Unearthing Shakespeare – Part 4

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On Shakespeare’s death, New Place, like much of his estate, came into the possession of his elder daughter Susanna. Upon her death in 1649, Susanna bequeathed New Place to her daughter Elizabeth until she also passed away in 1670. This saw the end of the Shakespeare’s occupancy of New Place and in 1674 the ownership of New Place passed back to the family who built the house some two hundred years earlier, the Cloptons.

The Tudor house was seen by the Clopton family as old fashioned and in need of renovation. Consequently, in 1702, John Clopton rebuilt, the original New Place frontage.

It is unclear from the documentary sources to what extent these renovations effected all the buildings on the plot. One testimony notes that the house was rebuilt in “a more modern and superb style” and that “the top of the roof was flat, surrounded with wooden balustrades with seats for company to sit and regale themselves in the summer evenings”. John Clopton then gifted the use of New Place to his younger son Hugh Clopton and his new wife.

After Hugh Clopton’s death, New Place was sold to the Rev. Francis Gastrell. During the mid-18th century, Stratford had begun to emerge as a place of Shakespearian pilgrimage. Gastrell was quite unappreciative of the house’s association with William Shakespeare and on becoming tired of the constant Shakespearean pilgrims visiting the house, in a fit of rage, Gastrell; “attacked and destroyed the mulberry tree in the garden”, popularly known to have been planted by Shakespeare himself. Then in 1759, Gastrell, who lived for part of the year in Lichfield, argued with the rate assessors that he was not liable to pay the full rate to the Stratford Town Council. On failure of this claim, Gastrell vowed that New Place should never be assessed again and he razed the house to the ground.

Don’t miss Channel 4’s Time Team television special on ‘Dig for Shakespeare’ this Sunday 11 March at 8.00pm.

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.'
  • Martin Horan

    I have been trying to find out more about Gastrell. I wish someone could help.

  • http://44calibreshakespeare.com Humphrey

    Congratulations, great show last night!

  • Paul Edmondson

    The source is Samuel Johnson (who says Gastrell’s wife chopped it down in 1756).

  • Anonymous

     I remember reading that somewhere. It was either the monkey or the weasel. I forget.

  • TWhetstone

    Just curious — what is the source for the comment “attacked and destroyed the mulberry tree in the garden”? Thanks!

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