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Stratford-upon-Avon - England
Stratford-upon-Avon is a market town and civil parish in south Warwickshire, England. It is situated on the River Avon located 22 miles or 35 kilometers south east of Birmingham and 8 miles or 13 kilometers south west of Warwick. It is the largest and most populous town of the District of Stratford-on-Avon, which uses the term "on" to indicate that it covers a much larger area than the town itself. The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of the famous playwright and poet William Shakespeare causing it to receive about three million visitors per year from all over the world. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Theatre, one of Britain's most important cultural venues. Stratford has Anglo-Saxon origins, and grew up as a market town during medieval times. The original charters of the town were granted in 1196, making Stratford officially over 800 years old. The name is a fusion of the Old English strǣt, meaning street, and ford, meaning that a Roman road forded the River Avon at the site of the town. In 1769 the actor David Garrick staged a major Shakespeare Jubilee which saw the construction of a large rotunda and the influx of many visitors for the three day event. This contributed to the growing phenomenon of Bardolatry which made Stratford a tourist destination. Apart from tourism, which is a major employer locally, especially in the hotel, hospitality industry and catering sectors, other industries in the town are boat building and maintenance, bicycles, mechanical and electrical engineering, food manufacture, Information Technology, call centre and service sector activities, a large motor sales sector, industrial plant hire, building suppliers, market gardening, farming, storage and transport logistics, finance and insurance, and a large retail sector. Major employers in the town include the NFU Mutual Insurance Company, Avon Insurance, AMEC, Tesco, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Debenhams, B & Q and Pashley Cycles. There are, nominally, three theaters run by the prestigious Royal Shakespeare Company, which attract large audiences and income for the town.
The first real theatre in Stratford was a temporary wooden affair built in 1769 by the actor David Garrick for his Jubilee celebrations of that year to mark Shakespeare's birthday. The theatre, built not far from the site of the present Royal Shakespeare Theatre, was almost washed away in two days of torrential rain that resulted in terrible flooding. A small theatre known as The Royal Shakespeare Rooms was built in the gardens of Shakespeare's New Place home in the early 19th century but became derelict by the 1860s. To celebrate Shakespeare's 300th birthday in 1864 the brewer, Charles Edward Flower, instigated the building of a temporary wooden theatre, known as the Tercentenary Theatre, which was built in a part of the brewer's large gardens on what is today the site of the new, and temporary, Courtyard Theatre. After three months the Tercentenary Theatre was dismantled, with the timber used for house-building purposes. In the early 1870s, Charles Flower gave several acres of riverside land to the local council on the understanding that a permanent theatre be built in honour of Shakespeare's memory, and by 1879 the first Shakespeare Memorial Theatre had been completed. It proved to be a huge success, and by the early 20th century was effectively being run by the actor/manager Frank Benson, later Sir Frank Benson. The theatre burned down in 1926, with the then artistic director, William Bridges-Adams, moving all productions to the local cinema. An architectural competition was arranged to elicit designs for a new theatre, with the winner, English architect Elisabeth Scott, creating what we see on the riverside today. The new theatre, adjoining what was left of the old theatre, was opened by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII, in 1932. The new theatre had many illustrious artistic directors, including the actor Anthony Quayle. Sir Peter Hall was appointed artistic director in 1959, and formed the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1961.Swan Theatre was created in the 1980s out of the shell of the remains of the original Memorial Theatre, quickly becoming one of the finest acting spaces in the UK. In 1986, Stratford-upon-Avon became home to the legendary but ill-fated Carrie. The Waterside Theatre, which is not part of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre complex, re-opened in December 2004, then closed again in September 2008. During this span, the theatre housed the Shakespearience visitor attraction.
The town is located on the River Avon on a bank of which stands the Royal Shakespeare Theatre designed by the English architect Elisabeth Scott and completed in 1932, which is the home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Until recently the RSC also ran two smaller theatres, the Swan, which is modelled on an Elizabethan theatre, closed in August 2007 as part of plans for refurbishment, and The Other Place theatre, a Black box theatre which was extended to become the temporary RSC Courtyard Theatre, which opened in July 2006. This theatre was the home of the RSC while the RST was being refurbished; its interior is similar to the interior of the refurbished RST. The RST and Swan refurbishment has been completed and the RST and Swan theatres re-opened in November 2010. It is anticipated that the Courtyard Theatre extension may be dismantled, although many in the town would retain the Courtyard so that it can used by local theatre companies. Other tourist attractions within the town include five houses relating to Shakespeare's life, which are owned and cared for by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. These include Hall's Croft, the one-time home of Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna, and her husband Dr. John Hall, and Nash's House, which stands alongside the site of another property, New Place, owned by Shakespeare himself, wherein he died. Near to the town are Anne Hathaway's Cottage at Shottery, the home of Shakespeare's wife's family prior to her marriage, and Mary Arden's House at Palmer's Farm, the family home of his mother. Elsewhere in the district are farms and buildings at Snitterfield, that belonged to the family of Shakespeare's father. At the top end of Waterside is Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was baptised and is buried. Non-Shakespearean attractions include the Stratford Butterfly Farm, which is on the eastern side of the river and the Bancroft Gardens and Stratford Armouries located three miles from the centre of Stratford on Gospel Oak Lane. Each year on 12 October, unless this comes on a Sunday - in which case 11 Octoberis chosen, Stratford hosts one of the largest Mop Fairs in the country. Then, on the second Saturday following, the smaller Runaway Mop fair is held.
Henley Street, one of the town's oldest streets, has undergone substantial architectural change between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. John Shakespeare's large half-timbered dwelling, purchased by him in 1556, was in 1564 the birthplace of his son William. According to a descriptive placard provided for tourists there:
"The property remained in the ownership of Shakespeare's direct descendants until 1670, when his granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard, died. As she had no children, Elizabeth left the estate to her relative Thomas Hart, Shakespeare's great-nephew. The main house became a tenanted inn called the Maidenhead, later the Swan and Maidenhead, following the death of John Shakespeare in 1601. Members of the Hart family continued living in the small adjoining cottage throughout the century."
At the end of the 19th century, Edward Gibbs renovated the building to more closely represent the original Tudor farmhouse. Adjacent to Shakespeare's Birthplace stands the Shakespeare Centre, completed in 1964 and not far from the Carnegie Library, opened in 1905. The large half-timbered building which now comprises numbers 17, 18 and 19 was formerly the White Lion Inn. It is first mentioned in 1603 and was adjoined on the east by a smaller inn called the Swan. In 1745 the latter was purchased by John Payton, who also acquired the Lion five years later and rebuilt the whole premises on a greatly enlarged scale. The work was completed by James Collins of Birmingham, a builder, in 1753. Payton was succeeded as innkeeper by his son John, and its reputation as one of the best inns on the Holyhead road must have contributed not a little to the prosperity of the town. Garrick stayed at the White Lion during the Jubilee of 1769 and George IV, as Prince Regent, visited it when he came to Stratford in 1806. Its great days came to an end after John Payton the younger sold it to Thomas Arkell in 1823. Henley Street is now a major tourist and shopping precinct with many al fresco cafes and street entertainers. Sheep Street runs from Ely Street eastwards to the Waterside. It was a residential quarter in the 16th century, some of the buildings were rebuilt following the fire of 1595, although many, such as Number 40, date from 1480. Formerly a two story building that was extended in the early twentieth century has a lower story of substantial close-set studding: the upper is of more widely spaced thin vertical timbers.
As the name suggests Sheep Street, which leads down from the Town Hall to Waterside and the RST, was from early times and until the late 19th century, the area where sheep, brought from the neighbouring Cotswold Hills, were slaughtered and butchered. Today it is the restaurant center of the town. Sheep Street also has some long established ladies gown shops. The Shrieves House is one of the oldest still lived in houses in the town and Shakespeare is said to have based his character of Sir John Falstaff on one of the residents, his godson's uncle. Oliver Cromwell is thought to have stayed here in 1651. He wrote a letter from the town to Lord Wharton on 27 August 1651, before the Battle of Worcester. Behind The Shrieves House is a museum called Tudor World with recreations of 16th century life in theatrical settings. Waterside & Southern Lane is an area of Stratford, which runs from the foot of Bridge Street to Holy Trinity Church and leads directly off Sheep Street and Scholars Lane. It runs alongside the River Avon and offers access to the Waterside Theatre and all areas of the RST. The RST is currently undergoing great renovation works, including work to the Bancroft Gardens at the front of the main RST building.
The Bancroft Gardens run from Waterside to the River Avon and include a canal basin. During the summer months there are often street performers performing to the public on the lawns.
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