2016 will be the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and preparations are well under way to celebrate in the town where he was born and died. Projects are afoot everywhere, and I’m going to write a couple of posts giving up to date information about them.
The first project, and I think the most exciting, is that being led by King Edward VI School, where Shakespeare almost certainly received his education. The project, ‘Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall’ has been well-received, and the School is preparing its full bid to be submitted in March.
The press release explains: “The Guildhall, described by historian and broadcaster, Michael Wood, as ‘one of the most atmospheric, magical and important buildings in the whole of Britain’, was built in 1418-20 and is famous as the place where William Shakespeare was educated and where he first witnessed professional theatre. It served as the centre of civic life and governance in Stratford for over 400 years and was the building in which Shakespeare’s father, John, served as the town’s bailiff. Shakespeare’s Schoolroom, on the upper floor, is still used to teach students at King Edward VI School today.”
The upper part of the building, known as Big School, is still used for lessons today. But below it on the ground floor of the building, the Guild Hall (or Feast Hall) and the adjoining Agreeing Room, are to be restored and opened. A great stride was taken a couple of years ago when the ground floor rooms, which had for many years housed the school’s library, were emptied, allowing them to be seen properly. Both these and the adjoining medieval Guild Chapel indicate that Stratford was a town of some substance. In the 1550s, the Guild was dissolved and replaced by a Town Council that continued to govern the town, holding its monthly meetings in these rooms. The schoolroom above was added at about the same time.
The Headmaster, Bennet Carr, explains the aims of the project: “This is a building of global significance yet the last major restoration of the building took place in 1891 and it is now in urgent need of repair and conservation. Our £1m project will restore the Guildhall and enable us to share this wonderful building with the Stratford community and the thousands of tourists who visit Stratford each year.”
There will be two great opportunities in the next few days for the public to see the plans to restore and open the Guildhall on Tuesday 10th February from 2.00pm to 4.00pm and Saturday 14th February from 12 noon until 2.00pm.
Another of the School’s projects currently in the news is Edward’s Boys, a troupe of boy actors who specialise in rarely-performed plays originally written for the boys’ companies. They have attracted much academic attention and have just released tickets for their latest production The Lady’s Trial, by John Ford. A collaboration with Globe Education, performances will be in Oxford on 12 March, Walsall 13 March, and Stratford-upon-Avon 14-15 March. Apparently tickets are going fast, so see the Edward’s Boys site for information.
If you’re in town to see the KES plans you could have a look to see what’s going on just across the road from the Guild buildings on the site of the house in which Shakespeare died. This is sure to be at the centre of much attention in 2016. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust explains “Now the site of Shakespeare’s New Place, his last home, is set to become a major new landmark attraction, thanks to a confirmed grant of £1,815,400 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF)”.
“The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust aims to re-imagine the internationally significant site, creating a place where visitors can discover the story of Shakespeare at the height of his success as a writer and prominent citizen of his home town. The project will also be a catalyst for involving the communities of Stratford and the wider Midlands region with the world-famous heritage on their doorstep”. Work is due to start in March 2015, and Shakespeare’s New Place is scheduled to open for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on 23rd April 2016.
The project will include a new entrance, landscaping, a deep illuminated pool and new artworks and displays. As you can see from the illustration the design is contemporary, a bold choice for this sensitive part of the town. I find the design rather stark as a memorial to a man whose love of the natural world was so strong, but at least the knot garden, which has been there for around a hundred years, and the Great Garden containing its historic mulberry tree, will remain.