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Stratford-upon-Avon in 1842

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, a municipal but not a parliamentary borough in the Stratford division of Barlichway hundred, in the county of Warwick, 96 miles north-west of the General Post-office, London, by Uxbridge, Beaconsfield, Wycombe, Oxford, Woodstock, and Shipston-on-Stour.

Stratford was a place of some consequence three centuries before the Conquest. The manor was included in the possessions of the bishopric of Worcester, the holders of which obtained charters from the earlier kings of the Plantagenet family for a market and five yearly fairs. In the reign of Edward VI the manor came by exchange to Dudley, earl of Warwick and duke of Northumberland, and has since then passed through various hands. There was some skirmishing here in the great civil war (A.D. 1642-3). But the principal interest of the town is derived from its having been the birth-place of Shakespeare (A.D. 1564), and the place to which he retired in his maturer years, and where he died (A.D. 1616). In A.D. 1769 a festival termed ‘the Jubilee’ was celebrated at Stratford. in honour of Shakespeare, under the direction of Garrick. The festival was attended by a great concourse of persons of rank ; but the incongruity of many of the arrangements provoked the satire of some of the wits of the day. A triennial festival in honour of Shakespeare has been celebrated these last few years.

The town stands on the west or right bank of the Avon, and is approached from London by a long stone bridge of fourteen pointed arches, erected in the reign of Henry VII at the sole charge of Sir Hugh Clopton, lord mayor of London, and widened of late years. There is another bridge just below, be which a railroad is carried across the river, and at the south end of the town is a wooden foot-bridge. The streets are irregularly laid out, but the principal ones are well-paved and remarkably clean. They are lighted a the winter with oil. The old houses are, many of them, commodious and well-built ; some of the modern ones which are interspersed among them are capacious and handsome. The town has increased considerably during the last few years, and many houses have been built in the outskirts. The church is at the south-eastern corner of the town, near the bank of the river. It is ‘a large and handsome cross-church, the nave only separated for service. The transept, tower, and some parts of the nave are early English. The tower appears to have been strengthened by underbuilding the ancient arches by others of perpendicular character. The upper part of it is decorated, with curious circular windows, having varied tracery. The south aisle is decorated, with some good windows ; the west end of the nave, with the piers, arches, and clerestory, are perpendicular, as is the north porch. The chancel is late perpendicular, and a fine specimen of its date. On the north wall is Shakespeare’s monument ; on the south side are some stone stalls, and there are many of the wood stalls remaining. In the south aisle of the nave are the remains of some stone stalls which have had rich canopies. In some of the windows are portions of good stained glass. The present font is modern; the ancient one, after being long a receptacle for rain water, is now carefully preserved in a gentleman’s garden. It appears to have been perpendicular, of elegant design and good execution. The same gentleman also preserves part of the ancient cross.’ (Rickman, Essay on Gothic Architecture, Appendix.) The remains of Shakespeare are buried in the chancel, on the north side, and are covered with a stone bearing this inscription:-

Good frend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare
To digg the dust encloased heare;
Blese be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And curst be he yt moves my bones.

The monument against the wall is surmounted by a half-length effigy of Shakespeare, executed with some taste and skill. It was originally coloured to represent life. Beneath the effigy is a poetical inscription consisting of a Latin distich and six lines of English verse ; below the inscription is the record, ‘OBIIT ANO. DOI. 1616, AETATIS 53, DIE 23 Ap.’ The church at Stratford was collegiate.

Besides the parish church there is a chapel-of-ease, anciently the chapel belonging to the brethren and sisters of the guild of the Holy Cross. At the dissolution of monastic institutions, the possessions of this fraternity passed to the crown, and were granted after some years to the corporation of Stratford for specific purposes. The chapel is of late perpendicular character, much like the chancel of the parish church. It was adorned within with fresco-paintings of singular character, which, after having been long covered with whitewash, were discovered during some repairs in 1804. They were too much injured however to allow of their being preserved. Adjoining the chapel is the hall of the guild, an ancient building, which has undergone much alteration. The lower part is used for the business of the corporation, the upper part is occupied by the grammar-school. The residences of the schoolmaster and vicar, with the chapel and the hall of the guild, form three sides of a quadrangle. The town-hall, which is used for the larger meetings of the corporation and for other public purposes, is a modern building (A.D. 1768) of the Tuscan order. The principal room, 60 feet by 30, has some portraits ; among them are one of Shakespeare by Benjamin Wilson, and one of Garrick by Gainsborough. Outside of the building, on the west side, are the arms of the corporation, and on the north side, in a niche, is a statue of Shakespeare. There are meeting-houses for Independents, Baptists, and Wesleyan Methodists. Part of the ancient house in which Shakespeare is said to have been born, is standing in Henley Street on the north side of the town : a room is pointed out as the very chamber of his birth, and it may be really so : it is covered with the names of visitors. ‘New Place,’ the residence of Shakespeare in his latter years, was pulled down (A.D. 1759) by the Rev. Francis Gastrell, the owner, who had previously (A.D. 1756) cut down the famous mulberry-tree planted by the poet’s own hand. The present theatre, a neat brick building, is appropriately placed within the precincts of Shakespeare’s garden.

The parish of Old Stratford, in which the town stands, has an area of 6,860 acres ; the population in 1831 was as follows : the borough of Stratford, 3,488 ; the hamlet of Luddington, 127 ; outskirts of the borough and other parts of the parish, 1,556 : together, 5,171. There were in the town 673 houses, inhabited by 683 families ; 21 houses uninhabited, and 2 building. The only manufacture is that of Florentine silk buttons ; the trade of the place, though not great, appears to be increasing. The navigation of the Avon commences here. The Stratford-upon-Avon canal runs from the north side of the town to the Worcester and Birmingham canal in the parish of King’s Norton near Birmingham. It was made under several acts passed from A.D. 1793 to A.D. 1821. The Stratford and Moreton railway (constructed under Acts passed from A.D. 1821 to A.D. 1833) extends from near the termination of the canal to the town of Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire, 16 miles, with a branch (21 miles) to Shipston-on-Stour, in a detached portion of Worcestershire. The railroad consists of a single track, and horses are the moving-power : the railway crosses the Avon by a bridge. The coal brought by the canal from the South Staffordshire Coalfield is sent forward to Moreton and Shipston by the railway : and stone and agricultural produce are brought back. The market at Stratford is now held on Friday, and is a considerable corn and cattle market. There are two yearly fairs, beside a statute-fair and several great cattle-markets.

Stratford is a municipal borough, but the borough limits do not include the whole town. The corporation was formed by a charter of Edward VI, A.D. 1553 ; and by the late Municipal Reform Act has 4 aldermen and 12 councillors. An enlargement of the boundary has been recommended. The borough is not to have a commission of the peace except on petition and grant. The borough courts had fallen into disuse previous to the passing of the act. The income of the corporation is considerable, consisting of the produce of the estate of the guild of the Holy Cross, and of the tithes formerly possessed by the college of priests belonging to the parish church. The corporation maintain an almshouse and the free grammar-school, and pay stipends to the vicar of Stratford and to a chaplain or vicar’s assistant. The living is a vicarage, of the clear yearly value of £239, with a glebe-house: it is in the rural deanery of Kineton or Kington, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Worcester.

There were in the whole parish, in 1833, two infant-schools, with 240 children of both sexes ; fourteen day-schools, with 664 children (viz. 432 boys and 204 girls, and 28 children of sex not stated) ; and three Sunday-schools, with 263 children; besides which, two of the day-schools, partly supported by voluntary contributions, with 130 boys and 60 girls, were also Sunday-schools. Two of the day-schools, with 130 boys and 70 girls, were national schools ; another, with 12 boys, was the free grammar-school; and a fourth, with 28 children, was supported by voluntary contributions : the remainder, except the two which were also Sunday-schools, were private schools.