Unearthing Shakespeare – Part 3

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Shakespeare agreed to the purchase of New Place from William Underhill on the 4th May 1597. Shakespeare’s purchase included… ‘one messuage, two barns, and two gardens with appurtenances’. The concord recording the sale, notes state that ‘the same William Shakespeare gave the said William Underhill sixty pounds sterling’, but it is generally agreed that it sold for at least twice that amount.

The purchase of New Place followed approximately nine months after the death of his son Hamnet. Shakespeare’s wife Anne and their daughters took New Place as their main residence whilst he was still travelling to and from his work in London.

It would seem that renovations and improvement works began almost immediately, the house having become semi-derelict for a while. The year after the sale, it is recorded that the Stratford corporation paid Shakespeare ten pence ‘for one load of stone’. This is regarded as the surplus from these renovations.

A second concord of sale from Hercules Underhill in 1602 added two orchards to the original sale, this may represent an additional plot to the rear of Shakespeare’s original property. Within these orchards Shakespeare planted his famous mulberry tree and roses and grape vines grew within his garden. There are also two allusions to malt being present on the premises. A survey of grain and malt stores in Stratford in 1598 recorded that Shakespeare’s barns held ‘ten quarters’, a comparatively large supply.

Shakespeare also rented out part of the house to his relations. His cousin, Thomas Greene, was still living at New Place in 1609. Letting out part of the property would seem a realistic notion as the house. It contained at least ten rooms, (attested to by the presence of ten hearths) and would have catered not just Shakespeare’s small family, but also any servants they required.

The reconstruction of the house (see my last blog by clicking here) depicts the large, long frontage or gatehouse along Chapel Street and, perhaps more importantly, the smaller house sitting behind, private and secluded. Is this where Shakespeare resided and wrote numerous plays including The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest, or indeed any of the works from 1597 onwards? And it was his home when he died in April 1616.

You can find more images and information about the project here.

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Will Mitchell is Archaeology Supervisor for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and lead archaeologist on 'Dig for Shakespeare.'
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Koch/100003039954323 Greg Koch

    No. – I mean in answer of whether this was where he wrote – he could not write anything. He was just a small time crook, who was also documented for hoarding grain during a time of famine. When he purchase this farmstead, he was also documented for evading a small sum of taxes. In other words, he simply did not pay taxes when he had the money. The money he did make came from loan sharking which he was restrained from doing in London. He also evaded taxes in London probably quite easily under the protection of a acting troupe he joined (to evade – not to act in any leading role). This scoundrel who never wrote a word eventually ended up receiving credit for one of the greatest works in world literature. Making him one of the greatest frauds in history. Good luck with the digging.

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