STRATFORD-ON-AVON, a market town and municipal borough in the Stratford-on-Avon parliamentary division of Warwickshire, England; on a branch line of the Great Western railway and on the East & West Junction railway, in connexion with which it is served from London by the Great Central (925 m.) and the London & North-Western railways. Pop. (1901), 8310. The town lies mainly on the right (west) bank of the Avon. The neighbourhood, comprised in the rich valley of the Avon, is beautiful though of no considerable elevation. The river flows in exquisite wooded reaches, navigable only for small boats. The Stratford-on-Avon canal communicates with the Warwick and Birmingham canal. The river is crossed at Stratford by a stone bridge of 14 arches, built by Sir Hugh Clopton in the reign of Henry VII. The church of the Holy Trinity occupies the site of a Saxon monastery, which existed before 691, when the bishop of Worcester received it in exchange from Ethelred, king of Mercia. It is beautifully placed near the river, and is a fine cruciform structure, partly Early English and partly Perpendicular, with a central tower and lofty octagonal spire. It was greatly improved in the reign of Edward III. by John de Stratford, who rebuilt the south aisle. He also in 1332 founded a chantry for priests, and in 1351 Ralph de Stratford built for John's chantry priests " a house of square stone," which came to be known as the college, and in connexion with which the church became collegiate. The present beautiful choir was built by Dean Balshall (1465-1491), and in the reign of Henry VII. the north and south transepts were erected. A window commemorates the Shakespearian scholar J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps. The foundation of the chapel of the gild of the Holy Cross was laid by Robert de Stratford. The gild, to which both sexes were admitted, was in existence early in the 13th century, and it was incorporated by a charter from Edward III. in 1322. It was dissolved in 1547. The guildhall is a picturesque half-timbered building. A beautiful house of the 16th century belonged to one Thomas Rogers, whose daughter was mother of John Harvard, the founder of Harvard College, U.S.A. Among public buildings are the town hall, originally dated 1633, rebuilt 1767, and altered 1863; market house, corn exchange and three hospitals. There are recreation grounds. Brewing is carried on, but the trade is principally agricultural. Area, 4013 acres.
Shakespearian Connexion. To no town has the memory of one famous son brought wider notoriety than that which the memory of William Shakespeare has brought to Stratford; yet this notoriety sprang into strong growth only towards the end of the 1Sth century. The task of preserving for modern eyes the buildings which Shakespeare himself saw was not entered upon until much of the visible connexion with his times had been destroyed. Yet the town is under no great industrial or other modernizing influence, and therefore stands in the position of an ancient shrine, drawing a pilgrimage of modern origin. The plan of Shakespeare's Stratford at least is preserved, for the road crossing Clopton 's bridge is an ancient highway, and forks in the midst of the town into three great branches, about which the village grew up. The high cross no longer stands at the marketplace where these roads converged. But the open space where is now a memorial fountain was the Rother market, and Rother Street preserves its name. The word signifies horned cattle, and is found in Shakespeare's own writing, in the restored line " It is the pasture lards the rother's sides " (Timon of Athens), where " brother's " was originally the accredited reading. In Henley Street, close by, is the house in which the poet was born, greatly altered in external appearance, being actually two halftimbered cottages connected. A small apartment is by immemorial tradition shown as his birth-room, bearing on its whitewashed walls and its windows innumerable signatures of visitors, among which such names as Walter Scott, Dickens and Thackeray may be deciphered. Part of the building, used by the poet's father as a wool-shop, is fitted as a museum. Shakespeare may have attended the grammar school attached to the old guildhall in Church Street. This was a foundation in connexion with the gild of the Holy Cross, but was refounded after the dissolution by King Edward VI. in 1553, and bears his name. The site of Shakespeare's house, New Place, bought by him in 1597, was acquired by public subscription, chiefly through the exertions of J. O. Halliwell-Phillipps, and was handed over to the trustees of the birthplace in 1876. The house was built by Sir Hugh Clopton. Shakespeare acquired a considerable property adjacent to it, retired here after his active life in London, and here died. Sir John Clopton destroyed the house in 1702 (as it had reverted to his family), and the mansion he built was in turn destroyed by Sir Francis Gastrell in 1759. The site, which is traceable, is surrounded by gardens. Shakespeare is buried in the chancel of Holy Trinity church, his wife lying next to him. The slab over the poet's grave bears the lines beginning " Good friend, for Jesus' sake forbeare To digg the dust enclosed heare " ; while the effigy on the mural monument above may well be an authentic representation, though somewhat altered and damaged by time and restoration (see SHAKESPEARE: Portraits).
Apart from the interest attaching to the pleasant country town and its pastoral environment, through their influence traceable in Shakespeare's writings, there are further connexions with himself and his family to be found. The house adjacent to New Place known as Nash's house was that of Thomas Nash, who married Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth Hall; it is used as a museum. At Shottery, i m. west of Stratford, is the picturesque thatched cottage in which Shakespeare's wife, Anne Hathaway, was born. It was purchased for the nation in 1892. The maiden name of the poet's mother was Mary Arden, and this name, that of an ancient county family, survives in the district north-west of Stratford, the Forest of Arden, though the true forest character is long lost. At Snitterfield to the north, where the low wooded hills begin to rise from the valley, lived Shakespeare's grandfather and uncle.
The principal modern monument to the poet's memory in Stratford is the Shakespeare Memorial, a semi-Gothic building of brick, stone and timber, erected in 1877 to contain a theatre, picture gallery and library. A performance of one of the plays is given annually. The memorial stands by the river above the church, and above again lie the Bancroft or Bank croft gardens where, in 1769, a celebration in honour of the poet was organized by David Garrick. Evidence of the intense interest taken by American visitors in Stratford is seen in the memorial fountain and clock-tower presented in 1887, and in a window in the church illustrating scenes from the Incarnation and containing figures from English and American history.
History. Stratford-on-Avon (Stradforde, Strafford, Straffordon-Avon) is a place of great antiquity. A Roman road may have run past the site; coins, etc., have been found, and the district at any rate was inhabited in Roman times. The manor was granted by King Offa to the bishopric of Worcester; and it was under the protection of the bishops of Worcester, who were granting them privileges as early as the reign of Richard I., that the inhabitants of the town assumed burghal rights at an early date. The Gild of the Holy Cross, founded in the 13th century for the support of poor priests and others, exercised great authority over the town for many years. Its dissolution was the cause of the incorporation charter of Edward VI. in 1553, by which the town was incorporated under the title of the bailiff and burgesses, who were to bear the name of aldermen. Another charter, confirming former liberties but altering the constitution of the corporation, was granted in 1611. By the charters of 1664 and 1674 the corporation was given the title of mayor, aldermen and burgesses. The governing body now consists of a mayor, 6 aldermen and 18 councillors. A market, formerly held on Thursdays by a grant of 1309, is now held on Fridays. The various trades of weaving, saddlery, glove-making, collarmaking, candle-making and soap-making were carried on during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, but have lost their importance.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)