1902 Encyclopedia > William Shakespeare > Stratford-upon-Avon

William Shakespeare
(Part 9)



The town of Stratford lies on the north bank of the Avon, at a point about midway in its course from its rise· in Northamptonshire hills to its junction with the Severn at Tewkesbury. On entering the town, across Sir Hugh Clopton's noble bridge, the road from the south-east fans out in three main directions, -- on the right to Warwick and Coventry, on the left to Alcester, while between runs the central street, the modern representative of the old Roman way to Birmingham, Chester, and the north. Further to the left a fourth and less important road leaves the town beyond the church, and, keeping in the main the line of the river, goes to Bidford, Salford Priors, and Evesham. It is a picturesque country road connecting a string of undulating villages and hamlets with Stratford. The town itself consisted in the 16th century of the low gable-roofed wood-and-plaster houses dotted at intervals along these roads and down the cross streets that connected them with each other and with the river. Most of the houses in Shakespeare's time had gardens at the back and many at the sides also; and the space between the houses, combined with the unusual width of the streets, gave the town an open cheerful look which enabled it to retain pleasant touches of its earlier rural state. As its prosperity increased the scattered dwellings naturally tended to close up their ranks, and present a more united front of exposed wares and convenient hostelries to the yeomen and graziers, who with their wives and families frequented the place on fair and market days. But in Shakespeare's time the irregular line of gables and porches, of penthouse walls and garden palings, with patches of flowers and overarching foliage between, still varied the view and refreshed the eye in looking down the leading thoroughfares. These thoroughfares took the shape of a central cross, of which Church, Chapel, and High Streets, running in a continuous line north and south, constituted the shaft or stem, while Bridge and Wood Streets, running in another line east and west, were the transverse beam or bar. At the point of intersection stood the High Cross, a solid stone building with steps below and open arches above, from which public proclamations were made, and} .as in London and other large towns, sermons sometimes delivered. The open space around the High Cross was the centre of trade and merchandise on market days, and from the force of custom it naturally became the site on which at a later period the market-house was built. Oppo-site the High Cross the main road, carried over Sir Hugh Clopton's arches and along Bridge Street, turns to the lef through Henley Street on its way to Henley-in-Arden and the more distant northerly towns. At the western end of Wood Street was a large and open space called Rother Market, whence Rother Street running parallel with High Street led through narrower lanes into the Evesham Road.

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