There must be very few cultured people in the world who have never heard of the attractive Warwickshire town of Stratford-upon-Avon. The reason, of course, is because it is the home of England's national bard, William Shakespeare and the continuous flow of tourists to this town confirms its national and international reputation. Although an historic town in its own right everything evolves around the greatest playwright and poet of all time.
From a Small Manor to a Regional Trading Centre
From archaeological finds we know that the area now known as Stratford-upon-Avon was inhabited in the bronze age, although nothing precise is known of these inhabitants.
The name of the town is of Saxon origin and means the area where a road crosses a river (Avon) by a ford (Strat-ford). Presumably this refers to a Roman road crossing the river Avon near which there must have been a Roman settlement but again no documents have survived to confirm this.
This area was dependent on Worcester Cathedral and part of the Saxon kingdom of Hwicce, later to become part of the more powerful Kingdom of Mercia.
By AD 691 there was a monastery either on or very near the site of the present day parish church of Holy Trinity. In fact the first documented reference to a place of worship in the area is in the charter of 845 granting privileges to a small existing minster church. However, nothing remained of this monastery at the time of the Norman conquest (1066).
Holy Trinity Church
(click the image for a larger size picture)
The settlement continued to grow around this place of worship and knew nothing of the great social upheaval brought about by the Norman Conquest, mainly because the Saxon Bishop of Worcester, Wulfstan, supported the invaders. He was therefore allowed to continue and consequently the transitional period from the old to the new order was more of an evolutionary than a revolutionary process as far as this area was concerned.
With the increase in agriculture following the clearing of the nearby Forest of Arden in 1196 a charter was obtained from King Richard I for a weekly market for the produce. It was around this market that the new town came into existence. This would explain the distance from the original old town to the present-day town centre. The two different settlements grew independently but not without local hostility. One inconvenience was that the new townspeople had to worship in the old parish church.
By the 14th century, from a small manor owned by the Bishop of Worcester, Stratford became a centre of trade for the region. This was a significant development bringing with it great prosperity. The original location of the market was most probably in Rother Street but was later relocated in the area where we have the junction of High Street, Bridge Street and Henley Street. Now the market has returned to Rother Street (without the sale of cattle as in the Middle Ages). The last remnant of the medieval fairs in Stratford is the Mop, which takes place 12th October and which used to be where the local workers in search of work were hired.