Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 63
From the Shakespeare Unlimited podcast series. Published December 13, 2016. © Folger Shakespeare Library. All rights reserved. “Now Will I Lead You to the House” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the associate producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had technical help from Andy Grier at Sounding Sweet studios in Stratford-upon-Avon and Melissa Marquis, the coordinating producer for News Operations at NPR in Washington.
MICHAEL WITMORE: From the Folger Shakespeare Library, this is Shakespeare Unlimited. I'm Michael Witmore, the Folger’s director.
This podcast is called, "Now Will I Lead You to the House." As you probably know, William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. And, in a way, he never really left. His family continued to live in Stratford even as he worked in the London theater. Since 2002, a major organization in Stratford, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, has supported an archaeological dig on the former grounds of a house called New Place.
New Place was one of the biggest houses in Stratford when Shakespeare was a boy. Once he became a wealthy and famous playwright, he bought it. When he wasn't in London, he lived there with his family until his death 19 years later in 1616. The dig has revealed some tantalizing clues about how the Shakespeare family lived their lives, what they ate, how they cooked what they ate, and, as you'll hear, how they worked and played.
Kevin Colls of Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent was the lead archaeologist on the New Place Project. Nic Fulcher is with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. He is the assistant project manager at New Place. Nic and Kevin spoke about New Place with Neva Grant.
NEVA GRANT: If we were to go to Stratford-on-Avon now, and visit the site of New Place, what would we see there? What's there right now? Kevin?
KEVIN COLLS: Well, what's on-site now is very different from what was there when we started the project. So, when we started the project, we had a garden and it tried to look at the historical record in terms of trying to show what was on the site, but it didn't really have background information to do that properly.
GRANT: Right, but the point is, there was no house there. I mean, for people who've not seen it and only want to imagine it, what is actually there?
COLLS: Yes. There was no house there. There hasn't been a house there for an awful long time. So, when you visit the site six, seven years ago, then it was a garden. You couldn't have a sense that you were standing in Shakespeare's final home.
GRANT: And what would you see right now?
COLLS: Now it's very different. There's a new exhibition on the site, with sculptures, and a new reinterpretation of the house itself using the archaeological evidence, displays of artifacts, and it's a very, very different place now when you visit.
GRANT: Well, I'm wondering if both of you, Kevin and Nic, could now conjure up the house that was there when Shakespeare lived in it. And I know this is a bit confusing because that house was more or less demolished and a new house was built in its place, and then it was demolished. But, let's go back to Shakespeare's time and construct for me the house that once stood on that site. Nic?
NIC FULCHER: Okay. The house... Shakespeare's New Place as it's now referred to, actually predates Shakespeare. The house itself was built in around 1483 by Hugh Clopton, a very wealthy cloth merchant. He built it in a typical medieval horseshoe shape with a front range that was probably shops at that time, a side range running down to it, and then the main living quarters situated beyond the courtyard standing behind it. Three buildings, sort of arranged, but all joined around a center courtyard. Shakespeare buys the house in 1597, it's a status symbol in many ways, and he undertakes quite a lot of renovations to actually take what was a medieval house and present it as a high-status Tudor/Elizabethan home for himself and his family to live in.
GRANT: So, let's get an idea of where Shakespeare was and his life at this time. He had been living and working in London, right?
FULCHER: Yes. He'd been working in London, living there, but only ever in rented property and probably more than likely as not, would be commuting to and from Stratford, because obviously, he's got his wife, his family. And of course, the theater isn't open for the whole year; it opens across the summer season, for a better way of putting it, and then over Christmas. So, there's quite a bit of fallow time when Shakespeare would be writing and commuting to and from. So, traveling back to Stratford to research, to think, to write, to be inspired, whatever. And then going to and from.
GRANT: Do we have any knowledge about why? You say it was 1597 that he bought the house?
FULCHER: Yeah, 1597.
GRANT: Do we have any knowledge why he bought the house at this particular time? What would have been drawing him back to Stratford-on-Avon? I mean, obviously, his family was there. Was there anything else that prompted the purchase of the house?
FULCHER: One, it was for sale, which is obviously something that helped on that, on the question you're asking. But also, he's at a point in his life where his fame and his fortune are such that it allows him to do so, you know? He's now 33 years old, he's a very established playwright, and so he's just positioning himself really to invest for the future I suppose in many ways. And also, to establish himself back in Stratford-upon-Avon as the person that he probably perceives himself to be. You know, his son has died the year beforehand, unfortunately, so perhaps he's investing in his own and his family's own legacy.
GRANT: And it was quite a grand house, right? I mean, it might have been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, houses in Stratford at the time.
FULCHER: Indeed it was. It's fair to say it was the largest house in the borough of Stratford. So, right in the town center, it was the significant property. And, so, it actually has a status behind it as well. It's a famous house within the town.
GRANT: And I'm guessing that just as today a house is a measure of your wealth and status, it would've been to Shakespeare and it would've been important to him to have a big house in, you know, in the middle of town that everyone could see.
FULCHER: Absolutely. And also, the suggested renovations that he took to the facade, the gate house of it. He increased the height of that, making it into a real statement along the main street. It sits on the crossroads in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon, right next door to the Guild Chapel. And where the White Cross once stood, which was a market area. So, it's a property that people would have known. And as you quite rightly say, the appearance of it is something that reflects his social status, his standing within the local community.
GRANT: What do we know about Shakespeare's family life at New Place? I mean, what would've life been like? Visitors for dinner all the time? Was his wife doing chores, or were the servants doing most of the daily labor? I guess his children would've been going to school, but, you know, just paint a picture for me based on what little we know.
FULCHER: Well, it's an interesting one. I mean, obviously, Shakespeare wasn't there for a great deal of the time. He's working in London, he's working away, he's traveling. So, that sort of suggests... and it's highly likely that Anne, his wife, would have been left responsible for running the estate. You know, she has experience of the managing these... But, when Shakespeare is there, yes, the entertaining would have been going on. And it is very, very important in Elizabethan culture that you are seen to be entertaining, and this is how you display who you are. You entertain. You give the best-of-your-best to your guests and visitors, people who come to stay. We know that Anne was living in the house along with the daughters, Susanna and Judith. They wouldn't have been going to school because they are women. It is also likely that other members of the family lived there as well. There are... He had brothers and sisters who could well have been living in New Place, because this is a substantial property. It is recorded as having 10 fireplaces, which means that it's going to have more than 20 rooms. So, this is a substantial property for the time. We also—
GRANT: So this is bigger than a suburban McMansion?
FULCHER: Um, yeah. It's a substantial property at that time, and that's part of the status and displaying of wealth. The gatehouse, which is the front part, the front part that looked out on to the street, more than likely had a long gallery on its first floor, which would have been a center for entertaining, for receiving guests, and also the place where you would put out your best paintings, your best china, the best. So, again, you are publicly declaring your wealth and status. But to do that amount of cooking and that amount of entertaining takes more than just the family. Now, Anne and the daughters would have been hugely involved in that process, but, yes, it would have taken more cooks, more servants, people bringing in things to actually run a household of this size.
GRANT: What do we know about his creative life while he was living at New Place?
FULCHER: That's a really difficult question. There's nothing sort of recorded about Shakespeare's creative process, how he wrote, why he wrote, what he wrote. But, we do know that he used source materials. Everything from Plutarch and Ovid, Holinshed's Chronicles, Montaigne. So, that indicates that he has knowledge of these texts and probably ownership thereof. So, when you're traveling to and from London, you're not going to be taking incredibly expensive texts to and from London on the journey. So, that would indicate the fact that he's probably got a library within New Place. Unfortunately, we don't know what happened to that library and it's only sort of tangentially referenced in the will, at the end of it. But it seems that if he is working and away from London, the inspiration comes from his local community, what he knows. But, you need time, you need space away to be able to write and it seems that that was taking place at New Place.
GRANT: And what do we know about his family life during this time? I mean, we believe he came back and bought this home in order to be with his wife and his children. I mean, they, I guess, moved in with him. There might have been servants as well, perhaps animals at nearby stables. I mean, what was his life like?
FULCHER: Exactly that. I mean, we know that there would've been stables and barns. We know that there were barns behind New Place where you would have kept pigs, cattle, stabling for your horses. It takes an awful lot of work at this time to maintain the size of New Place. So, yes, there would've been servants, probably. We have no idea of how many, but, you know, probably a core of servants that then would've been added to if there were special events or, you know, he was in entertaining people at New Place. But there's a great deal of archaeological evidence of the activities and the type of food that was found on the site that Kevin can tell you more about.
COLLS: Yeah, absolutely. I think the archaeological aspect of this project is what we were really keen to find out, what Shakespeare's life might have been like in this house.
GRANT: So, Kevin, when did you get involved with this particular dig? Because I know there have been digs over time. There was one quite well-known dig in the mid-1800s where they recovered a lot of material and then there was really no activity there for some time, and then there was a new dig that began just a few years ago and you were there at the, I guess sort of the... I don't know if we can say the ground floor [LAUGHTER], but, you were there, right there on the ground.
COLLS: Yeah, no, absolutely. Yeah, you are right, there was a big archaeological project in the 1860s by a gentleman named Halliwell-Phillipps and he was a Shakespearean scholar and an amateur archaeologist. So, we were really interested to find out what his methods and techniques were like. And we also understood that he would not have excavated the whole site. So, there was still more of the site which remained unexcavated. So, that was the key. The two key things for us really was to excavate these areas which Halliwell-Phillipps didn't, and to have a look at how he excavated the site and whether he missed any important evidence.
GRANT: So, what did you find that he didn't find?
COLLS: Yes. So, in 2009 we started the project in collaboration with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and we started the excavations in 2010. And we identified lots of things. We very quickly realized that what was important to Halliwell-Phillipps in the 1860s, is not the small evidence that's really important to archaeologists today. So, things like pottery, animal bone, little objects, which tell us an awful lot about what might have been going on in the house, he was just discarding. He wasn't interested in that. He was interested in the high value objects.
GRANT: Such as?
COLLS: Things like rings, and jewelry, and architectural bits of stone which most definitely came from New Place. So, he wasn't interested in the small bricks which date to the New Place period. He was just throwing all that away. So, we found lots and lots of objects and artifacts in that material which are useful because we can date them to specific periods of history. But, because Halliwell's already moved them, and then put them back again, then what we say as archaeologists is that they're “out of context.” So, then we moved into new areas of the site which he hadn't excavated before. So, any objects that you find in those specific locations are exactly where they would have been left by the people who dropped them or buried them in the past.
GRANT: So, what did you find there?
COLLS: Well, we found lots of evidence for how New Place might have functioned. We found ovens in the kitchen and stone storage tanks in the kitchen, so we identified where the kitchen was. We identified where different rooms were. So, that managed to build a picture of what New Place might have been like. And obviously, we, you know, that's big news because for the first time we can actually imagine what this house might have looked like and what functions and what sort of tasks were going on in each room.
GRANT: So, what did you find? I mean, what were some of your eureka moments?
COLLS: Yeah. Well, I think being able to find where the kitchen was, was one of those moments because the kitchen is such an important room in the house. There's only a number of other types of rooms which come off the kitchen. So, when you find that it's like a jigsaw puzzle. You find one missing piece, and the rest sort of falls into place.
GRANT: What were you able to find in the kitchen?
COLLS: Well, there was lots of animal bone, lots of food types, what the Shakespeare family would've been eating. So, there were some usual ones such as sheep and pig, but there were some more unusual ones: you know, cod and some really rare fish bones were found. Deer bones. So, it's sort of suggesting a high-status diet that Shakespeare and his family would have been eating. It's not the typical things that you would find in a kitchen dated to this period.
GRANT: Of course it stands to reason that you would find sort of food artifacts in a kitchen, but then I'm thinking, well wouldn't they have... If there's a bunch of bones there, wouldn't they have thrown that away? I mean, like, why would it be on the, you know, in the remains of the kitchen?
COLLS: Yeah. That's a good question. You've picked that up. The animal bones themselves weren't found in the kitchen. They didn't have garbage disposal trucks coming round in those days. They found a place on their estate and buried it. That's what they did. So, that information was found in pits that we excavated.
GRANT: How do we know, how do you know that the artifacts you're finding date to Shakespeare's time? I mean, I guess there's dating techniques that you use, but, a whole different family lived there after Shakespeare. So, it would seem you have to take special care to make sure that these aren't artifacts from the second family, that these actually date to Shakespeare's time.
COLLS: Yeah. Absolutely. That was one of our biggest problems that we faced, actually, because we're looking at using archaeology to find such a short history. We're used to identifying communities which were around thousands of years, and then all of a sudden we're being asked to find a family that lived in Stratford for just, you know, such a short span of time. I think there's two elements to it. Anything that we found in Halliwell's backfill, we really can't use to date the site in that way, simply because Halliwell moved it.
GRANT: Halliwell was the archaeologist who worked on the site in the 1800s?
COLLS: Yes. Absolutely. 1861, 1862. So, that moves our attention to the areas which he didn't touch. And then the way we date objects is we date the layer that they're found in. The soil that they're found in, we can date that in different methods. So, one method is typology of the finds themselves. So, we know that Shakespeare's period there was certain types of pottery which people would have been buying and using in their kitchen. So, we used that as one potential object type. Things like carved objects, animal bone objects, the way that these were carved and the motifs that are on them, again, were quite specific to the period which they were being carved in. It's like today there's trends and people were following trends in the Shakespeare period as well.
GRANT: Such as? I mean, what would have been something that would have been a trendy thing to have in your house if you were a wealthy playwright?
COLLS: There's a lot of things coming from the continent. So, a lot of pottery coming from Germany and the middle of Europe. There was a lot of Islamic culture coming in at that time, so, a lot of motifs which you find on pottery and on wood. Bone from Turkey and places in the Middle East. So, it's— I think your show of wealth at that time would have been the import of objects. So, it would've been objects which you wouldn't normally see in a Stratford house.
GRANT: It sounds like you were finding a lot of the same types of things. But, did you have a day or a moment when you found something that was truly extraordinary? That you were able to connect, to link, to Shakespeare?
COLLS: Yeah. I think the key objects for me during the excavation were all related to games, actually. So, we had what we think is a marking peg for playing cards, we call it cribbage. So, it's when you're playing cards and you have to mark your score, then these small worked bone pegs that would fit inside a hole. So, we found one of those and we also found worked bone in the shape of dice which, again, all points to the fact that there was quite a lot of games and hobbies being played in the house during this period.
GRANT: And when the site is open—is the site open now for visitors?
FULCHER: It certainly is. Yes. We opened on the 20th of August this year, and we're open every day other than Christmas Day. So—
GRANT: So, I'm presuming that some of the things that Kevin is talking about are, you know, on display and you can—
FULCHER: Absolutely. Alongside the site of New Place that was Shakespeare's home, there is another property that is locally known as Nash's House, because it was owned by Thomas Nash, the chap who married Shakespeare's granddaughter. That house literally adjoins the site and is part of the reimagining of Shakespeare's New Place. We have fitted out Nash's House to be an exhibition center to tell the longer story of New Place, you know, pre-Shakespeare and post-Shakespeare, and why it's no longer there. But, yes, these objects are on display there and Kevin has mentioned the dice and the peg, both of which are on display.
I, as a social historian, like the social bits: we found a thimble on site. Now, that was a thimble from an earlier period, but it still gives us that idea that even if you're as wealthy as Shakespeare, there is still an awful lot of day to day activity going on on this site. You know, his wife and his daughters would be involved in the processes of lace making. We found bobbins, we found hair pins, and clothing pins. My particular favorite is we found a wonderful piece of waste material that was never ever meant to be kept. Which is literally a slither of bone, no more than two [millimeters] thick and about a centimeter wide with perfect circles cut out of it. And, you know that this is the left-over bit that somebody has thrown away from button making. But, it just shows you, it gives us that sort of connection to Shakespeare's world and his life at the home, because these are things we can still appreciate and understand today.
GRANT: You know, I think some people listening might be surprised to hear how wealthy Shakespeare was at this time in his life. I mean, I'm assuming he had to pay quite dearly for the house, for starters, and then, you know, to sustain the family with venison and all these, you know, and fine imported crockery. It sounds like he must have been doing quite well.
FULCHER: Absolutely. He was doing quite well. I mean, we can only go on the records that we have. A beautiful document with the name of, complicated name of an “exemplification of fine,” survives in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Archives. That is a copy of the legal document for the purchase of New Place. So, we estimate that New Place cost William Shakespeare about 120 pounds. It's virtually impossible to do with inflation and that sort of thing, a modern-day comparison of that. But, bearing in mind that the Stratford schoolmaster— very wealthy and person of standing— is earning around 20 pounds a year, sort of puts into context the cost of New Place.
But that was just the purchase of the house. After that, we know that there were renovations done to the house. But also, then Shakespeare continues in the Stratford area to invest in farmland, grazing land. So, this is a man who is cash rich. And, of course, as much today, you know, the income from the drama isn't vast. But, we also know that Shakespeare was dealing in other business ventures as well. And, of course, being the famous person that he was in his lifetime, and performing at court, it gives him a social and therefore business network to invest in. So, he's a bit of a philanthropist. But, he's definitely making an awful lot of money.
GRANT: Kevin, what was it like for you to be on this site every day? I mean, it must have been incredibly exciting.
COLLS: Oh, absolutely. It was a fantastic project to be involved in from the site itself, how important, and you really had a sense of importance when you're on that site excavating it. And just to be around the results and the whole development of the new exhibition that's open at the moment— and I should encourage anybody to go and see that— it's all a project which you'll never forget. It's certainly one that I'll be telling the grandkids about.
GRANT: I want to ask about how the house came to be destroyed, because there's a certain amount of myth that surrounds this and either one of you, just dive in and tell the story.
COLLS: Well, I'll start it from my point of view. I think that's a very important point, actually, because the narrative around New Place is stated quite clearly, that the house that Shakespeare lived in was demolished by a reverend man of the church.
GRANT: And this would have been the Reverend Francis Gastrell?
COLLS: That's right. And he has been tarred with this devilish act of knocking this house down. He lived in the property and...
GRANT: When was this?
COLLS: This, he got into a big argument in the 18th century. He got into a big argument with the local council about the payment of taxes on the property, and he also didn't really like people knocking on his door and wanting to visit the house that Shakespeare lived in. So, he did a number of acts which are inexcusable, including chopping down a mulberry tree in the garden which Shakespeare supposedly had planted when he lived there. And his final act was to destroy the house. So, he's down in history as the person who destroyed Shakespeare's house.
But, when you look at the documents in slightly more detail, the Clopton family, so we're returning back to—
GRANT: These are the original builders who owned it before Shakespeare bought it.
COLLS: The original owners, yeah. The New Place went back into the hands of the Clopton family again, and in 1701, 1702, they renovated the property. So, in the history books, renovated is "they changed a few things." But, actually, in reality, what they did at that time is knock pretty much the whole of Shakespeare's house down.
So, actually, if you were looking at it in black and white, the people who knocked down Shakespeare's house he lived in, wasn't this reverend. It was, in fact, the Cloptons who knocked it down in 1701, 1702, to build a new house on the same spot. And they also called that house New Place as well, which confused everybody. If they picked a different name, it would have been a lot easier. But, so, a new house was built on the spot. So it was the Clopton family who ended Shakespeare's house.
FULCHER: The act by Francis Gastrell caused such a public outcry that it ironically preserves the plot of land. Okay, the house is gone, but, it still had this amazing association with Shakespeare. And so, by rights, this piece of land in the heart of Stratford-upon-Avon should have been built on many, many times by now. But it wasn't, because of the association with Shakespeare. So, it enabled Kevin and his team and the volunteers, and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to do this wonderful investigation on a site in part that has not been touched since 1759. So, it was an exciting process to be part of.
GRANT: 1759 being the date that the house was demolished?
FULCHER: Yes. 1759 was the year that Francis Gastrell demolished New Place.
GRANT: As we know, the house was demolished. There's no house there now, it's just a plot of land, and now an exhibition. It's hard to get people to connect with a plot of land, isn't it? I mean, it's really a challenge. But it's important.
FULCHER: Absolutely. And that was one of our challenges in representing the site. It was effectively just a garden. But, what we wanted to do at the trust was to reengage people with the importance and the significance of the site. Obviously, the Birthplace Trust looks after five properties all connected with Shakespeare's story. Most famously, the birthplace itself. But, if you're talking about Shakespeare the writer, and Shakespeare the adult family man, New Place is highly, highly significant, you know? It's the home he owned for 19 years and produced 26 of his plays during that time.
So we were faced with this challenge. We didn't want to recreate a pastiche, a false house, because, you know, we don't actually know what the house looked like. We can make some very strong guesses from the archaeological information and working with architectural historians, but we wanted to create a sense of feeling and an importance on the site. And it remains a registered park and garden, so it has to remain a garden site.
So we have introduced some artworks onto the site that speak to different aspects of Shakespeare's world and Shakespeare's life, all of which suggest, you know, for people to make their own minds up and to make their own connections with. One of my particular favorites is a globe, which is a model of the earth as Shakespeare would have known it, based on the Wright-Molyneux map that was first drawn up and published in 1599. I mean, the world is identifiable, but, you know, the edges of the continents and the placing of the river we now know to be slightly wrong. But, you can still see it. But, it gives you an idea of how Shakespeare would have read and understood his world around him. And that's an incredibly important thing, bearing in mind that Shakespeare's plays are set in fantastical places to him and his audiences, you know, Egypt and Rome and Verona, all these far-away wonderful places. It all feeds in to how Shakespeare understood his world and then what he presented on stage.
So the site remains essentially a garden, but it's also based hugely upon the information from Kevin and his team about the known archaeology. So, the very footprint of New Place is embedded into the floor. So as you walk around the site, you can determine that you are moving from the gate house to the courtyard, or the courtyard to the service range, or to the heart of the house. And where you can stand and go, “This is where Shakespeare lived with his wife, his daughters. Where he ate, slept, wrote, thought, and ultimately died.” And it's about supporting our visitors to make their own personal connections to Shakespeare the man and what he means to them.
GRANT: Has your personal connection to the man grown stronger as a result of this?
FULCHER: I think so and I think saying something in the affirmative there is, you know, I don't mean it to sound glib, but throughout the process of working on the site with the archaeologists and then the builders when they were on site, if you actually took people to that rear area, the heart of the house, the bit that we had the first opportunity to excavate and explain to them saying, this is the spot where… It gave you a real sort of tangible connection with the adult Shakespeare, the famous playwright. But also, that he was a man like, you know, any other person. It made him more of a real person and not just the genius writer that we know him to be.
GRANT: Kevin, how about you? It must have brought you closer to him, too.
COLLS: Yeah. No, absolutely. I think this is a remarkable site. There isn't a site like New Place anywhere else in the United Kingdom, really. Because if you've got a really important house that belonged to a historical figure, then either it's been destroyed and built on, or the house is still standing.
New Place was different. New Place gave us a chance, as an archaeology grouping, to use our methods, use our techniques to try and see if we can find evidence of William's life. And that is still one of the great mysteries that's out there. We know an awful lot about his plays and his works, but in terms of how he lived and what he was doing on a day-to-day basis, we still didn't know that much about. And then that's why I think this project is so important.
GRANT: Nic and Kevin, thanks so much for this visit to New Place. It was really lovely.
COLLS: Thank you.
FULCHER: Thank you.
MICHAEL WITMORE: Kevin Colls is archaeological project manager at the Center of Archaeology at Staffordshire University in Stoke-on-Trent. Nic Fulcher of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is the assistant project manager at New Place. They were interviewed by Neva Grant.
“Now Will I Lead You to the House” was produced by Richard Paul. Garland Scott is the Associate Producer. It was edited by Gail Kern Paster and Esther Ferington. We had technical help from Andy Grier at Sounding Sweet studios in Stratford-upon-Avon and Melissa Marquis, the coordinating producer for news operations at NPR in Washington.
Shakespeare Unlimited comes to you from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Home to the world's largest Shakespeare collection, the Folger is dedicated to advancing knowledge and the arts. You can find out more about the Folger at our website, folger.edu. For the Folger Shakespeare Library, I'm Folger Director Michael Witmore.