brickwork and giving the structure its present appearance.
The timber-framed building at the historic centre of Stratford-upon-Avon that was the guildhall and Shakespeare’s schoolroom.
Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall
Although there is still much about Shakespeare’s childhood that remains unknown to us, it is probable that during the 1570s he studied at the King’s New School, which at that time met in the Guildhall of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire.
The Guildhall was the creation of the Guild of the Holy Cross, a Christian merchant’s order which oversaw its construction between 1418 and 1420, during England’s late medieval period. Several highly fragile wall paintings still survive from this era, located on the reredos in the Priests’ Chapel. Control was subsequently stripped from the Guild amid the Reformation policies of King Edward VI. In 1553, the Stratford Borough Council took on the Guildhall as their headquarters, continuing to use it in this fashion until 1848. At that point, the King Edward VI School – who had been using it since the 16th century – gained possession, a state of affairs that remains to this day.
Although Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall is still actively used as a school to this day, it has also been open to the public since 2016. Guided tours help visitors to better appreciate the academic environment that Shakespeare himself would have experienced, offering them the chance to try their hand at writing with a quill.
Find Shakespeare’s Schoolroom on an Interactive Map of England
Buy Tickets for Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall online, in advance with free cancellation.
Shakespeare’s New Place
Having accrued a small fortune through his involvement in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their London performances, in 1597 Shakespeare purchased one of the largest houses in his hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire. This was New Place, originally built in the late 15th century by members of the Clopton family.
At Shakespeare’s death in 1616, ownership of the New Place passed to his daughter, Susanna Hall, and her husband, the physician John Hall. After their daughter, Elizabeth Hall, died childless, New Place passed back to the Clopton family. In the mid-18th century, the house’s then-owner, the Reverend Francis Gastrell, grew angry at the number of persons turning up to view the house, cutting down a mulberry bush that (according to folklore) had been planted by Shakespeare and ultimately demolishing the building itself.
Seeking to learn more about the lost house, the Shakespearean scholar James Halliwell-Phillipps excavated at the site in the 19th century. An attractive garden was subsequently established there, which is still maintained and now decorated with various sculptures. Today, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust manage the site. Although there is little from Shakespeare’s day left to see at the New Place, a combined ticket provides entry to this garden and two other sites managed by the Trust, Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Although much of Mary Arden’s home is Victorian and Edwardian in age, there are parts that date to the 16th century.
Mary Arden’s Farm
Shakespeare’s mother was a woman named Mary Arden. She grew up with her seven sisters on a farm in Wilmcote, Warwickshire, around 3 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon. The timber-framed house on this farm was probably built by Mary’s father, Robert Arden, around 1514. Significant alterations would be made in later centuries, including the addition of a dairy in the mid-17th century. A renovation project in the 19th century saw the replacement of the original wattle and daub with new brick walls.
Near to the farm stands another building, dating from the late 16th century, that is now known as Palmer’s Farmhouse. From the 18th century, this structure was mistakenly assumed to have been Mary Arden’s childhood home – and it was on that basis that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased it. Later research revealed that it was actually the home of Adam Palmer, a prosperous yeoman who was a family friend of the Ardens.
The Shakespeare Birthday Trust now manage the farm as a heritage attraction. Re-enactors in period costume help to immerse visitors in a Tudor world that might have been familiar to young Mary. Visitors can also enjoy displays of falconry and various traditional crafts. The farm is closed during the winter months.
Built some 500 years ago, this is the cottage in Stratford-upon-Avon that Shakespeare’s wife Anne Hathaway was born and raised in.
Anne Hathaway’s Cottage
In 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. Like him, she was a native of Warwickshire, having grown up in Shottery, a village just to the west of Stratford-upon-Avon. Her childhood home, where she was born in 1556, is now known as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.
Although it has possible older elements, the structure that the young Anne would have known is probably 15th century. When Anne was born the building was smaller than it is now, operating as a farmhouse rented by Anne’s grandfather John Hathaway, a tenant sheep farmer. After her brother Bartholomew inherited the tenancy from their father in 1581, he managed to buy the freehold. Bartholomew then oversaw an expansion of his new property; he added a new wing at one end at some point in the late 16th or early 17th centuries. Another wing was added at the other end of the house later in the 17th century. Descendants of the Hathaways continued to live in the house right into the late 19th century, although by that point financial difficulty had forced them to sell the property and remain resident as tenants.
In 1892, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust secured ownership of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. Today, visitors can enjoy both the house and the orchards and gardens surrounding it, following a sculpture trail that has been inspired by Shakespeare’s plays.
Hall’s Croft is where Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna, and her husband John Hall lived for three years starting in 1613.
Located on the corner of Church Street and Old Town, Hall’s Croft in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire is a building with links to Shakespeare’s immediate family. It was his daughter, Susanna Hall, who lived here with her husband, the physician John Hall, between 1613 and 1616 – the last three years of Shakespeare’s life.
When they moved in, Hall’s Croft would have been a newly built house, although was quite a bit smaller than it is today. The Halls only lived in Hall’s Croft for three years, moving into Shakespeare’s more luxurious home at New Place after he died in 1616. In 1627 they sold their former house, which then underwent expansion around the start of the 17th century. During the mid-19th century, the house operated as a school before again becoming a private residence, during which time the famous playwright George Bernard Shaw stayed here.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have managed Hall’s Croft since 1949. Visitors can explore the historic building as well as the attractive outdoor herb garden and an onsite café. Although little material directly linked to the Halls survives in the house, one unusual object, a spice grinder, was later found in the attic and – because it dates from the early 17th century – may have originally belonged to the couple.
The parish church in Stratford-upon-Avon in which Shakespeare was baptised (26 April 1564), married to Anne Hathaway (27 November 1582) and buried on 25 April 1616.
Holy Trinity Church
Often simply called “Shakespeare’s Church,” Holy Trinity is the parish church of Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire. It was here that Shakespeare, who was raised within the Church of England, was baptised as a child, wedded to Anne Hathaway, and ultimately laid to rest.
The building is the oldest in the town, with parts of it dating from the 13th century and others from the 14th and 15th. As a local boy, it was at Holy Trinity that Shakespeare underwent baptism in 1564. When staying in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare would have attended services at the church with his family.
As he was a lay rector of the church, Shakespeare was accorded the honour of burial in the chancel, the area of the building where the altar stands. His wife, Anne Hathaway, and then his daughter, Susanna Hall, were subsequently buried alongside him. Their graves, located beneath engraved burial slabs, can still be visited today. A funerary monument depicting Shakespeare was also placed upon the wall.
As well as remaining an active place of Anglican worship, the Church receives around 200,000 visitors each year, making it one of the most visited churches in England. A small charge is requested for those coming to see Shakespeare’s grave.
The site of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre, on the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Attracted by its connections to Shakespeare, visitors have been coming to Stratford-upon-Avon since at least the 18th century. Inspired by the tercentenary of the playwright’s birth, it was here on the banks of the River Avon that the first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre was erected in 1879. This building burned down in 1926, resulting in the launch of a project to replace it.
The second Memorial Theatre was unveiled in 1932. Built to an art deco design, it was the creation of the architect Elisabeth Scott, making it the first major public building in England to be designed by a woman. Although centuries younger that many of the other Shakespeare-themed buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon, its historical importance is deemed such that it is now classified as a Grade-II* listed building.
The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) formed in 1960, in the wake of which the Memorial Theatre was renamed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in 1961. In the 1980s, the burned out remains of the first Memorial Theatre were transformed into another auditorium, the Swan Theatre. With over a thousand seat capacity, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is still used for regular performances of Shakespeare’s plays by the RSC.
Visiting England, and interested in the homes of other well known English writers? If you are planning a trip to England, check our England Travel Guide for History and Adventure Seekers. You may also be interested in seeing our list of Writers’ Houses in England You Can Visit.