Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Shakespeare Slept Here Volume 54 Number 2, March/April 2001
by Norman Hammond

Bad news for the picturesque tourist attraction believed for the past two centuries to be Shakespeare's mum's childhood home. Tree-ring dating and an ancient lease found in a Sussex archive have proved that a modest brick-clad farm near Stratford upon Avon--not the half-timbered vision of Olde England bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1930--was home to Mary Arden.

Mary Arden's real home, which she inhabited until 1557, when she married John Shakespeare and moved to Stratford, turns out to have been the next farm over from the touristic hot-spot. A 1587 rental agreement identifies Glebe Farm as the home of Agnes Arden, Mary's stepmother. The discovery was made by Nat Alcock, a Warwickshire buildings historian.

Glebe Farm itself, although refaced with Victorian red brick, has proved to be an almost intact late medieval farmhouse. Tree-ring dating shows it was built in the summer of 1514 or shortly thereafter and consisted of a hall, buttery, and living chamber; a stone-walled kitchen wing was added a few years later. Although it was modernized around 1650, there was very little alteration until Victorian times.

"Shakespeare would probably have played there as a child, when visiting his maternal relatives," said Jean Wilson, author of The Archaeology of Shakespeare. "He would almost certainly have known the house."

Alcock's parallel study of what until now has been called Mary Arden's House shows that it was built far too late to have been her childhood home. The earliest part of the house is a parlor wing of around 1569, when Shakespeare himself was already a child.

© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America