Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Shakespeare Houses, Part II: Mary Arden's House

The platform and bridge at the Stratford- upon-Avon railway station.

I started today's journey at the Stratford-upon- Avon railway station, where for £1 (less than the cost of a small cappuccino at the station cafĂ©) I bought a single ticket to Wilmcote. Back in 1973, when her father was on sabbatical in Stratford, adorable twelve-year old Clara had violin lessons in Wilmcote and made this same five-minute train journey each week, racing across this same bridge over the tracks to the northbound platform with her high-heeled shoes and her violin case.

Until 2000, the half-timbered house at left, on the Station Road in Wilmcote, was called Mary Arden's House. Tourists walked through it and imagined Shakespeare's mother spending her girlhood there, and imagined John Shakespeare, the glovemaker of Stratford, coming to court the prosperous farmer's daughter. Unfortunately, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had the wrong house. This house belonged to Adam Palmer, a neighbor or Mary Arden's father, Robert. As you can see, the house was getting a new stone wall in front. Wilmcote was long known for its quarries of gray limestone. The Mason's Arms, where I ate my ploughman's lunch, is a reminder of Wilmcote's history of stoneworkers. The real Mary Arden's House, identified by documents discovered in 2000, is pictured below.

Palmer's Farm is now home to the Shakespeare Countryside Museum, with displays of antique agricultural implements and a small working farm with rare English breeds such as Cotswolds sheep, Tamworth pigs, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, Buff Orpington chickens, and longhorn cattle. At left is a Cotswolds sheep. After the sheep are sheared, a long forelock is left so that the quality of the sheep's wool can still be judged on the animal. The farmyard of Mary Arden's House is also the home of the Heart of England Falconry Centre, and regular falconry exhibitions are offered. Although I missed seeing an exhibition, I did see several of the birds, including this young kestrel (below). The centre is also home to several owls, including the owl who played the part of Hedwig in the first Harry Potter movie.

After my lunch at the Mason's Arms, I walked three miles back to Stratford along the Stratford Canal, where I saw several narrowboats negotiating the Wilmcote locks. The Wilmcote locks are narrower than those at Hatton on the Grand Union Canal, which can accommodate two boats at a time instead of just one. At the pub, I overheard a conversation between several old men about the difficulties yesterday's severe flooding caused for navigation on the canal. Heavy rain fell across England from the Midlands north yesterday. It was the wettest June day on record in England, and flood conditions still persist, especially in the Sheffield area, where flooding has closed the M1. The water levels of the Stratford Canal are well regulated, but the River Avon through Stratford was overflowing its banks.

A Tamworth pig.
Tamworths are one of the rarest and purest breeds of pig,
considered fairly direct descendants of England's original wild boars.

No comments: