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Guild Chapel Stratford face

Face to face with the past at the Guild Chapel

This post features the Guild Chapel in Stratford, one of many fine old buildings in the town. It is situated next door to Shakespeare’s last house ‘New Place’ on the corner of Chapel lane and Church street.

R0013708_Nash's House & New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

(Photo taken by Traveller‧旅人 on Flickr : Picture shows Guild Chapel on the left, Nash’s house is to the right & the garden area in the middle is where Shakespeare’s house used to be. The black and white beamed building on the other side of the road is the Falcon Hotel which I can recommend!)

The Guild Chapel dates from 1269 when the Bishop of Worcester allowed the establishment of  a Chapel and hospital. In the following centuries the Guild of the Holy Cross grew in size and influence, becoming a significant landowner in the town of Stratford and attracting many followers.

Postcards - Stratford

(Photo of old postcard showing Guild Chapel taken from mrpb27 on Flickr )

Hugh Clopton.

The chapel took on much of its present form in the 1490’s when an ex-resident paid for extensive re-building. Hugh Clopton was born in Clopton near Stratford in about 1440, he was apprenticed as a mercer in London in 1456 and by 1491 he had achieved the position of Mayor of London.

Despite his success he never forgot his roots in Stratford and he was responsible for building New Place which was purchased by Shakespeare in 1597. He is also credited with building Stratfords stone bridge over the Avon which still bears his name.

Clopton Bridge

(Photo of Clopton Bridge by Nickscape on Flickr : also see his website here)

Clopton funded  extensive development of the Guild Chapel in the 1490’s when the tower and nave were built  and the wall paintings were competed.

The wall paintings

Prior to the reformation, Church interiors in England would have looked quite different to those we see today, being full of colour and religious drama. Ordinary people were active in the maintenance and management of the Church and reading about these times one gets a feeling that this was an important part of community life.

The Guild Chapel would have been no different – imagine how it would have looked when brightly painted with coloured images of saints favoured by the local people.  The most impressive painting was above the chancel arch – this showed a picture of doom with its vivid images of heaven and of sinners falling into hell.

This account from Simon Schama’s history of Britain gives a good idea of how many churches would have changed at this time.

In 1573 the Guild Chapel was attacked , many of the Statues were smashed ( is this where the expression to ‘de-face’ originated?) and the wall paintings were painted over. In churches throughout England, religious wall paintings were being replaced by the Queens coat of arms, ones loyalties in future were expected to be directed towards the Tudor State.

William Shakespeare was aged 9 at the time the Chapel was defaced, one wonders how his family who were surely familiar with the Chapel, must have felt about the changes being imposed upon it.

The Chapel today

As mentioned at the top of the post, the Chapel is well worth a visit today. Although the ravages of past neglect are still apparent, one can easily make out the outlines and colours of many of the original wall paintings. With a little imagination it is possible to get a feel for how things used to be (Nash’s House – next to New place contains illustrations of how the chapel would have looked).

A face from the past that survived the attempt to erase it

I have added some pictures to the post so that you can get an idea of what it is like here. It is possible to see the outlines of figures and to make out faces still vaguely present on the walls. If  you want to see more about the chapel then there are some links below – if you visit then do remember to add a donation to the Chapel funds and help to preserve this for future visitors.

I am keen to find more defaced images – if you know of any, please let me know.

Photo montage : Guild Chapel

Photo montage : Guild Chapel - click image to magnify (takes a second or two to download)

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The Friends of the Guild Chapel Stratford-on-Avon

Guild Chapel Paintings virtual reconstruction project

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Stratford

The Garrick ( Jeff Land on Flickr : Click image)
The Garrick ( Jeff Land on Flickr : Click image)

It was the day after Boxing Day, the sales were on and Town centres were stuffed with shoppers. Desperate to get out and about whilst avoiding the crowds and the sales I decided to take a walk around Stratford. Whilst the Town has its share of shopping centres I guessed that the old part might be a bit quieter.

Stratford is a popular place and attracts many visitors from across the world. Despite this it (usually) doesn’t feel too overcrowded.  Over the years Stratford has managed to quietly accomodate its many visitors. It is possible to be here on a busy day and still feel that you can have a pleasant day out.

Many buildings remain that would have been recognisable in Shakespeare’s day and usually these have been well cared for.

Stratford England, River Avon and Holy Trinity Church

Stratford England, River Avon and Holy Trinity Church

The Theatre

The RSC is progressing well with the rebuilding of the theatre, last time I was here it was a building site but now the outlines of the new theatre can be seen clearly. Frankly, the old theatre was not a great place to watch a play.  I much preferred the Courtyard theatre where the audience surrounded the stage and were not kept at a distance like they were down the road.  I am looking forward to seeing the finished theatre which seems to be an attempt to address some of these problems.
The building currently being replaced was built in 1932 as a replacement for the original theatre which burnt down in 1926 – I found an old photo of this which is reproduced below. This link contains some other photographs of this building, interestingly the stage was a lot closer to the audience in the old building.
Fire at Stratford Memorial Theatre : March 6th 1926

Fire at Stratford Memorial Theatre : March 6th 1926

Shakespeare’s birthplace

This is the one building that everyone who comes to Stratford wants to see. It sits in Henley Street, a fairly unremarkable road that has changed greatly since Shakespeare’s day. The house gets a bit crowded on busy days and the new visitor centre (to the left of the photo below) is a bit of a monstrosity – you can tell that others agree by doing a search on Flickr – notice that people (usually) choose to take or to crop the photo so this doesn’t show up!


Shakespeare's birthplace ( mrpb27 on Flickr)

Holy Trinity Church

Finally, I took a walk by the side of the Avon,past the Dirty Duck pub and the Courtyard Theatre and stopped at Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeares burial place.

I read Christopher Rush’s wonderful book ‘Will’ an ‘autobiography’ of Shakespeare as dictated to his lawyer – I quote a little of it below because it sets the scene perfectly in describing Shakespeares last journey through Stratford in his funeral procession:

‘ along by the willowy banks of the Avon, following the glittering river to Holy Trinity. They carried me among alders and limes, my ears deaf now to the lapping of the river-wave and the rustle of swans, and so in at the porch and up the nave to the resting place in the chancel, close to the north wall’

A bit more from Stratford in the next post – in the meantime, happy new year from Tudor Stuff

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Ophelia : John Everett Millais

Ophelia : John Everett Millais

There is a willow grows aslant a brook,

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.

There with fantastic garlands did she come

Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do dead men’s fingers call them.

There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds

Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide

And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up;

Which time she chaunted snatches of old tunes,

As one incapable of her own distress,

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element; but long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious layTo muddy death

(Queen Gertrude – Act 4 scene seven of Hamlet)

Hamlet.

We were lucky enough to see the recent production of Hamlet (see also) at the Novello theatre in London. In the programme notes the director describes some of the background research that was done – partly this involved a trip to Stratford and a walk up the riverside.avon-nr-tiddington

The Director of the play, Gregory Doran along with Mariah Gale who played Ophelia walked to the area where an historic event mirrors a famous scene from the play.

Inspiration?

In 1579 a girl called Katharine Hamlet was drowned in the river Avon at a place called Tiddington, a short walk to the north east of Stratford town centre. Apparently, Katherine fell whilst filling a pail of water. There were also rumours that she was heartbroken about a failed love affair and that this might have been a case of suicide. Over the years it has been suggested that this accident in the Avon might have been in Shakespeare’s mind when he wrote the play.

John Everett Millais.

Perhaps the most famous depiction of Ophelia is that reproduced above by Millais. This picture which was painted in 1851/1852 shows a drowned Ophelia lying in the stream surrounded by flowers. In common with people in Tudor times, the Victorians were more aware than us of folklore and symbolic meanings attributed to plants – as you can see if you follow this link to the Tate Gallery.

A walk by the Avon.

burdockOn a recent visit to Stratford I walked by the river towards the area where Katharine Hamlet was drowned. Although the Avon is not very wide here, the water flows strongly and in places the riverbank is quite steep. In December (when Katharine was drowned) the ground would be wet pretty much all of the time and the banks slippery and treacherous. It is easy to imagine how someone could fall into the river, especially if one reached in to fill a bucket.

Flowers.

None of the flowers described by either Shakespeare or Millais would have been in evidence at the time of Katharine’s drowning. At that time of year the most prominent vegetation would be grasses and bare trees.  When we visited it was too early in the season to see many flowers growing, although certainly these would be plentiful around here later in the season.

ophelia-1

I suspect that like me, visitors to Stratford usually confine their walking either to the town itself or to the riverside walk in the opposite direction – towards Holy Trinity church where Shakespeare is buried. Perhaps, if you get the chance, it is worth taking the time to walk in the other direction towards Tiddington and if you do so then perhaps you might spare a thought for poor Katharine Hamlet.


nettles-and-water-smaller

Nettles - symbolising pain?

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