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History of Stratford Upon Avon

Stratford Upon Avon, or simply ‘Stratford’ as it’s commonly referred to, is a popular market town based in Warwickshire County, in the East Midlands.

Although originally occupied by Britons, the then-village was founded after the Anglo Saxons invaded Warwickshire in 7AD, who gave it the name ‘Stratford Upon Avon’ – a title meaning Stratum (Latin for ‘Street’), Ford for ‘shallow stream’, and Avon – a Celtic word for ‘river’.

Long known for its history as a market town, it is arguably most famous for being the birth and resting place of legendary playwright William Shakespeare – drawing in millions of visitors every year.

In this blog, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at this cultured town and exploring its history, as well as some of the more interesting facts a tourist may not know. So, if you’re looking to learn more about Shakespeare’s hometown or just considering a visit – then this blog is for you!

A Brief Economic History

Originally a small village, Stratford was given its town status in 1197, and once its weekly market was then approved by Richard I, the town started to see a noticeable increase in trade.

Whilst records were rather limited in the 12th century, it was known for having a booming wool industry, and cloth manufacturing led to it becoming a largely prosperous town in the 16th century.

Stratford also played a major part in Britain’s industrial revolution, which saw an increase in iron and metal production, printing, and engineering, to name a few.

Towards the 19th century, the town started to see a big increase in factories and businesses, resulting in a huge increase in the population, as people flocked to the town to take advantage of the economic opportunities.

Today, Stratford still plays a big part in Britain’s economy, with industries including retail, manufacturing and tourism. Its ties with William Shakespeare alone bring in large tourist numbers every year, helping to keep the local economy thriving.


Medieval Stratford – The Clopton Story

Sir Hugh Clopton (1440–1496) was a wealthy mercer and former mayor of London who made his fortune in the city before moving back to his hometown of Stratford Upon Avon.

Upon hearing the news that a connecting bridge was planned to be built over the River Avon, Clopton put himself forward, declaring to cover the funds, providing the bridge was named after him. The townsfolk agreed to his requests, and the bridge was then built and named the Clopton Bridge.

The bridge still stands to this day and includes a plaque reading: “In the year 1462, Sir Hugh Clopton built this bridge of stone over the River Avon at his own expense for the common use and benefit of the people of Stratford-upon-Avon.”

Clopton is still highly regarded in Stratford, and his story has been symbolised as one of generosity and giving back to the community.

Tudor Stratford – The Shakespeare Story

If you already know a little about Stratford upon Avon, the chances are you’ve heard of its most famous resident. William Shakespeare was renowned for being a highly successful Tudor-era playwright, actor and poet and is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of all time.

His major plays include Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth, which still continue to be studied and performed to this day, hundreds of years later.

Early years

Born in April 1564 into a middle-class family in Stratford Upon Avon, William was the 3rd of 8 children and, from a young age, was grammar school-educated until the age of 14. During his late teens, he married and later had three children (Susanna and twins Hamnet and Judith).

It’s believed that around the mid-1580s, he left Stratford for London to make a success in London’s performing arts scene. Still, rumour has it he fled to escape prosecution for illegal deer poaching on a local politician’s estate.

His stage plays are first recorded in London around 1592, and would regularly receive attacks in the press from a rival playwright, who mocked him as punching above his weight in the industry.

Shakespeare’s Success

He soon became a part-owner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men (before changing its name to King’s Men), an acting company, which soon became the main playing company in London.

As success grew with plays such as Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet, Shakespeare made major investments, including his part in the Globe Theatre on London’s South Bank and various properties, making him a wealthy man.

Later Years And Death

Despite splitting much of his life between London and Stratford, some folk believe that Shakespeare moved back to Stratford permanently sometime before his death.

He died aged 52 from a fever – believed to have been caused by contaminated water, and was buried just two days later in the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford Upon Avon.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

The Shakespeare family home that William was born, grew up in and lived with his family still stands to this day, and remains a popular tourist attraction in Stratford Upon Avon.

Although unclear when the house was built, William’s father, John Shakespeare, took hold of the property in 1556 and raised his kids, including William, with his wife, Mary Arden.

Eventually, William’s wife, Anne Hathaway, and their three children would also live in the property.

When John Shakespeare died in 1601, William leased the house, which then became a pub (or inn) known as the Maidenhead, then the Swan and Maidenhead Inn, being passed down through family generations before being sold in the early 1800s and then purchased by the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.

You can visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace today, with tickets at around £20 per adult.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Alongside Shakespeare’s Birthplace, another popular tourist attraction is the Royal Shakespeare Theatre which was built in memory of the famous playwright. Built-in 1879, the theatre stands on the banks of the River Avon and has been a major part of the town over the years.

Sadly, the original theatre was destroyed by a fire, and the New New Shakespeare Memorial Theatre opened its doors on a nearby site in 1932, designed by Elisabeth Scott.

Today, plays, musicals, and exhibitions bring tourists worldwide to experience what Stratford-Upon-Avon has to offer.


Eighteenth Century Stratford – The Garrick Story

In 1741, David Garrick was making a name for himself as one of the most renowned and innovative actors of the era. At this time, he was in his 30s and had been acting for more than a decade. He had gained an immense following for his on-stage performances, and having starred in Richard III; he became well known for his portrayal of Shakespearean characters.

In 1769, he came up with the idea to host an annual Shakespearean festival in memory of the playwright. The festival would be held in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare himself and the town that inspired much of his works. Garrick proposed this festival as a way to commemorate and celebrate the life of Shakespeare, with a procession, music, and a variety of theatrical performances. The procession with floral tributes moves through the streets, passing landmarks such as the town hall, Anne Hathaway’s cottage and the Parish Church. Finally, they end at the dramatist’s tomb, placing their tributes at the end of his tomb.

The festival was such a success that it still runs to this day! Each year, the citizens gets involved with the celebrations as a way to commemorate Shakespeare and his life.


The Story Today – Stratford In Bloom

In today’s society, Stratford upon Avon is still seen as an important cultural and literary destination, just as it was in Shakespeare’s day. The town has embraced its past by creating many events that commemorate the life of William Shakespeare, allowing visitors to experience what Stratford upon Avon was like when he lived.

Here at Escape Live, we’re proud to be based in Stratford-upon-Avon, and we love to promote our local heritage. We use the story of Shakespeare and his birthplace as a source of inspiration for our immersive escape rooms and characters!

In Shakespeare’s Script, you and your team must work together to find one of the playwright’s missing scripts before the curtain goes up and the King finds out! As the world’s only Shakespeare Escape Room, we’re proud to be a part of keeping the story alive and helping the next generation experience the area in a whole new way. The room is based on an accurate recreation of the playwright’s home so that you can feel the history of Stratford-Upon-Avon as soon as you step inside!

So come and experience the story of Shakespeare and his hometown with Escape Live. We can’t wait to see you on your next visit!


We hope that this blog has given you an insight into the rich heritage of this cultural town. From getting to see the playwright’s birthplace to experiencing a Garrick-inspired festival or taking part in Escape Live’s Shakespeare-themed escape room, there is so much to discover and explore in Stratford-upon-Avon for all ages! So come and be a part of the story, and experience this beautiful town for yourself.


Stratford Upon Avon FAQs:

We’ve answered some of the most frequently asked questions about the history of Stratford Upon Avon below:

What is the oldest part of Stratford-upon-Avon?

The oldest part of Stratford upon Avon is said to be the cobblestones in Shrieve’s House, which date back to 1196.

Why did Shakespeare leave Stratford-upon-Avon?

Whilst it is commonly assumed that Shakespeare left the town to work on his career, rumour has it that he left due to illegally poaching a deer on Sir Thomas Lucy’s estate. Leaving was a way for him to escape punishment.

What is the story of Stratford-upon-Avon?

Stratford Upon Avon was founded by the Saxons when they invaded Warwick in the 7th century. In England, Stratford is well-known for its historical status and famous resident William Shakespeare.

What is the oldest pub in Avon?

The Garrick Inn is the oldest pub in the town.

What are some famous streets in Stratford upon Avon?

Some famous streets include Henley Street, Church Street, Chapel Street and Bridge Street. The Stratford on avon district town council works hard to maintain and preserve all areas of the town.

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