Taking children to Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Is it a good idea?

Taking children to Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Is it a good idea?

Our children have hit a bothersome age. Instead of happily trotting along with us to museums and exhibitions, it can be a struggle to persuade them to come. We’ve yet to experience a place they haven’t enjoyed after getting past the grumbles. But I wasn’t sure if Shakespeare’s Birthplace, in Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, England, would have enough to capture their imaginations.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace: the history

William Shakespeare, the celebrated British playwright, was born in this large house on Henley Street, in 1564. His home is an imposing, timbered building that demands your attention, even in the picturesque streets of Stratford.

The size of the house demonstrates how fortunate William Shakespeare must have been as a child, and how he came to have the resources to write so many outstanding works of art. His father, John, was a relatively wealthy man who worked his way into the position of town Mayor. After his death he passed the house on to William, who lived there with his wife Anne Hathaway for the first five years of their marriage.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Stepping inside the past

You enter Shakespeare’s Birthplace through a building belonging to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, at the side of the house. As we walked through the dark corridor just past the reception desk, the customary grumbles sprang up from our children. The corridor opened out into a sombre, dim room, where early folios of Shakespeare’s works sat in glass cabinets. Fascinating for me and D; not so much for our two children.

But then, something at the end of the room grabbed them. A wall, covered in brass plaques, displaying scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. My daughter, still learning to read, began to spell out the names of the plays. And my son, who had read a couple of Shakespeare works adapted for children, became excited about spotting the plays he’d read.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare's Birthplace

With the grumble barrier passed, it was easy. The children’s interest quickened.

Shakespeare Aloud

Out in the garden, Shakespeare Aloud were holding improvised performances of scenes from the plays. The audience sat on benches, or on the low stone walls bordering pretty beds of heather. The actors asked us to pick a play, and then leapt into character to play Othello, Henry V, Beatrice and Benedick, and more. The two men from the three-person troupe even treated us to a love scene from Romeo and Juliet, when the female member of the trio was on a break. (I enjoyed explaining to my daughter that this would have been common in Shakespeare’s time, as acting was considered an unseemly profession for women).

Shakespeare Aloud

Shakespeare Aloud

Despite the unfamiliarity of the language, the children were transfixed. The performances were a good prompt for discussing Shakespeare’s life as a whole: he was born in this house; he wrote plays so powerful that they’re still popular, over 500 years later; and here they are, being acted out with aplomb, right in front of you. It helped that my son’s school were part of the Shakespeare Schools Festival this year, with older children performing at a local theatre a couple of weeks after our trip.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Exploring the house

Inside the house, the Birthplace Trust had made efforts to help engage children. We arrived late in the day, so we missed the Tudor Tour that took place regularly over the half term holiday. But inside the house, a ‘Witches’ Familiar’ trail set out clues for the children to find creatures associated with witches (our visit was very near Hallowe’en). In each room, they had to find cats, rats, toads or ravens. The trail sheet gave some background to the history behind witches and witch-finding in England, and also explained how  Shakespeare and his family would have used each room when they lived there.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare's Birthplace

This would have been Shakespeare’s bedroom, shared with his brothers

Shakespeare's Birthplace

After we’d walked through Shakespeare’s bedroom, the corridor-shaped room where his mother gave birth, and the section of house that was leased out and turned into an inn after Shakespeare inherited the building, we walked down to the workshop of William’s father, John. A glover by trade, he would have used a wide range of materials, including animal hide, which was laid out for visitors to touch and feel. There were even boxes with a smelly surprise inside. When you opened them, a waft of leather, manure or urine wafted out – all smells that would have been common in the workshop.

Conclusion

So, would I recommend taking children as young as five and eight to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace? My answer is, yes. It would help if they were a little familiar with Shakespeare’s plays beforehand. There are a few versions adapted for children, including a set by Andrew Matthews and Tony Ross. The Birthplace doesn’t have enough to keep children occupied for longer than two or three hours, but I’d say it’s a crucial pitstop if you want to experience the wealth of history in this town. The other properties owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust are also good for a family visit. We went to Mary Arden’s Farm on this trip, and I’ll be writing about it in the next few weeks. It’s currently closed for the winter. There’s also Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Shakespeare’s New Place and Hall’s Croft, which no doubt we’ll visit and write about soon.

Getting there

Stratford-Upon-Avon is a short drive from junction 15 of the M40, close to the M42 and M6 motorway networks. The town can be reached by road from London in under 2 hours. Direct rail services run from London Marylebone to Stratford-upon-Avon train station, which is a comfortable ten minute walk from the town centre. It’s also only a short journey from Leamington Spa, Solihull and Birmingham stations.

Prices

Adult: £17.50                (£15.75 online)
Child: £11.50                 (£10.35 online)
Family: £46.50             (£41.85 online)
Concession: £16.50     (£14.85 online)

A ticket for admission to all the attractions owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust works out as good value:

Adult: £22.50                (£20.25 online)
Child: £14.50                 (£13.05 online)
Family: £59.50              (£53.55 online)
Concession: £21.00      (£18.90 online)

We were guests of Shakespeare’s Birthplace as part of a press trip with Shakespeare’s England.

To read more about Warwickshire and Shakespeare’s England, read our other blog posts:

A family afternoon at Warwick Castle

QHotels Chesford Grange, a family-friendly hotel

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40 Comments

  1. November 27, 2017 / 11:47 am

    This is somewhere I haven’t visited before, but have always wanted to.

    How wonderful that it’s been preserved so well.

    Love that they go to great lengths to make it engaging for kids too!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:10 pm

      I know. It was a lovely introduction to the Bard.

  2. November 27, 2017 / 2:32 pm

    I have to admit I wouldn’t have thought of taking my five-year-old here, but a lot of the time we do have preconceived notions of what kids will enjoy and she has a fantastic time at galleries and museums. I love the idea of the live drama, and a trail always goes down well. It sounds like they’ve put a lot of work into trying to make it family-friendly. Definitely one for my list. I think she’d be outraged to discover she wouldn’t have been able to perform them though!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:33 pm

      I’ll bet. I could see my two champing at the bit when they were watching the performers!

  3. November 27, 2017 / 5:01 pm

    I remember visiting as a child and being transfixed, but I had a huge love of literature. I know that my boys wouldn’t have been able to deal with it. Now at 11 and 12 and both covering Shakespeare at school I am looking forward to take them,

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:33 pm

      Yes, I think all it takes is a little bit of external influence sometimes.

  4. November 27, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    I have been to Stratford upon Avon but never visited Shakespeare’s house… Not sure why! My older two would really enjoy this place. The toddler maybe not so much but he isn’t complaining yet! 😀

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:34 pm

      I didn’t see any other toddlers there – I think the oer-5s would appreciate it most. The gardesn were nice, though, for a romp around!

  5. November 27, 2017 / 8:30 pm

    We have visited Stratford upon Avon a couple of times but never been inside the house. Maybe next time we visit we will go and explore!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:36 pm

      Yes, it’s definitely worth a look.

  6. November 28, 2017 / 9:24 am

    This is on our bucket list – I’ve been trying to get us there for years! Thanks for the tips x

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:36 pm

      It’s never too late, Susanna!

  7. November 28, 2017 / 11:14 am

    I think this sounds like such a brilliant day out and I would love to take my big kids. I think my toddler would cause havoc (!) but the older two will love it. I must get them reading some Shakespeare first though 😉

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:37 pm

      There are some good abridged versions for children…..

  8. November 28, 2017 / 12:15 pm

    I’ve never been here but it’s on my ‘must see’ list! It’s great how you could get the children engaged and the idea of the live plays is brilliant. Thanks for the post!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:38 pm

      Yes, the live action really made it for us.

  9. November 30, 2017 / 12:39 pm

    I so want to do this. I remember going a few times as a child, probably around the age of 9/10, and I still have happy memories of finding it so fascinating. My kids are a bit older now, but I think even they would enjoy a trip if they were studying Shakespeare in school. I think the next time one of them is, I’m going to bite the bullet and go!

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:53 pm

      It was very nicely done, Helen – and not too big or overwhelming.

  10. December 1, 2017 / 10:25 am

    I’ve never been to Stratford, despite studying English lit at uni, can you believe it? Right now I think I’d struggle to take my 12 year old as he’s announced he hates history with a passion and is only interested in science…but it’s sure to be a phase and I’m sure he’ll come round…fingers crossed! I do like the sound of the performances and I hope to see this hallowed place one day, with or without kids! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:55 pm

      Oh dear! There is a good science museum at Stratford, too. Perhaps you could nip in while he’s there!

  11. December 1, 2017 / 12:14 pm

    Our two were just teens when we visited and were transfixed. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust make everything so accessible without dumbing down. We didn’t manage to get to Anne Hathaways Cottage but there is always next time! #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:56 pm

      Yes, I’m looking forward to going back and visiting more of Shakespeare’s homes soon.

  12. December 1, 2017 / 1:01 pm

    I remember going on school trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon. It’s on my list of things to do with the girls next year. I can’t wait after reading your write up. #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      I’ll be interested to hear how you get on!

  13. December 1, 2017 / 1:49 pm

    I need to visit this soon with my two, we live so close and haven’t got around to going. It looks great and I love the fact there is something that appeals to children to keep them entertained while you have a proper look around. Shakespeare Aloud sounds amazing too. #culturedkids
    Nat.x

    • Nell
      Author
      December 1, 2017 / 1:57 pm

      I think it would work even for very young children like yours, Nat x

  14. December 1, 2017 / 3:24 pm

    Ooh I’d definitely take my kids here (although they are older than yours). I think they’d be fascinated by finding out the way people lived in those times as well as the connection with Shakespeare. It looks as though they’ve got lots of family friendly activities and I love the sound of the actors wandering around. #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 11, 2017 / 12:47 pm

      Yes, the staff were all very charismatic.

  15. December 1, 2017 / 3:59 pm

    We’ve hit that age where my kids don’t want to go everywhere I go either, but I still drag them anyways! This sounds fascinating and I’d definitely give it a shot with my girls..like you say, in the end there were things to draw them in. #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 11, 2017 / 1:03 pm

      Yes, I’m sure your family wouldn’t be disappointed. x

  16. December 1, 2017 / 7:34 pm

    It sounds like there’s enough going on and enough variety to entertain a mix of ages. Shakespeare Aloud sounds quite cool. #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 13, 2017 / 12:16 pm

      Yes, they were great. I’m curious to see if they do something similar elsewhere.

  17. December 3, 2017 / 1:41 am

    I’ve been to Stratford-on Avon a few times and would not have picked it to be so engaging for kids. Well done to the team there for creating cool activities like the witch themed scavenger hunt. Mind you they have some of the world’s best content to work with! #culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 13, 2017 / 12:17 pm

      Yes, I bet it’s fun choosing themes for the kids’ stuff.

  18. December 3, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    I love Stratford but haven’t been with kids so great to have your tips for the future

    • Nell
      Author
      December 13, 2017 / 12:18 pm

      We’re keen to go back soon. x

  19. December 4, 2017 / 11:37 am

    Useful post. We’re heading to Stratford on Christmas Eve but I think our visit will be limited to admiring the lights and eating cakes (one of the cafes is particularly good if my memory services me well). But I’d like to have a proper explore when the kids are a bit older. #Culturedkids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 13, 2017 / 12:28 pm

      That sounds like a lovely festive excursion!

  20. December 6, 2017 / 11:37 am

    That sounds fascinating! I don’t think I would take my kids there yet, although my daughter has reached an age that she might enjoy it. It would be completely lost on my son. #CulturedKids

    • Nell
      Author
      December 13, 2017 / 12:30 pm

      I’d say it was good for anyone over four/five. My daughter loved it.

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