Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in Warwickshire, England, on the River Avon
101 miles (163 km) north west of London, 22 miles (35 km) south east of Birmingham, and 8 miles (13 km) south west of Warwick. The estimated population in 2007 was 25,505, increasing to 27,445 at the 2011 Census.
Stratford was originally inhabited by Anglo-Saxons and remained a village before the lord of the manor, John of Coutances, set out plans to develop it into a town in 1196. In that same year, Stratford was granted a charter from King Richard I to hold a weekly market in the town, giving it its status as a market town. As a result, Stratford experienced an increase in trade and commerce as well as urban expansion.
The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and receives approximately 2.5 million visitors a year. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
The settlement which later became known as Stratford was first inhabited by Anglo-Saxons following their 7th century invasion of what would become known as Warwickshire. The land was owned by the church of Worcester and it remained a village until the late 12th century when it was developed into a town by lord of the manor, John of Coutances. John laid out a new town plan in 1196 based on a grid system to expand Stratford and allow people to rent property in order to trade within the town. Additionally, a charter was granted to Stratford by King Richard I in 1196 which allowed a weekly market to be held in the town, giving it its status as a market town. These two charters, which formed the foundations of Stratford’s transformation from a village to a town, make the town of Stratford over 800 years old.
John’s plans to develop Stratford into a town meant Stratford became a place of work for tradesmen and merchants. By 1252 the town had approximately 240 burgages, as well as shops, stalls and other buildings. Stratford’s new workers established a guild known as the Guild of the Holy Cross for their business and religious requirements.
Clopton Bridge allowed trade to flourish in Stratford.
Many of the town’s earliest and most important buildings are located along what is known as Stratford’s Historic Spine, which was once the main route from the town centre to the parish church. The route of the Historic Spine begins at Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Henley Street. It continues through Henley Street to the top end of Bridge Street and into High Street where many Elizabethan buildings are located, including Harvard House. The route carries on through Chapel Street where Nash’s House and New Place are sited. The Historic Spine continues along Church Street where Guild buildings are located dating back to the 15th century, as well as 18th and 19th century properties. The route then finishes in Old Town, which includes Hall’s Croft and the Holy Trinity Church.
Historic map of Stratford in 1902
David Garrick helped Stratford to become a tourist destination
During Stratford’s early expansion into a town, the only access across the River Avon into and out of the town was over a wooden bridge, thought to have been constructed in 1318. However, the bridge could not be crossed at times due to the river rising and was described by antiquarian John Leland as “a poor bridge of timber and no causey [causeway] to it, whereby many poor folks and other refused to come to Stratford when Avon was up, or coming thither stood in jeopardy of life.” In 1480, a new masonry arch bridge was built to replace it called Clopton Bridge, named after Hugh Clopton who paid for its construction. The new bridge made it easier for people to trade within Stratford and for passing travellers to stay in the town.
The Cotswolds, located close to Stratford, was a major sheep producing area up until the latter part of the 19th century, with Stratford one of its main centres for the processing, marketing, and distribution of sheep and wool. Consequently, Stratford also became a centre for tanning during the 15th–17th centuries. Both the river and the Roman road served as trade routes for the town.
Despite Stratford’s increase in trade, it barely grew between the middle of the 13th century and the end of the 16th century, with a survey of the town showing 217 houses belonged to the lord of the manor in 1590. Growth continued to be slow throughout the 17th century, with hearth tax returns showing that at most there were approximately 429 houses in the town by 1670. However, more substantial expansion began following several enclosure acts in the late 18th century, with the first and largest new development by John Payton who developed land on the north side of the old town, creating several streets including John Street and Payton Street.
Before the dominance of road and rail, Stratford was the gateway to the network of British canals.
In 1769, the actor David Garrick staged a major Shakespeare Jubilee over three days which saw the construction of a large rotunda and the influx of many visitors. This contributed to the growing phenomenon of Bardolatry which made Stratford a tourist destination.