Market town on the River Avon, in Warwickshire, England, 35 km/22 mi southeast of Birmingham; population (2001) 104,800. It is the birthplace of William Shakespeare and has the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (1932), the Swan Theatre (1986), and The Other Place (1991). Tourism is important, with over 3 million visitors a year. Other industries include canning, aluminium ware, and boat building.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre replaced an earlier building (1877–79) that burned down in 1926. Shakespeare's birthplace contains relics of his life and times. His grave is in the parish church; his wife Anne Hathaway's cottage is nearby.
Shakespeare landmarks Shakespeare's reputed birthplace is in Henley Street, purchased for the nation in 1847 for £3,000 (it is administered by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which also runs the adjoining library and study centre, opened in 1964, and several other Shakespeare-related buildings); Anne Hathaway's cottage (part 14th century), 1.5 km/1 mi from the centre of the town; the graves of the poet and his wife in the chancel of Holy Trinity; ‘The Cage’ (originally a 15th-century prison), which was for 36 years the home of Judith, Shakespeare's younger daughter; Hall's Croft (16th century), the timbered residence of Susanna, Shakespeare's elder daughter, which now houses the offices of the British Council and a Festival Club; Wilmcote (5 km/3 mi outside the town), a fine timbered farmhouse of the Tudor period and home of Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden; Nash's House, restored in 17th-century style, with the adjoining vacant site of Shakespeare's house, New Place, and its Elizabethan garden; and King Edward VI Grammar School, endowed in 1482 by Rev Thomas Jolyffe of Stratford, and re-endowed by Edward VI.
Royal Shakespeare Theatre and surroundings The original theatre built by public subscription as the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, a redbrick building which opened in 1879 for annual summer seasons of Shakespeare's plays, was destroyed by fire in 1926. The present building, which changed its name in 1961 to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was designed by Elizabeth Scott and opened in 1932. The buildings adjoining the theatre were not seriously damaged by the fire. They include the library, which, mainly donated by C E Flower (1830–1892) and his wife, contains some 10,000 volumes of Shakespeare editions and dramatic literature, and a number of pictures, including the ‘Droeshout’ portrait. There is also the art gallery and museum, with pictures and exhibits illustrating the history of the theatre and Shakespeare productions. Mason Croft, once the home of Marie Corelli, is now the Institute of Shakespeare Studies, run by the University of Birmingham.
Other features The Chapel of the Guild of the Holy Cross dates from the 13th century. Holy Trinity church occupies the site of a Saxon monastery, and also dates from the 13th century. The town hall, first erected in 1633, was rebuilt in 1767; it has complete records of the sequence of bailiffs, mayors, and town clerks from 1553 (including Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare), and of high stewards from 1610. The town trades in cattle and agricultural produce. Charlecote Park and its 16th-century house lies 6 km/3.7 mi east of the town; the park was acquired by the National Trust in 1945. The river is crossed by a fine bridge, erected during the reign of Henry VII by Hugh Clopton, Lord Mayor of London.
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