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Royal Shakespeare Theatre 2011.jpg
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre from the Bancroft Gardens
Stratford-upon-Avon is located in Warwickshire
 Stratford-upon-Avon shown within Warwickshire
Population 27,445 (2011)[1]
OS grid reference SP1955
District Stratford-on-Avon
Shire county Warwickshire
Region West Midlands
Country England
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town Stratford-upon-Avon
Postcode district CV37
Dialling code 01789
Police Warwickshire
Fire Warwickshire
Ambulance West Midlands
EU Parliament West Midlands
UK Parliament Stratford-on-Avon
List of places

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Stratford-upon-Avon (/ˌstrætfərd əpɒn ˈvən/) is a market town in Warwickshire, England, on the River Avon, 22 miles (35 km) south east of Birmingham and 8 miles (13 km) south west of Warwick.[2] The estimated population in 2007 was 25,505,[3] increasing to 27,445 at the 2011 Census.

The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and receives an estimated 4.9 million visitors a year.[4] The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Theatre.


Stratford has Anglo-Saxon origins, and developed as a market town in the medieval period. The original charters of the town were granted in 1196, making Stratford over 800 years old. The name is a combination of the Old English strǣt, meaning "street", and ford, indicating a site at which a road forded a river. The "street" was a smaller Roman road connecting the larger roads Fosse Way and Icknield Street.

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.

Stratford was the gateway to the British canal network from the South West before the road and rail networks took over and its industrial past is often overlooked because of the town's association with Shakespeare.


The administrative body for the town is the Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council, which is based at the Town Hall in Sheep Street. The Stratford-on-Avon District Council is based at Elizabeth House, Church Street, and the Stratford-upon-Avon Town Trust is based in the Civic Hall, Rother Street. The Town Council is responsible for crime prevention, cemeteries, public conveniences, litter, river moorings, parks, grants via the Town Trust and the selection of the town's mayor.


Stratford is close to the Cotswolds, with Chipping Campden 10 miles (16 km) to the south. The Cotswolds was a major sheep producing area, up until the latter part of the 19th century, with Stratford as 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.

Suburbs and areas of Stratford-on-Avon include Shottery, Bishopton, Bridgetown, Tiddington, and Old Town.


Inland summer cloud development, July 2010, Stratford is denoted by the yellow dot.

Stratford has a temperate maritime climate, as is usual for the British Isles, meaning extremes of heat and cold are rare. Sunshine hours are low to moderate (less than 1,400 hours per year), and rainfall is spread evenly throughout the year.

The record high temperature is 35.7 °C (96.3 °F), set in August 1990, compared to the typical summer maximum of 22 °C (72 °F). The record low temperature is −21.0 °C (−5.8 °F), recorded in January 1982. With an average of 62[5] frosts a year, Stratford is a relatively frosty location. For comparison, nearby Wellesbourne averages 53 frosts a year, and further afield, Malvern, just 33.

As with much of inland Britain, Stratford experiences much cloud development, while coastal areas remain clear (see image to the right).

Rainfall, at around 620 mm (24 in) is typical for low-lying areas of central and eastern England. Over 1 mm of rain was recorded on 115.7 days per year,[5] according to the 1971–2000 observation period.

Climate data for Stratford-upon-Avon, elevation 49m, 1971–2000
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 6.9
Average low °C (°F) 0.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 55.6
Mean monthly sunshine hours 48.7 61.3 95.2 132.0 177.0 167.1 189.4 177.9 129.6 98.0 60.6 42.5 1,379.2
Source: Met Office[6]


Stratford-upon-Avon's Clock Tower
Historic map from 1908
Nash's House, and the gardens of New Place

Apart from tourism, which is a major employer, especially in the hotel, hospitality industry and catering sectors, other industries in the town include boat building and maintenance, bicycles, mechanical and electrical engineering, food manufacture, Information Technology, call centre and service sector activities, a large motor sales sector, industrial plant hire, building suppliers, market gardening, farming, storage and transport logistics, finance and insurance, and a large retail sector.

Major employers in the town include the NFU Mutual Insurance Company (and Avon Insurance), AMEC, Sitel, Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, B & Q and Pashley Cycles. There are, nominally, three theatres run by the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, which attract large audiences and income for the town.


The regular large influx of tourists is the major source of the town's prosperity. Stratford is a major English tourist town due to it being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, who many consider the greatest playwright of all time.[7] In 2010 the District Council spent £298,000 on tourism promotion[8] and supports an official open-top tour bus service. In 2010 Stratford-on-Avon District Council launched a re-branded official tourism website for the Stratford area called Discover Stratford[9] after opening a new tourist information centre on Henley Street in May 2010,[10] which has since moved back to the original location on Bridgefoot.[11]

Shopping centres

Apart from the town centre, Maybird Shopping Park, usually referred to locally as "The Maybird Centre"[12][13] or simply "The Maybird", is a large shopping centre[14] situated on Birmingham Road, approximately a five-minute drive from the town centre, which features numerous shops and is a very well used part of the town. Shops featured at the Maybird[15] include Asda Living, B&Q, Argos, Pizza Hut, WHSmith, Subway, The Big Fish, Game, Jollyes, Boots, M&S Simply Food, Sports Direct, New Look, Outfit, Poundstretcher, Pets at Home, Halfords, Matalan, Next and Costa Coffee, the latter of which is the second Costa Coffee shop in Stratford, with another located on Henley Street. A large Tesco supermarket is located next to the Maybird,[16] behind B&Q. On the same road is a smaller Aldi store.

Directly opposite the Maybird, on the other side of Birmingham Road, is Maybrook Industrial Estate, a smaller shopping centre which includes stores such as Staples, Carphone Warehouse, Maplin Electronics and Carpetright.

The Rosebird Centre is a much smaller shopping centre located on Shipston Road and contains a large Waitrose supermarket,[17] Pets Corner[18] pet shop and Rosebird Centre Pharmacy. The pharmacy also serves as a medical centre, acting as a branch of the main Rother House Medical Centre on Alcester Road.[19] An Avonvale Veterinary Centre is soon to open in Rosebird Centre.[20]


The town has a number of supermarkets, including Tesco[16] on Birmingham Road, Aldi on Canners Way[21] (just off Birmingham Road), Morrisons on Alcester Road,[22] Marks & Spencer on Bridge Street[23] (plus M&S Simply Food in Maybird Shopping Park, Birmingham Road[24]) and Waitrose at The Rosebird Centre on Shipston Road. A small Sainsbury's store is located on Bridge Street.[25]

Main sights and attractions


The first real theatre in Stratford was a temporary wooden affair built in 1769 by the actor David Garrick for his Shakespeare Jubilee celebrations of that year to mark Shakespeare's birthday. The theatre, built not far from the site of the present Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was almost washed away in two days of torrential rain that resulted in terrible flooding.

A small theatre known as the Royal Shakespeare Rooms was built in the gardens of Shakespeare's New Place home in the early 19th century but became derelict by the 1860s.

To celebrate the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth in 1864 the brewer, Charles Edward Flower, instigated the building of a temporary wooden theatre, known as the Tercentenary Theatre, which was built in a part of the brewer's large gardens on what is today the site of the new, and temporary, Courtyard Theatre. After three months the Tercentenary Theatre was dismantled, with the timber used for house-building purposes.

In the early 1870s, Charles Flower gave several acres of riverside land to the local council on the understanding that a permanent theatre be built in honour of Shakespeare's memory, and by 1879 the first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had been completed. It proved to be a huge success, and by the early 20th century was effectively being run by the actor/manager Frank Benson, later Sir Frank Benson.

The theatre burned down in 1926, with the then artistic director, William Bridges-Adams, moving all productions to the local cinema.

An architectural competition was arranged to elicit designs for a new theatre, with the winner, English architect Elisabeth Scott, creating the Royal Shakespeare Theatre we see on the riverside today. The new theatre, adjoining what was left of the old theatre, was opened by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, in 1932.

The new theatre had many illustrious artistic directors, including the actor Anthony Quayle.

Sir Peter Hall was appointed artistic director (designate) in 1959, and formed the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) in 1961.

The RSC also runs two smaller theatres, the Swan Theatre, which was created in the 1980s out of the shell of the remains of the original Memorial Theatre and is modelled on an Elizabethan theatre, quickly becoming one of the finest acting spaces in the UK, and The Other Place theatre. Along with the RST, the Swan Theatre closed in 2007 for refurbishment and reopened in November 2010. The Other Place, a Black box theatre, was extended to become the temporary RSC Courtyard Theatre, opening in July 2006 and was the home of the RSC while the RST was being refurbished; its interior is similar to the interior of the refurbished RST. The Courtyard Theatre closed in 2015 and will be replaced by The Other Place which will return as a 200-seat studio theatre within the steel extension in which the Courtyard Theatre was located. The Other Place is due to be completed in 2016, in time for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.[26][27]

The Waterside Theatre (which is not part of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex) re-opened in December 2004, then closed again in September 2008. During this span, the theatre housed the Shakespearience visitor attraction.[28] This has now been turned into the Clore Learning Centre, the Royal Shakespeare Company's education and events venue.

In 1986, Stratford-upon-Avon was the venue for the disastrous provincial try-out of the ill-fated musical Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel.

Henley Street

Henley Street, one of the town's oldest streets, underwent substantial architectural change between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Shakespeare's large half-timbered dwelling, purchased by him in 1556, was in 1564 the birthplace of his son William. According to a descriptive placard provided for tourists there,

"The property remained in the ownership of Shakespeare's direct descendants until 1670, when his granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard, died. As she had no children, Elizabeth left the estate to her relative Thomas Hart, Shakespeare's great-nephew. The main house became a tenanted inn called the Maidenhead (later the Swan and Maidenhead) following the death of John Shakespeare in 1601. Members of the Hart family continued living in the small adjoining cottage throughout the century."

At the end of the 19th century, Edward Gibbs "renovated" the building to more closely represent the original Tudor farmhouse. Adjacent to Shakespeare's Birthplace stands the Shakespeare Centre, completed in 1964 and not far from the Carnegie Library, opened in 1905.

The large half-timbered building which now comprises numbers 19, 20 and 21 was formerly the White Lion Inn.[29] It is first mentioned in 1603.[30] and was adjoined on the east by a smaller inn called the "Swan". In 1745 the latter was purchased by John Payton, who also acquired the "Lion" five years later and rebuilt the whole premises on a greatly enlarged scale. (Cal. of Trust Title Deeds, no. 147.) The work was completed by James Collins of Birmingham, builder, in 1753. (Contract, Trust Title Deeds, no. 167.) Payton "brought the house into great vogue"[31] though Byng in 1792 complained that "at the noted White Lion, I met with nothing but incivility" (cited from Torrington Diaries (ed. Andrews), iii, 152).[29] Payton was succeeded as innkeeper by his son John, and its reputation as one of the best inns on the Holyhead road must have contributed not a little to the prosperity of the town. Garrick stayed at the "White Lion" during the Jubilee of 1769 (Saunders MSS. 82, fol. 20)[29] and George IV, as Prince Regent, visited it when he came to Stratford in 1806.[32] Its great days came to an end after John Payton the younger sold it to Thomas Arkell in 1823.[29] The building is now home to the Enchanted Manor Museum at the Creaky Cauldron and Magic Alley; the Box Brownie Café; Doug Brown's Really Good Gift Company; and the Not Just Shakespeare Tourist Information Centre.

Henley Street is now a major tourist and shopping precinct with many al fresco cafés and street entertainers.

Sheep Street

Sheep Street runs from Ely Street eastwards to the Waterside. It was a residential quarter in the 16th century, some of the buildings were rebuilt following the fire of 1595, although many, such as Number 40, date from 1480. Formerly a two story building that was extended in the early twentieth century has a lower story of substantial close-set studding: the upper is of more widely spaced thin vertical timbers.[33]

As the name suggests Sheep Street, which leads down from the Town Hall to Waterside and the RST, was from early times and until the late 19th century, the area where sheep, brought from the neighbouring Cotswold Hills, were slaughtered and butchered. Today it is the restaurant centre of the town.

The Shrieves House is one of the oldest still lived in houses in the town and Shakespeare is said to have based his character of Sir John Falstaff on one of the residents, his godson's uncle. Oliver Cromwell is thought to have stayed here in 1651. He wrote a letter from the town to Lord Wharton on 27 August 1651,[34] before the Battle of Worcester.

Behind The Shrieves House is a museum called "Tudor World" with recreations of 16th century life in theatrical settings.

Just off Sheep Street is Shrieves walk, a very quaint walkway with several small independent stores, including a Vintage Clothing shop.

Waterside & Southern Lane

This area of Stratford, which runs from the foot of Bridge Street to Holy Trinity Church (and leads directly off Sheep Street and Chapel Lane) runs alongside the River Avon and offers access to the Waterside Theatre and all areas of the RST.

The Bancroft Gardens and river area is a very popular place for people watching, enjoying picnics and river activities. In the summer the River Avon is busy with rowing boats, motor boats and river cruises. The Birmingham to Stratford Canal is busy with colourful narrowboats passing through or mooring up in the canal basin Stratford-upon-Avon Canal. There are often jugglers, fire-eaters and magicians entertaining the public on the lawns. On the edge of the gardens is a water fountain, known as the Swan Fountain. It was unveiled in 1996 by the Queen Elizabeth II to recognise that Stratford has been a market town since 1196. It is from here the Stratford Town Walk meet every day (even Christmas Day), to offer a guided walking tour of the town. The tour passes the Shakespeare houses, Royal Shakespeare Theatres, 15th century timber-framed buildings, William Shakespeare's school and visits Holy Trinity Church where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried.

Waterside is also the location of The Dirty Duck pub which is frequented by actors from the nearby RSC theatres, theatre critics and theatregoers.

Other Shakespeare sites

Other tourist attractions within the town include five houses relating to Shakespeare's life, which are owned and cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. These include Hall's Croft (the one-time home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, and her husband Dr. John Hall) and Nash's House, which stands alongside the site of another property, New Place, owned by Shakespeare himself, wherein he died. Near to the town are Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Shottery, the home of Shakespeare's wife's family prior to her marriage, and Mary Arden's House (Palmer's Farm), the family home of his mother. Elsewhere in the district are farms and buildings at Snitterfield, that belonged to the family of Shakespeare's father.

King Edward VI School, located on the corner of Church Street and Chapel Lane, is a grammar school thought to have been attended by William Shakespeare.

No 1 High Street is the former home of Shakespeare's daughter, Judith, and her husband Thomas Quiney from 1616 to 1637.[35]

Other attractions

Harvard House is located at 26 High Street, next door to The Garrick Inn pub, named after Shakespearean actor David Garrick and reputedly the oldest pub in the town. Other attractions include the Stratford Butterfly Farm, which is on the eastern side of the river and the Bancroft Gardens and Stratford Armouries located three miles (4.8 km) from the centre of Stratford on Gospel Oak Lane.

Each year on 12 October (unless this is a Sunday, in which case 11 October) Stratford hosts one of the largest mop fairs in the country. Then, on the second Saturday following, the smaller Runaway fair is held.

Historic Spine

Many of the town's most important and visited 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.[35]

Shakespeare's celebrations

Every year, Shakespeare's birthday is celebrated in Stratford. The celebration takes place over two days on the weekend closest to April 23, the date of his birth, and includes musical performances, drama and a parade through the town.[36]

In 2016, events will be held in Stratford to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.[37]


Stratford is 22 miles (35 km) from the UK's second largest city, Birmingham, and is easily accessible from junction 15 of the M40 motorway. The 7 miles (11 km) £12 million Stratford Northern Bypass opened in June 1987 as the A422.

Stratford-upon-Avon railway station has good rail links from Birmingham (Snow Hill station, Moor Street station) and from London, with up to seven direct trains a day from London Marylebone. Stratford-upon-Avon Parkway railway station opened on 19 May 2013 to the north of the town.

The Stratford on Avon and Broadway Railway Society aims to re-open the closed railway line from Stratford-upon-Avon to Honeybourne, with a later extension to Broadway, Worcestershire. The Honeybourne Line is being extended towards Honeybourne from Cheltenham Racecourse to connect with the Cotswold Line. The Cotswold trains run by First Great Western go to Worcester Shrub Hill, Worcester Foregate Street, Great Malvern and Hereford westwards and eastwards to Oxford, Reading and London Paddington. Rail passengers currently have a very long and inconvenient journey via Birmingham Moor Street (changing here for Birmingham New Street) or continuing on via Birmingham Snow Hill, and onwards to reach Worcester Shrub Hill and places westwards. Rail passengers heading eastwards to Oxford and Reading would have to change trains at Banbury. The Stratford-upon-Avon and Midland Junction Railway connected Stratford with the main line of the London and North Western Railway at Blisworth until passenger trains were withdrawn in 1952.[38]

The town has numerous cycle paths, and is the terminus of the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal where it meets the Avon. A park and ride scheme was launched in 2006. The Stratford Greenway is a 5 miles (8.0 km) traffic free cycle path, which used to be part of the rail network until the early 1960s and is now part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network (routes NCR 5 and NCR 41). Starting from town it heads along the river and racecourse towards Welford-on-Avon and Long Marston with a cycle hire and cafe available at the start of the Greenway at Seven Meadows Road.

The manually powered chain ferry, Malvolio, was opened in 1937 and runs between Holy Trinity Church and the Royal Shakespeare Theatres. It was the last of its kind to be built in Britain.[39] Plans were announced in 2006 to move it along the river to make space for a new bridge.[40] The vessel was restored in 2010.[41]

Birmingham airport is 18 miles (29 km) to the north-west, with scheduled flights to many national and international destinations.


Stratford is also home to several institutions set up for the study of Shakespeare, including the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which holds books and documents related to the playwright, and the Shakespeare Institute.

William Shakespeare is believed to have studied at King Edward VI school. It is an all-boys school,[citation needed] and one of the few remaining grammar schools in England, selecting its pupils exclusively using the Eleven plus examination. There is also an all-girls grammar school, Stratford-upon-Avon Grammar School for Girls, colloquially known as 'Shottery School' after its location in the village of Shottery, a short distance from the town centre. Finally, there is a non-selective secondary school, Stratford-upon-Avon High School, formerly known as the Hugh Clopton Secondary Modern School, which was demolished to make way for the new high school. There are no independent secondary schools in the town, but there are many primary schools, including St. Gregory's Catholic Primary School, Stratford-upon-Avon Primary School (often known locally as "Broad Street" due to its location), Bishopton Primary School, Willows C of E Primary School and Thomas Jolyffe Primary School both state and independent, as well as Stratford-upon-Avon College.


Stratford-upon-Avon Rugby Club is situated on Loxley Rd at their home ground Pearcecroft. The club currently fields three senior sides and a colts team with the 1st XV currently play in Midlands 1 (West). The club boasts one of the largest mini and junior sections in the country. Stratford-upon-Avon Cricket Club Ground is by the river opposite the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The first match recorded there was in 1880; it has hosted first-class games since 1951 and women's One Day Internationals since 2005. Stratford Town F.C. are based at the DCS Stadium in Tiddington; they won the Midland Alliance in the 2012/3 season and were promoted to Division One South & West of the Southern Football League.


  • Stratford-upon-Avon Holy Trinity Church
  • St Gregory's Catholic Church
  • St Andrew's Church Shottery
  • Stratford-upon-Avon United Reformed Church
  • Stratford-upon-Avon Methodist Church
  • First Church of Christ, Scientist, Stratford-upon-Avon

Notable people

With the RSC in the town many famous actors have at some point lived or stayed in the town or surrounding villages. Some of these include,

Other notable residents include

Town twinning


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External links