Mary Arden was William Shakespeare’s mother, and she grew up in a farmhouse in Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust now own Mary Arden’s Farm, and together with Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Hall’s Croft and Shakepeare’s New Place, it gives a lively insight into what life might have been like back in Shakespeare’s day.
Two farms in one
Mary Arden’s Farm is actually made up of two residences. Glebe Farm was where Mary grew up, with her seven sisters. Close by is Palmer’s Farm, which belonged to a neighbour of the Ardens. Both are now reconstructed to look like they would have done back in the 16th century. Regular guided tours take visitors around the wooden-beamed Palmer’s Farm, which was rather grand for the times. The pretty, red-brick Glebe Farm is smaller, and even though the Ardens were a distinguished local family, life must have been hard. It’s difficult to imagine being squished inside the house’s small rooms, with eight children to feed and care for. Modern-day children can dress up in clothes the Tudors would have worn, or peer into the reconstructed rooms.
Tudor life on display
We visited Mary Arden’s Farm on the last weekend before it closed for the winter. It was the school holidays, and there was plenty to engage families. As we entered the farm courtyard, we passed a couple of alcoves where staff dressed in Tudor gear were demonstrating crafts. The basket weaver chatted to us about how long her day would have been, and the man tasked with sharpening axes explained that, in Tudor times, people still didn’t eat with knives and forks. Table cutlery only really became popular in the Stuart era, ten or twenty years later.
We missed out on seeing Tudor table manners in action at the farm’s lunchtime feast. But we did catch an archery display by a man who tried to hit a pumpkin with an arrow ten times in a minute. He asked my son to time him, but failed dismally at the challenge. It was pretty entertaining, even so.
We visited close to Hallowe’en, and as well as the pumpkin-themed archery display, the regular nature trail was replaced by a spooky treasure hunt, which led the children round the farm’s wooded area.
Witches, gnomes, spiders and skeletons were hidden around the place. The hunt took Austin and Gwen into the undergrowth, and through the farm’s willow tunnel.
We didn’t make it to the timber-framed adventure playground at Mary Arden’s Farm, because we only had a couple of hours to spend there, and Austin and Gwen were more than happy to spend their time watching the different animals. From the fluffy chicks in an incubator in reception, to the free-roaming geese and the clear-eyed birds of prey sitting on their perches, there was an animal around every corner to gaze at, coo over, or even pet.
Some rare breeds dating back to Tudor times live at the farm, including English longhorn cattle and Cotswold sheep.
We had to leave for London before the falconry display, but we did buy some feed for the sheep and goats. Top of the list of exciting animal sightings, though, was a ferret in a cage, which was rolling around in its bedding, playing with it like a cat with a toy. All very cute and adorable (we didn’t look too closely at the ferret’s sharp little fangs).
Food and drink
Visitors could choose to eat inside the cafe area, or outside, on long wooden benches under a shelter. We did a bit of both. D and I were still full from our bumper breakfast at Chesford Grange hotel, which was a pity, as the lunchtime menu looked interesting.
As well as Tudor pottage, there was herb frumenty, a Tudor style pearl barley risotto with root vegetables and Warwickshire Bard cheese; Mary Arden’s free range sausage and mash; or organic pork, with apple sauce from the farm’s orchard. Next time we visit, I’ll make sure to eat a lighter breakfast. We couldn’t even steal any mouthfuls from the children, because they opted for the standard kids’ fare that you see at most attractions: a ham or cheese sandwich, together with a few snacks, in a cardboard lunchbox. After lunch we had a quick look in the gift shop, which had an interesting selection of Shakespeare-themed books, toys and games, as well as plenty of books and household ornaments with a Tudor flavour.
Mary Arden’s Farm is a 15-minute drive from Stratford-upon-Avon. 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.
Mary Arden’s Farm closes for winter, from the end of October through till mid-March. An online ticket to the farm is £13.50 per adult, £9 per child or £12.60 for concessions, but if you have a couple of days to spend in the area, a ‘Full Story’ Ticket is much better value. This lets you into all five of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s properties, and is £20.25 per adult, £13.05 per child, and £18.90 for concessions. For more information see the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust website. You can find out more about the area on the Shakespeare’s England website.
We were invited to visit Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust properties as part of a press trip with Shakespeare’s England. All views are my own.
Read our other posts on what to do and where to stay in the area:
Taking children to Shakespeare’s Birthplace. Is it a good idea?
A family afternoon at Warwick Castle
QHotels Chesford Grange, a family friendly hotel in the heart of Shakespeare’s England
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