September 5th, 2016

Doors open on Shakespeare’s new-look New Place

Updated: 7:22 pm, Aug 19, 2016

SHAKESPEARE’S new look New Place will be unveiled on Saturday.

A new oak and bronze gateway will open on the original threshold of the Bard’s final Stratford home, inviting visitors to walk in the playwright’s footsteps and meet the man behind many of the most famous works ever written.

It was where Shakespeare had his family home for 19 years, and where he died 400 years ago.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) has spent £6million transforming the internationally significant heritage site into a window on the world of Shakespeare for the 21st century.

Heavy rain in June saw SBT make the difficult decision to postpone the opening.

And works were previously delayed when medieval and bronze age foundations were discovered during the excavation of the site, meaning plans for the extension to neighbouring Nash’s House – which belonged to Shakespeare’s granddaughter Elizabeth and her husband Thomas Nash – and which houses a new exhibition, had to be rethought.

But the team behind the project were more excited by the archaeology they uncovered, which included the bard’s kitchen, than frustrated by the set back.

The restoration of Nash’s House has been one of the biggest elements of the project – the front and side walls were pulling apart from one another as a result of works which took place over a century ago.

Project manager Nick Fulcher said: “We all know how expensive it is to renovate a house, but you should try doing it on something which was built in the 1400s and 1500s.

“When you’re dealing with historic properties, you never know what you’re going to find until you actually start digging. We dropped test pits across the sites but with archaeology if you’re even a centimetre out, you’ve missed something.

“Our job is preservation which means we must take the remains we found very seriously.

“You can’t get frustrated when you find archaeological remains because they are incredibly significant and they have helped us feed into the history of Shakespeare.”

The re-imagination of New Place was the biggest project anywhere in the world to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death this year.

The project has been supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic England, and the Wolfson Foundation, and through public donations raised through a host of initiatives spearheaded by SBT.

Shakespeare was 32 when he bought New Place in 1597, and it remained his family home until his death there in 1616. It was the largest house in the borough, a prestigious residence with ten fireplaces, up to 20 rooms, and extensive gardens.

The last house to occupy the plot was demolished by the infamous Reverend Francis Gastrell in 1759, and the largest surviving part of Shakespeare’s estate has been preserved as a garden ever since.

Now visitors can trace the footprint of Shakespeare’s lost house, discovered during the archaeological excavation of the site, outlined in engraved bronze inlaid in the spectacular stone paving. A swathe of golden plants in a bronze-clad raised border link the three zones of Shakespeare’s home and enfold his original well. Festive pennants representing all of Shakespeare’s plays turn in the breeze above the plants, while his sonnets and longer plays are represented by a ribbon of white bronze darts set into the stonework.

Around the new garden, specially commissioned sculptures conjure up the world that influenced Shakespeare, and his enduring influence in our world today.

The centrepiece includes a bronze tree standing over a globe sculpture called ‘His Mind’s Eye’ by artist Jill Berelowitz – a metaphor for how Shakespeare’s work has touched people all across the world. It also marks the heart of the house where the family would have spent most of their time.

The sunken Tudor Knot Garden, which is on the national register of historically important gardens, has also been restored.

And the Victorian Great Garden beyond, with its sweeping lawns, herbaceous borders, and famous mulberry trees, has been retained and the original wild bank of plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s works has been reinstated.

A new permanent exhibition brings to life the story of New Place and the life of the Bard and his family – casting new light on Shakespeare as father, husband, citizen of Stratford, and famous playwright.

A new first floor viewing platform gives views over historic Stratford to landmarks Shakespeare would have recognised, including the neighbouring Guild Chapel and the school he attended – both open to visitors.

SBT chief executive Dr Diana Owen said: “One of my favourite bits is the terrace upstairs where you can see the same views Shakespeare would have had to the Guild Chapel and Falcon Hotel and then over the river where the theatre now stands.

“And sitting in the main circle outside, enjoying the space and the stunning bronze tree.

“This is a project we’ve been working on for years and I never really knew what we were going to end up with but what we have now got really makes the statement that this is a very special place.

“I love being here! There’s always been something new to see as things have progressed.”

“Shakespeare’s New Place represents the heart and the soul of the playwright we know so well, the essence of his creativity and brilliance, and it will be the first time this side of Shakespeare has been showcased to the public in such a way.”

Visit www.shakespeare.org.uk for further details.

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