2014 is a very exciting year at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and around the world as we celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. There’s always something new to discover, so whether you’re brand new to Shakespeare, or his number one fan, take a look around and become part of the story.

Half Term Activities at Shakespeare’s Family Homes

Our witches are busily brewing lots of creepy activities for October Half Term, 25 October - 2 November. 

Keep the kids entertained with a visit to Shakespeare’s family homes where you can carve pumpkins, make a plague charm, bake soul cakes, take a spooky ghost walk, enjoy a Halloween puppet show and much more. 

Come and join in the fun - if you dare!

New Place, New Chapter

New Place Project Manager, Julie Crawshaw, provides a fascinating insight into the plans for Shakespeare’s final home.

The New Place project is gearing up for a major stage in its development. The initial scheme proposed was not quite right so the Trust sought out new designers to help with the work on the footprint of Shakespeare’s house. We appointed Chris Wise from Expedition Engineering (of London Velodrome fame) and Tim O’Brien, artistic associate of the RSC. The brief was to interpret the footprint, create a beautiful place of contemplation and understanding, tell the story of Shakespeare – the family man, business man and writer – and above all, respect the Grade II listed park and garden status of the site.

We also had some constraints: A budget of just over £5 million (and a fundraising target to match) for the whole works, including the exhibition centre in Nash’s House; a clear instruction from English Heritage to maintain historical accuracy; a strong line from the people of Stratford not to impede on the treasured views of the Guild Chapel and lastly, a very important date. The whole thing has to be open and glorious on 23 April 2016. Quite a challenge! To achieve this, the Trust has to leap two major hurdles. The first is to prepare and be successful in a round two bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for up to £2 million of the project’s funding. The other is to prepare and be successful in a planning application to the District Council. To meet our deadlines both these bids have been produced in parallel with the design of the New Place site. This has meant that the project has evolved with a lot of team work where everyone understands how each discipline fits into the whole jigsaw.

We have also undertaken an enormous amount of consulting with the public, key organisations, businesses, heritage groups and others to ensure that the plans are the right ones, and will be met with approval in planning terms. 

So, what are the plans for New Place? Briefly, the scheme consists of a new two story, fully-accessible exhibition centre slotted into the back of Nash’s House; major conservation works to Nash’s House and the Knot Garden and some very minor works to the Great Garden. The plans for New Place include a grand front door along Chapel Street to welcome visitors, made from bronze and English oak. The footprint of the gatehouse, service range, courtyard and home is defined on the floor with bronze lines. There is a garden and pieces of art work such as Shakespeare’s chair and The Tempest’s galleon. On the site of Shakespeare’s actual home we propose a circular space enclosed by taller planting. 

At the centre of the circle is a deep pool and underneath the water a light will glow upwards. The sonnets and plays will be engraved into the floor around the pool and the pattern working through the whole garden is one of ripples spreading outwards from the pool, a place of special genius.

Clearly a simple and beautiful metaphor, which we hope will perfectly mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and resulting legacy in 2016.

Turn that light out!

This post was written by Helen Cook and first appeared on our Finding Shakespeare blog. It is part of a series to accompany the First World War exhibition at Hall’s Croft, which was supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

As reported in the Stratford Herald in March, 1916, the proprietor of the Unicorn Hotel (now the Pen and Parchment) on Bridgefoot, Stratford-upon-Avon, one Mr Gilbert Towers appeared before the magistrates. The former self-employed pawnbroker who had moved from Aston in Birmingham to manage the hotel, had been summoned for not shading his windows contrary to the Lights (Central Area) Order of the Defence of the Realm Act.

Police Sergeant Coane reported that, at 1.25am whilst on duty with Police Constable Sumner, he had seen lights coming from the hotel. The beams could be seen as far as twenty-five yards. On closer inspection, Sergeant Coane saw that four windows were fully illuminated with no blinds and one window, facing the Avon, was covered with a blind that was inadequate for the purpose.

Gilbert Towers pleaded guilty. He reminded the magistrates that he had told the police at the time that it was the fault of the guests residing in the hotel. And he had since purchased and fitted red curtains to prevent a repeat of the problem. And might he also remind the gentlemen that he had never been in trouble over the Light Restriction Order before. Never.

Superintendent Lee emphasised the gravity of the offence. Blackouts were not just for when there was a warning for zeppelin raids. There was already a problem in the town with the young people using flashlights. Accordingly, Towers was fined the princely sum of £5 – rather a lot, considering the fine for a domestic offence usually ranged between 30 shillings to £2. James Taylor, owner of the Co-operative Stores on Sheep Street was only fined £1 – and he was a repeat offender.

That the fine was extortionate is borne out by a report in the same edition of the Herald that the residents had rallied in support of Towers. They had raised the full amount among themselves and donated it to him to pay the fine.

There was, however, another reason why Towers had been landed with a relatively severe penalty. As the Herald recorded, when Sergeant Coane had approached Towers on that fateful night to reproach him for having lights blazing, he had been told by the hotel manager to “go and have a cut up Bridge Street”. Which is Edwardian vernacular for “On yer bike!”

Read more posts on Finding Shakespeare.

Mary Arden’s Farm Wins ‘Best Organic Farm Visit’ Award

We’re very pleased to announce that Mary Arden’s Farm won the Best Organic Farm Visit category at last week’s 2014 Soil Association Organic Awards. The Farm was invited to enter this year when the Soil Association expanded the awards so that a wider range of organically-run entities, including attractions and holidays, can be recognised. The other finalist in this category was Sheepdrove Organic Farm in Berkshire.

Previously known as the Organic Food Awards, the awards have been showcasing the best in organic for 28 years. This year sees the inclusion of an online consumer vote, where the public were invited to vote for their favourites in each category. A special thank you to each and every person who voted for us, we couldn’t have done it without your support!

Our New-Look Shakespeare Week Website

Thanks to the support of teachers and organisations across the UK, the first ever Shakespeare Week was a huge success. We estimate that over half a million children were involved and we’d like to make Shakespeare Week 2015 even bigger.

In response to feedback we’ve been making a few changes, including a new look Shakespeare Week website that offers a growing number of activities and resources to teachers - and now families too.

We’d love to hear what you think of the new site, and hope you’ll join us as we prepare for the next Shakespeare Week: 16 - 22 March 2015.

World Porridge Day

World Porridge Day celebrates the importance of porridge in tackling world hunger. Here’s a look at how porridge appears in Shakespeare’s work, and a traditional porridge recipe taken from our archives for you to try yourself!


‘He receives comfort like cold porridge.’
The Tempest    Act 2 Scene 1

The word porridge appears eight times in Shakespeare’s plays, so it is evidently a meal that he was familiar with.  A dish very similar to what we understand porridge to be would have been known to Shakespeare; made with oats, sweetened with honey and topped with a thick milk similar to yoghurt, seeds, nuts and dried fruit.

But it is also clear that Shakespeare uses the term to describe a savoury dish:

"Your date is better in your pie and in your porridge"
All’s Well that Ends Well    Act 1 Scene 1

"I had rather pray a month with mutton and porridge."
Love’s Labour’s Lost    Act 1 Scene 1

The Elizabethans had a taste for sugar and the distinctions between sweet and savoury were not so clear as they are today, with all courses being served at the same time for diners to pick and choose as they pleased.  Many recipes from the time contain meat and fruit, both fresh and dried, combined in ways that would be unfamiliar to our palette today; although we should not forget that we still serve turkey with cranberry sauce and pork with apple!

Pea or bean porridge was a common breakfast dish, but with the addition of other vegetables and herbs would also be served alongside mead, bread and cheese at the midday meal, then the main meal of the day.

Pea porridge has a long history as can be seen from the following recipe taken from the Forme of Cury, a collection of some 205 recipes put together about 1390 during the reign of King Richard II.

Pea Porridge with onions

Take and seeþ white pesoun and take out þe perry; & perboile erbis & hewe hem grete, & caste hem in a pot with the perry. Pulle oynouns & seeþhem whole wel in water, & do hem to þe perry with oile & salt; colour it with safroun & messe it, and cast þeron powdour douce.

Translated literally as:

Take and boil white peas and take out the purée; & parboil herbs & chop them great, & cast them in a pot with the purée. Pluck onions & boil them whole well in water, & do them to the purée with oil & salt; colour it with saffron & serve it, and cast then-on powder douce.

Modern Ingredients and Recipe:

White peas are very different to what we now think of as a pea. Probably our closest equivalent would be small haricot beans, but any pea would do.
Fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, mint, sage, sorrel etc – any fresh period herb of choice
Onions – need to be very small, peeled and left whole, or modern shallots
Olive oil
Powder Douce – this was a blend of sweet spices, almost always containing sugar & cinnamon and never pepper, mixed with other spices of choice such a nutmeg, clove etc.

Boil the peas until very tender, remove from the water and drain well, purée them by either mashing them well or by using a blender or food processor. 

Place the purée in a large pot on a very low heat.  Parboil the fresh herb in another pot or by simply pouring boiling water over them in a colander – do not overcook them (modern herbs are generally more tender than what was available in the medieval period). Press the herbs dry in a clean cloth, roughly chop them and add to the purée.

Boil the onions whole in water until tender; add to the purée, along with about a tablespoon of olive oil, a large pinch of saffron and salt to taste. 

Increase the heat and cook the porridge for several minutes to blend the flavours, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Add a little more oil if the mixture becomes too thick. 

Place in a serving bowl and generously sprinkle the powder douce on top and serve hot.

This post was written by Interpretation Projects Manager, Nic Fulcher. Read more from Nic on our Finding Shakespeare blog.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace America


We’re very pleased and proud to have founded a brand new non-profit group to support and promote the work of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the USA. 

For more than two centuries, successive generations of Americans have beaten a path to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in ever growing numbers; today they account for one in eight of the 800,000 visitors we welcome each year to the Shakespeare family homes.  We are founding Shakespeare’s Birthplace America as a way to celebrate and build on the tremendous support we already enjoy in the United States, so that we can do even more to enable the people worldwide to discover more about William Shakespeare and his life.

As a charity we receive no regular direct government funding or public subsidy, so we rely on income generated through the support of visitors, donors, grant funders, volunteers and Friends. This enables us to fulfil our remit under a British Act of Parliament to promote the worldwide enjoyment and understanding of Shakespeare’s works, life and times. 

Shakespeare’s Birthplace America will enable American supporters to make a crucial contribution to the conservation of the five Shakespeare family homes and the Trust’s unique collections, which are designated as internationally important.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace America is now inviting supporters to join a special Patron scheme.  There are four levels of subscription, named for different chapters in Shakespeare’s extraordinary life story and the growth of his reputation from ‘Upstart Crow’ - an actor turned playwright getting above his station -($1,000), to the ‘Sweet Swan of Avon’ ($10,000) immortalised by Ben Jonson in his eulogy to Shakespeare.   Patrons will have the opportunity to attend a variety of exclusive events, including an annual reception and special talks by visiting experts from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the USA, and the annual Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations in Stratford-upon-Avon.

We hope that the foundation of the new non-profit organisation will also enable us to increase our event programmes for supporters in America, to build on our established educational and outreach activity and to develop more partnerships with organisations across the US.  Last year American education groups accounted for half of the residential educational courses that we hosted here in Stratford-upon-Avon.  More than 50 US universities and schools have joined the Trusts’ residential education programmes. 

Visit our website to find out more about Shakespeare’s Birthplace America.

New Books in the SBT Library

We recently bought about forty new books for the library here at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. As always they are proudly displayed
in the ‘new book’ area of our Reading Room in the Shakespeare Centre.

Below are summaries of some of the new titles we’ve added to the library collection:

Shakespeare’s Boys : a cultural history - Katie Knowles
Shakespeare’s Boys: A Cultural History is the first extensive exploration of boyhood in Shakespeare’s plays. It examines a range of characters from Shakespeare’s comedies, histories and tragedies in their original early modern contexts and surveys their performance histories on stage and screen from the Restoration until the present day. Focusing on the status of aristocratic boys, the transition from boyhood to manhood and methods of education, it argues that the varied and complex portrayal of boys in Shakespeare reflects the ambiguous and transitional status of boyhood in early modern England, and that the portrayal of these on-stage boys has been a crucial, and sometimes defining, factor in the performance history of Shakespeare’s plays.

Open-Air Shakespeare: under Australian skies - Rosemary
Many people today first encounter staged Shakespeare in an open-air setting. In Australia, picnic Shakespeare seems particularly suited to the predilections of contemporary audiences and the plays have been performed in a remarkably varied range of sites. Shakespeare has been transported to gardens, parks, caves, mountains and beaches all over the country, in a place that, for Shakespeare and his contemporaries, was completely unknown. Why does the anomaly of performing Shakespeare in Australian space exert such a strong appeal? This book traces the history of open-air Shakespeare production in Australia from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present day and suggests that the industry reflects important changes in the ways contemporary Australians relate to both their environment and to Shakespeare.

Shakespeare and the digital world: redefining scholarship and
practice edited by Christie Carsonand and Peter Kirwan.
This book offers seventeen new essays that assess the opportunities and pitfalls presented by the twenty-first century for the ongoing exploration of Shakespeare. Through contributions from a broad range of scholars and practitioners, including case studies from those working in the field, the collection engages with the impact of the digital revolution on Shakespeare studies. By assessing and mediating this sometimes controversial digital technology, the book is relevant to those interested in the digital humanities as well as to Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts.

Book your Christmas Meal at the Shakespeare Centre

Start planning a Christmas lunch with a difference at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon Avon!

Enjoy a sumptuous two course Christmas lunch and a glass of wine against the very special backdrop of Shakespeare’s Birthplace and gardens. During coffee, you will be entertained by an exclusive performance by our resident actors Shakespeare Aloud!

After lunch you will be invited to tour the childhood home of William Shakespeare. See the house as it prepares for the festive season and let our fascinating guides captivate you with tales from Shakespeare’s early life.

We’re offering this special start to your Christmas festivities on Monday 15 and Friday 19 December 2014. Places are limited so visit our website to book early and avoid disappoint! 

Signed and Sealed – writing with Shakespeare

The tools Shakespeare used to make his mark are at the very heart of his world. That’s why we’re thrilled to launch two exciting, original products, both of which tap into Shakespeare’s history.

The first, in a white, decorative box, with Shakespeare’s signature on the lid, is a dip pen and seal, with sealing wax. Designed and produced in the UK - and handmade of oak and pewter - this beautiful set is ideal for a gift.

The seal is based on the seal ring in the Trust’s Collections, currently on display in the Famous Beyond Words exhibition.

This gold signet ring (seal) carries the initials W S, intertwined with a lover’s knot and is believed to have belonged to William Shakespeare. It would have been pressed into molten wax to seal documents.

The ring was found near Holy Trinity churchyard in 1810, and some have suggested it may have been lost at Shakespeare’s daughter’s wedding in 1616. In Shakespeare’s will, amended that year, the phrase, ‘whereof I have hereunto put my hand and Seale’ was altered; the words ‘and Seale’ being crossed out, suggesting he didn’t have his ring when he signed the will.

The style of the ring is consistent with the period, and is a reminder of a very real world that once existed.

Signet (as in signet ring) derives from the old French word signe, meaning to mark. As well as being worn as rings, seals were also worn on a chain around the neck, or might be simple seals with handles, like the example in our gift set. Although primarily used as a tool of business, seal rings may have also been given to others as a mark of friendship, or a reminder of patronage. 

Also new, in an elegant box and tied with ribbon, is a wood and pewter inkwell and pen set, handmade in the UK. The decorative pewter border on the inkwell is taken from the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays (1623), and the design on the lid is also inspired by the seal ring.

Find out more about the stories behind these products:

Shakespeare’s Signet Ring – from the Finding Shakespeare website

The First Folio – from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website

Your very own inkwell and pen set costs just £80, and the dip pen and seal, £40. You can purchase them both in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust online shop.

Every purchase supports the vital care and conservation of the Shakespeare houses and collections.