Stratford-Upon-Avon Sandwich

Gypsy Shakespearian adventures are sometimes called for …

A little bit of soul inspiration for when the wild, wets of January have blown in.

The House of BethanTwo days ago Pix, Roo and I got up at an ungodly hour (5am), took the witching hour ferry to a bleak Southampton port and climbed upon board a carriage that spirited us away to another place.

A cold, beautiful, charming … and wet … place.

In Tudor buildings that now house “Waterstones” and “White Stuff” and trinket shops called “Magpie”, parchment thin fragrances of the past still hang in the eaves.

Fresh air is tinged with ghost air; sharp smoke, hot, roaring coals, dung and flame; stacked wood walls, twigs and the echo of coughing behind those little leaded windows.

Kettles boiled on stoves back then.

And superstitions hissed, drew curtains closed, avoided the moon and kept bodies clean by sanitising them with bed rest and Churching and fear.

Imaginations hissed

On the embers

And stories steamed through the icy, cupped hands and breath-warmed palms of young men as they dreamed up …

The House of BethanFairy aristocracy.

Such as Pix.

Who has secret dreams of becoming a playwright …

The House of Bethan… much to the interest of watching fairies.

The House of BethanWho peer from Puckaster woodlands …

The House of Bethan… or Neverland …

The House of BethanOr perhaps both places? The House of Bethan

And then whisper us onward, out into the streets where it is strangely impossibly not to become bewitched by the layering of squares and diamonds of the pavement and the drains and the windows and the doorways of the houses.

Or is that just me?

It might be …

The House of Bethan

And through a little side door we creep … Into the childhood home and birthplace of Shakespeare himself.

The House of Bethan

The house is cool and dark and still. Mistletoe, herbs and dried flowers hang from the windows. The walls are lumpy and white washed. You can brush your finger tips against them as you walk through, whilst breathing the essence of this place deep into your lungs and wondering what creative minerals are enriching your blood and bones.

And

Your

Bump.

Up the winding narrow staircase, we find ourselves in a large end room. This was the room where Shakespeare’s sisters would have slept. It was the coldest room in the house, but large and private. They would have been able to lock themselves in here and hang fragrant flowers and herbs to hide the smells of smoke and dog dung from John Shakespeare’s leather tanning room below.

The House of Bethan

Displayed in the girls’ room is an original window, carved with the swirling Victorian signatures of visitors that have also come on magical pilgrimages here.

Tourists of the past …

And look who it is!

Ha!

Old friends from the Isle of Wight. Lord Alfred Tennyson of Farringford, Freshwater! Charles Dickens from the Winterbourne, Bonchurch (although he wrote in the guest book)! And more …

The House of Bethan

Carlyle Woz Ere.

Can you see his name? Robert Carlyle the philosopher. Another Victorian name from Ventnor on the Isle of Wight!

The House of BethanNext to the girls’ room was this room – with this bed.

The bed William Shakespeare slept in until he was 18 years old. Not very warm or cosy. In fact it was a bit of a thorough fare for the servants and other family members by the looks of it …

The House of Bethan

Up here though, there was wall paper … Or should I say wall sheets. The white washed plaster was covered in huge sheets of screen printed fabric.

Flowers and vines and orchids that led us out of Shakespeare’s room and into …

The House of Bethan… his parent’s room. And the bed where the great playwright was born.

Here’s what I found out about Bump Bearing in those days;

1. The woman would have complete bed rest at least two months before giving birth. The belief was that if she was exposed to anything mildly disturbing, the unborn child would be affected … so the woman was not allowed to see/hear very much. The curtains were drawn (in case she saw the moon and infected her child with lunacy), the room was dark and there was nothing to do but lie there and think.

I wonder what Shakespeare’s mother thought about?

Maybe she dreamed up witches and fairies and romances and whispered them to her unborn child William? Maybe she secretly peeked at the moon and it was all her influence that made him write about such crazy madness?

2. When the labour pains began, the wise woman was called. Then all of the women in the family would assemble at the bottom of the bed and get horrendously drunk. This was called a Gossip Circle. It didn’t sound very helpful to the woman giving birth. I can imagine the sort of comments that would have been tossed over to the bed;

“Gosh love, that’s a big bump! You sure you’ve just got one in there?”

I bet Shakespeare’s mother would have appreciated a good F Off T Shirt at that point.

3. Once the baby was born, the new mother was not allowed to leave the house until she had been “Churched”. Apparently, by giving birth she had become base and dirty and Devilled.

The House of BethanBut post Churched, at least she could be released from her bed.

Breathe the outside air.

Feel the sunlight on her skin and eye-lids.

And hopefully not get preggers again for a while.

With Shakespeare’s mother’s birth story curling around our shoulders, we left the house and crossed a courtyard into the fresh, tile-carpeted light of the Gift Shop. I went looking for a book about this man;

220px-Robert_Armin

Robert Armin.

This distant ancestor on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family was the leading comedy actor with Shakespeare’s original troupe.

I didn’t find a book on Armin – but I did find one on the voice and performing that I thought could help me when I am standing and presenting the Gorgeousness Programme and other sensational workshops.

Pix bought a Manga version of Romeo and Juliet.

Roo purchased a quill. And pot of ink.

The Bump got a bib. On the front it said, “Some were born great.”

Then we slipped out of the Gift Shop, all filled up with succulent inspiration, invoked ghostwrights, creativity, full moons, superstition and Armin-ish qualities to go and soak up more rain and culture and thespian gorgeousness and watch Wendy and Peter Pan at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Such a magical day of mind, soul and Bump nourishment.

Post about Wendy to follow! xx

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3 thoughts on “Stratford-Upon-Avon Sandwich

    • Morning lovely! Yes, we did do it in one day, although I didn’t get home that night until about 9.30pm. I looked on the window to see if Alfred Noyes, your old pal, was on there but couldn’t see him. Imagine a Victorian coach trip full of raucous writers, poets and artists heading up to Stratford to the birth place of Shakespeare then writing “I woz ere” all over the windows?! xx

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