Thursday 6 July 2017

Mary Arden's Farm

We went to one of my favourite towns at the weekend – Stratford upon Avon. For once we didn't visit any of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust places in the town itself. I did a catch a glimpse of the lovely garden at Shakespeare's birthplace through the back gates as we drove past but for our hit of historical culture we took a trip a few miles out of Stratford to the village of Wilmcote.

In this quaint English village stands the house where William Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden, grew up. Mary's father built the house in around 1514. Despite being the youngest of 8 daughters it was Mary who inherited the Wilmcote farm plus further farmland in Snitterfield. One of the tenant farmers in Snitterfield was Richard Shakespeare. His son John married Mary in 1557, a year after her father had died leaving Mary a wealthy heiress.

Today the farm and buildings in Wilmcote have been preserved and are run as a Tudor farm would have worked in the 16th century. Part of the site takes in Adam Palmer's farmhouse. This is the building you can see from the road and it has a lovely cottage garden at the front.

Along with traditional hollyhocks the garden is full of essential herbs. In Tudor times such a garden would have contained around 40 different herbs to be used for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Certain herbs were also used for strewing – lavender would have been thrown on the floor and when people walked over it the fragrance from it would be released. Rosemary was used for strewing in order to keep fleas at bay.

When the site at Wilmcote was first acquired by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in the 1930s it was originally thought that Palmer's farmhouse was actually Mary Arden's house. It wasn't until 2000 that it was discovered that the neighbouring farmhouse was in the fact the one lived in by the Arden family. Thankfully the Trust had already bought the Arden house in 1968 simply as a way preserving the whole farmyard as the house could have been demolished. The plague came to Stratford upon Avon in 1564 – the year William Shakespeare was born and it thought that his mother may have brought the family to the farm to escape it. As it was used as a working farmhouse much of the house has Victorian and Edwardian additions to it but it still retains an ancient charm to it.

The land in front of the Arden house is currently laid out as a kitchen garden. There's a selection of soft fruit with currants, gooseberries, raspberries and strawberries. For main meals the stew pot can be filled with beans, marrows and onions to be made into potage.

Inbetween the two houses there's a Tudor vegetable garden which is laid out more like a modern allotment. Sadly it seems a like neglected with the onions gone to seed and beds filled taken over by poppies. Hopefully the Tudor farmworkers will be able to turn this patch into something productive soon.

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