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Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare’s New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon

The site of Shakespeare’s last home, New Place, in Stratford-upon-Avon 

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has taken the brave decision to give Shakespeare’s last home a contemporary redesign. Jackie Bennett investigates.

After more than two centuries, the plot once occupied by New Place is being transformed to create a major new heritage landmark reopening in April 2016 to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.

The bold design has developed in response to a complex challenge – how to re-imagine Shakespeare’s home of 19 years in a Grade II listed park and garden with no buildings on it, and to distinguish it from his wider estate and the adjoining Grade I Listed Tudor Nash’s House.

A multi-disciplinary team has been brought together by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to realise its vision of a new take on New Place. Chris Wise and Tim O’Brien of the architectural practice Expedition are leading the landscape design, working with Gillespie Landscape Architects, lighting designers Speirs and Major Associates and the charity’s garden team in Stratford. The main contractor is Splitlath Construction.

Four zones will reflect the use of the buildings known to have existed. The grandeur of the gatehouse will be represented by a slatted timber entrance that will offer glimpses through to the garden. An imposing gateway surrounded by bronze will invite visitors to cross the threshold. The footprint of the gatehouse, service range, courtyard and the private family home beyond will also be outlined in bronze at ground level, giving an impression of the scale of the property and its relationship to the King Edward VI School and Guild Chapel attended by Shakespeare. At the heart of the site, the epicentre of the family home, pleached trees will encircle a sculpture representing the power of Shakespeare’s imagination and enduring influence in the world today. Commissioned artworks and displays throughout the garden will evoke a sense of family life and the major works written during the 19 years he owned New Place.

The development will be made up of four zones at the centre of which will be a sculpture surrounded by a circle of pleached trees

Connecting the four zones, a raised linear border, planted to look good all year round, will envelope the original well and lead the eye to Shakespeare’s seat in the inner family home. The entire site of the garden will be re-graded, rising on a 1:20 gradient from ground level at the entrance towards the rear of the site. This ensures that the archaeology beneath will remain protected, while access to New Place and to the Knot Garden and Great Garden beyond will be improved.

Breathing new life into New Place is going to cost £5.25 million. With funding of £1.8m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, and £1m from Historic England, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust has launched its biggest single fundraising appeal in half a century to finance the ambitious transformation. 

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Shakespeare’s Gardens by Jackie Bennett will be published by Frances Lincoln in March 2016

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