Sunday 9th December 2018.
We left Sandown Park at 9.30 am. We stopped on route for a comfort break, and arrived at Stratford upon Avon to the Shakespeare Hotel at approximately 12.15 pm. Our rooms were not going to be ready until after 2 pm but we could leave our luggage in an allocated room. The Christmas market was in full swing which stretched over most of Stratford, with the stall holders all dressing up in costumes. Lots of very interesting stalls and crafts to get you in the Christmas spirit. Most of us also had a light lunch and some of us alcoholic refreshment! The hotel was very nice and right in the heart of Stratford. In the evening a meal was arranged at the White Swan Hotel which was a short walk. The whole of Stratford was a joy to see with the Christmas Lights which were amazing. Somebody who had been to London to see the lights said the lights in Stratford were better than the London ones! The meal was excellent, and the hotel had really decorated the room beautifully in a lovely Christmas tradition. We also had a quiz on Shakespeare which our table amazingly won! A great night and many thanks to Jackie and Mark for all their hard work and organisation.
Monday 10th December
After a refreshing night’s sleep and a good breakfast our party divided into three groups to take the Stratford Guided Walk. Our group guide, Joyce, who is currently Mayor of Stratford walked us gently from Chapel Street across Sheep Street to look over the buildings around the four corners of the crossroads. From the 1600 Tudor architecture of some of the older shops to the 1700s Town Hall and the Old Bank building of the 1800s and not quite so interesting the 1900s architecture of modern shops. We moved on along High Street to the junction with Bridge Street which as its name implied leads to a bridge across the Avon… originally a wooden bridge which for part of the year became flooded and impassable but is now replaced by an attractive stone bridge which conveys the heavy volumes of traffic passing through Stratford. We walked on down Henley Street and came to Shakespeare’s birthplace. William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden and William was born in 1568. His father became Mayor of Stratford and William was able therefore to attend the Grammar School. When John died, William inherited his birth home which he leased out and it became an Inn until1847. William and Anne were blessed with three children, Susanna and twins Hamlet and Juliet. Sadly, Hamlet died at a very young age. Following the death of William, the home was inherited by Susanna who later bequeathed it to her only child Elizabeth. Sadly, Elizabeth did not have children of her own and on her death the home passed to a descendant of one of William’s sisters and was later purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
We progressed on along Windsor Street to the Market Place and the American Fountain a gift to Stratford from the American people. The fountain part is now a flower bed but the gargoyles around the four upper corners are two golden eagles and two lions to represent the special relationship between the two countries at the time.
We moved on to the Guild Chapel. The word guild being the then equivalent of our now Parish councils. The chapel would have originally been used partly as a chapel and also as part of the school. Alongside is the Guildhall and Shakespeare’s schoolroom built in 1417 as the HQ of the Guild of the Holy Cross, this building stretches along to a row of Alms-houses. Moving on into Old Town we came to Halls Croft home of Susanna and her husband John Hall who was a physician.
Holy Trinity Church is an impressive building with a tree lined entrance and appealing ‘Weeping Chancel’ (offset not straight depicting how Christ’s head lay to one side on the cross). Holy Trinity is better known now to visitors as the burial place of William Shakespeare his wife Anne (Hathaway) Susanna and John Hall. It was originally a wooden church but has evolved over the years into the brick & masonry building it is today. It still has its Rood screens in the centre of the nave which originally would have parted off the congregation during parts of the Mass services. It was in the Trinity Church Hall that William would have collected his Tithe payments.
The final part of our walk was along Waterside past The Other Place a tin building part of the RSC used as rehearsal and costume storage and was in fact used as the Shakespeare Theatre while various building was being completed at the company’s main theatre by the river, where tonight we shall see the Christmas Carol performed. We had views along Avonbank and the riverbank gardens before returning up Sheep Street to our Hotel. Joyce had been a delightful and knowledgeable guide and we wished her well with the rest of her year in office as Mayor. Any ‘thank you payments’ given to Joyce at the end of our tour she kindly donates to local charities
Afternoon was free time for us to explore the town or relax before we all met up to walk to Cafe Rouge for our pre-theatre dinner. Then on to the RSC theatre for the performance of a Christmas Carol. We are all very familiar with the original story but this was a very slick version with superb lighting and special effects. The part of Ebenezer scrooge was played to perfection by Aden Gillett (who those of a certain age may remember for among other things his performance in the TV series House of Elliot) and all the cast gave us a more light-hearted insight into the story as we had learnt it in our past. The performance ended with well-deserved applause for all the cast.
So, it’s now back to our hotel for a nightcap before a night’s rest. we have another full day planned for us tomorrow.
Tuesday 11th December. The Other Place
The final organised visit of the Getaway to Stratford upon Avon. One of the visits was to The Other Place. We had an overview of the history of the building which began primarily from the vision of a lady named Buzz Goodbody (a name given to her because as a child she would ‘buzz’ from one project to the next) who joined the RSC in 1967.
The history of the building was remarkable originally starting in 1974 from a prefabricated metal shed which was a former store and rehearsal room sitting in a muddy field to the opening of the purpose-built theatre in 1991.
We had a very helpful overview of the many aspects of the Place before our tour began. Nothing prepared us for the labyrinth of rooms within such a small place. Over the course of its history everything had been arranged to gain the best possible space leading to the current use complete with rehearsal rooms, a permanent costume store and a large studio theatre complete with moveable audience seating.
The costume store was like an Aladdin’s cave, a myriad of vibrant colours. There were rows of costumes and headwear from Roman, Elizabethan to modern, all carefully catalogued in pristine rows. Such detail is taken in productions that if a colour it too bright under stage lighting a thin film of paint is applied for better effect.
It was not surprising to find on the ground floor that there were laundry facilities as well as changing facilities. Apparently, the fence surrounding the rest area at the rear of the building was very popular when David Tennant was in the Company! Everyone could only imagine the stories and people the space had witnessed.
Finally, after such a fascinating tour there was a chance to have coffee and cake, what a lovely way to end a marvellous stay in Stratford.