The History of 40 Sheep Street

Stratford Upon Avon - the beginning

Stratford upon Avon was founded by the Saxons when they invaded what is now Warwickshire in the 7th century AD. The name Stratford is made up of Celtic and Saxon words. It was the straet ford that is the ford by the Roman road. Avon is a Celtic word meaning river or water.

At first Stratford Upon Avon was a typical village but in the late 12th century it was transformed into a town. (At that time trade and commerce were growing rapidly and many new towns were founded). In the year 1196 King Richard I granted Stratford the right to hold weekly markets.

Soon the town of Stratford Upon Avon was up and running and there were many craftsmen there such as blacksmiths, carpenters, shoemakers, brewers and bakers. Stratford was also known for its malting industry. (Processing barley for brewing).

Medieval Stratford Upon Avon would seem tiny to us. It probably only had a population of between 1,000 and 1,500. However towns were very small in those days.

By the 13th century Stratford had a small grammar school.

In the Middle Ages people formed religious communities called guilds. The Guild of the Holy Cross was formed in Stratford in 1269. The guild had its own chapel which still stands.

40 Sheep Street - the beginning

There has been property on this site since 1196 when the Bishop of Worcester divided the area into 29 plots. 40 Sheep Street was one of those plots, just a short stroll from the riverside.

This building, which consists of a wattle-and-daub medieval house (the oldest lived in house in Stratford) and the huge 16th century barn at the rear, has been known as the Shrieves House for the last 500 years.

16th Century Stratford-Upon-Avon

In the late 16th century Stratford Upon Avon was still a small market town. It probably had a population of between 1,500 and 2,000. The town slowly grew despite outbreaks of plague in 1564 and in 1645.

In 1553 King Edward VI refounded the grammar school. In the same year he incorporated Stratford Upon Avon (formed a corporation to run it).

Meanwhile in 1557 a glover from Stratford Upon Avon named John Shakespeare married Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do farmer from Wilmcote.

Their son William was born on or about 23 April 1564 in a house in Henley Street. The son of a middle-class citizen he would have attended the grammar school. In 1582 William married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a farmer from nearby Shottery.

However in 1587 William Shakespeare left for London. In 1597 he bought a house named New Place in Stratford Upon Avon, which he lived in when he retired.

William Shakespeare had a daughter called Susanna. She married a man named John Hall and they lived in a house in Stratford called Hall's Croft

40 Sheep Street

Meanwhile at 40 Sheep Street, the first known tenant of the building William Shrieve was in residence from 1536. Master Shrieve was an archer to King Henry VIII. The house is still called 'The Shrieve's House' to this day, and it could therefore be reasonably assumed he was an important figure in his time and may possibly have been a Sheriff of some sort, as his name suggests.

There have been several fires in Stratford. The 1594 fire burnt down much of one half of Stratford and the fire in 1595 burnt down much of the other side (high Street, Bridge Street and Sheep Street. The front of the Shrieve's building survived, which was built around 1470, however the rest of the property was extensively rebuilt. The 1595 cobblestones are therefore the oldest surviving in Stratford-Upon-Avon and on which William Shakespeare himself would have walked on his way to the Three Tunns Tavern.

In the 16th century the property was a tavern and the tavern keeper, William Rogers, is said to have been some of the inspiration for Shakespeare's famous comic character Falstaff who appears in two of his plays. There is also documented evidence that his family had strong connections with Shakespeare, as Shakespeare's daughter Suzannah was close friends with Elizabeth, the daughter of the Rogers; Shakespeare also left their nephew, William Walker, 20 shillings in his will. At this time the property would have consisted of not only the house but outhouses, a stable and a blacksmiths.


17th Century Stratford-Upon-Avon

During the mid 17th century, the English Civil War began. Royalists (for the king) fought the parliamentarians (for Parliament/the people). Charles I against the armies of Oliver Cromwell. Stratford was firstly occupied by Royalist but later by the Parliamentarians. In an attempt to blow up Lord Brooke, Royalists put gunpowder in the cellars of the Town Hall at the top of Sheep Street. However, they mistimed it and he lived for another day (to be killed by a snipper a few months later). The Town Hall was rebuilt and can clearly be seen from the upper windows of 40 Sheep Street.

40 Sheep Street

The very first battle of the English Civil War took place at Kineton, some 12 miles from Stratford. Many of the Parlimamentary troops, under the command of Colonel Behr, were billeted at 40 Sheep Street. The battle was called the Battle of Edgehill (sometimes also called 'The Kineton Fight'), 23rd October 1642. Rumour has it that Oliver Cromwell stayed in the building before the Battle of Worcester. However, without documented evidence, this is difficult to verifiy.

Colonel Lucas, a Parliamentarian rented the building at the time from John Woolmer (who lived at the top of Sheep Street). John Woolmer was Royalist sympathiser and was often targeted for special treatment. However, when the monarchy was restored (the Restoration), he negotiated the new Borough Charter and became the first Mayor of Stratford. He was the first of three mayors to have lived at 40 Sheep Street over the centuries.

Of course Stratford-Upon-Avon is a lot more peaceful now days. The main industry is tourism, in particular William Shakespeare's association with the town.

Many people also come to Stratford to look at this quaint town and the wonderfully preserved Tudor buildings, such as The Shrieve's House; Halls Croft and Harvard House to name just a few of the buildings from the 15th and 16th centuries.