New Findings at Final Home of Shakespeare, Where he Wrote at the Height of his Career
William Shakespeare owned the biggest, most lavish residence in the borough of Stratford-Upon-Avon, a home fitting his high status in the world. Archaeologists excavating the ruins of the 20-room mansion have found the kitchen with a hearth for cooking food and a brew house.
The home, called New Place, was the great playwright’s final home, and he and his family lived in it for almost 20 years at the height of his career, says a press release from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Researchers and experts are preparing to open the home to the public in 2016, 400 years after he died.
“Shakespeare’s New Place was the largest single residence in the borough of Stratford-upon-Avon, and was purchased for the considerable sum of £120 in 1597 (a Stratford school teacher at this time would have earned about £20 per annum). It had an impressive frontage, a Great Chamber and Gallery, over 20 rooms and 10 fireplaces,” says the press release.
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has commissioned new drawings based on what archaeologists have found at the site depicting what the home looked like.
A Shakespeare Birthplace Trust rendering of New Place, Shakespeare’s final home
The trust’s website says, “The re-imagination of this unique site will be the single most significant and enduring Shakespearean project anywhere in the world to commemorate the anniversary of his death in 2016.”
Visitors to the site may walk through in the footsteps of the man himself, through a new threshold on the site of his gatehouse and learn the story of the world-famous playwright at the height of his success as a writer, family man and prominent citizen of Stratford, his hometown.
“Commissioned artworks and displays throughout the site will evoke a sense of family life and the 26 major works written during Shakespeare’s ownership of New Place. A new exhibition center will feature rare and important artifacts relating to Shakespeare’s life at New Place, many of them on display for the first time,” the press release says.
The renovations and public exhibition will cost 5.25 million British pounds or nearly U.S. $8 million. The 120 pounds he bought it for is equal to about $60,000 today.
John Taylor’s portrait of Shakespeare; Taylor died in 1651. ( Wikimedia Commons )
The kitchen included a fire hearth, a place where pickling and salting took place, and a brew house where the household made beer, which was safer than water. The brewing process removed impurities that could make people sick from drinking plain water.
The team, led by Staffordshire University’s Center of Archaeology, found fragments of kitchenware, including plates and cups. Next door to New Place is Nash House, which is undergoing renovations. Visitors will be able to handle replicas of plates and cups and cookware in Nash House when it reopens.
“Finding Shakespeare's ‘kitchen’ proved to be a vital piece of evidence in our understanding of New Place,” said Paul Edmondson, the trust’s director of research. “Once we had uncovered the family's oven we were able to understand how the rest of the house fitted around it. The discovery of the cooking areas, brew house, pantry and cold storage pit, combined with the scale of the house, all point to New Place as a working home as well as a house of high social status.
Julie Crenshaw, the New Place project manager, explains what the team found in the kitchen.
“A much richer picture of Shakespeare has emerged through the course of our excavations. At New Place we can catch glimpses of Shakespeare the playwright and country-town gentleman. His main task was to write and a house as impressive as New Place would have played an important part in the rhythm of his working life.”
Featured image: A well unearthed at New Place (Shakespeare Birthplace Trust photo)