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The Old Market House
The Old Market House
- And this is how the locals saw the first 25 years of Elizabeth I

(These are actual events researched from the archives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and written in Narrative form by Robert Bearman.
Reprinted for the Internet by QuinSolve with kind permission of the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald.)

The Old Market House, where John Shakespeare would have traded with other glovers
(burnt down in 1826)


November 1558 - November 1559
Late in November news arrived of the death of Queen Mary and the accession of her sister, Elizabeth. The deaths of our last two monarchs, Henry VIII and Edward VI, have brought such enormous changes in religious worship that we all feel that more changes will soon be on the way. Things could scarcely get worse: for the past four years news has been filtering through to us of Puritans burnt at the stake in Coventry, Gloucester, Oxford, Banbury and Northampton, and we all thought it only a matter of time before similar things would be occurring in Stratford. We all hope that the new queen will put an end to this, although a lot of people in the town are equally afraid we might go back to the Puritanism of Edward VI's reign.
Of more immediate concern, we were all surprised to hear that in April this year one of our Aldermen, Richard Symonds, was fined for letting his ducks and pigs wander about in the streets. Even more disturbing was the fining of Robert Perrot, the high bailiff this year, for making and selling unwholesome beer; and so many people were charged with allowing their dogs out without muzzles that the bye-law against this had to be re-imposed. Dog-owners were also reminded that bitches on heat also had to be kept indoors.
In the September elections, John Shakespeare, a new arrival from Snitterfield, was the only one of the four constables asked to continue in office. He was reminded, however, to enforce the bye-law that young un-married men should not come into the town with daggers and other offensive weapons: with so many street brawls, there is bound to be a serious injury sooner or later if the constables are not more watchful.  


Stratford-upon-Avon Old Town Map One of the first casualties of the new religious order which Elizabeth is trying to establish is our vicar, Roger Dyos. Appointed during the last foreign reign for his staunch Catholic views, the corporation are now refusing to pay his salary and we understand he is about to leave the town, even though the corporation have received a stiff letter of protest from Sir Robert Throckmorton.  


November 1559 - November 1560
There seems to be no end to street violence. At the October court this year new depths were reached when Ralph Cawdry who had only just been fined for fighting with a man from Wootton Wawen, was elected High Bailiff! Much of the trouble, of course, is caused by foreigners. One of Mr. Harbage`s servants, for instance, an Irishman, was prosecuted as one of the brawlers, and the constables thought that it was worthwhile reporting a Welshman living idly and supiciously in Sheep Street. One of the cases concerned the seemingly insoluble problem of the street parking, Robert Rogers being persistently leaving his carts in front of his house.


November 1560 - November 1561
A problem which is causing increasing concern to the Corporation is refuse disposal. There are perfectly good muck heaps at the bottom of Bridge Street, Sheep Street, and the top of Scholar`s Lane and Greenhill Street, yet people will keep making dunghills over the town. Eight people were fined at the April Court (including the bailiff)for piling their muck outside of their front doors: four others had been making a heap outside the unfortunate Richard Lane`s barn in Ely Street and five others had been doing the same next to the Guild Chapel. We hope heavy fines will be doing something to stop this unpleasant practice.
Another cause of concern, the one which is a burden on the rates, is the admission of strangers on the town, who have been taking cheap lodgings without permission who then end up receiving poor relief at our expense. Stephen Thatcher was found guilty of taking in lodgers of this kind, and the Corporation decided to give other offenders two weeks` notice to get rid of their tenants. A new bye-law makes it necessary to get a license to take in tenants from outside the town, and no-one at all will be able to provide accommodation for any vagrant women who are expecting children.
In January our new vicar John Bretchgirdle arrived. We understand he is a graduate of Oxford University, and formally schoolmaster of Witton in Norwich and vicar of Great Budbrooke in the same county. We hope we will have none of the controversies which his predecessor, the Romanist, Roger Dyos, brought to the town. We also heard of this year the death out at Snitterfield of Richard Shakespeare, the father of John, the well known member of the Corporation, who this year advanced his municipal career a little further by securing election as Chamberlain.


November 1561 - November 1562
At Christmas, our new lord of the manor, Ambros Dudley, was made Earl of Warwick. Many can remember how, less than 10 years ago, his father, John, Duke of Northumberland, was executed for high treason for trying to put his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne instead of Mary. Now we have a new queen, the family has been restored to favour. Robert Dudley (younger brother of Ambrose) is also much in favour and will no doubt soon be mane a peer.
We were reminded this year of the misfortune that could befall any of us as the result of a fire. A beggar from Shipston, Thomas Lett, passed through the town with a note explaining how he had been a hard-working weaver but he had lost everything in a disastrous fire. The note he had carried was to request our constables to allow him to beg in the town, a request we could hardly refuse.


November 1562 - November 1563
In July we heard that the lord of the manor, Ambrose Earl of Warwick, had been seriously wounded in the thigh by an arquebus shot at the siege of Le Havre. He had been beleaguered there since the previous November, suffering the most terrible privations and we had been anxiously awaiting news. We hope he will soon recover.
All sorts of rumours have been circulating in the town about William Bott and his relations with William Clopton. As a result of court proceedings in London, Bott, a thoroughly unpleasant character, has apparently managed to get his hands on the Clopton estates at the expense of the young William Clopton, who has only just come into his inheritance. There seems to be something in this, because, in February, Clopton also sold to Bott his Principal house in Stratford called New Place.
The Corporation has found it necessary to make new bye-laws about the filth in the streets, in response to alarming reports we have been receiving about the plague in London. It has been ordered that butchers give up the rather unpleasant custom of throwing the heads and innards of their slaughtered animals in the streets.

William Shakespeare (23 Apr 1564 - 23 Apr 1616)


November 1563 - November 1564
This has been a terrible year. The plague eventually arrived in Stratford on 11 July and before the end of the year over 200 people had been buried, about one fifth of the population of the town. Feelings have been running high and even the town clerk, Richard Symonds, has been` accused of spreading the disease by allowing his servant to run around the town whilst sick. Only a few families like John Shakespeare's have escaped entirely. His son, William, born in April, is still alive, though some Catholic think he is tempting Providence, for, as Chamberlain, he has been supervising the defacing of the images in the Guild Chapel pulling down the rood loft and removing other popish relics. We have had difficulty getting people to fill public office. In September John Wheler was elected as high bailiff but promptly refused to serve. Luckily Richard Hill stepped in to fill the breach, but only on the understanding Wheler will serve next year.


November 1564 - November 1565
A new master for the Grammar School was appointed this year, John Brownsword. He had been teaching previously in Macclesfield and Warwick and we understand that he is a former pupil and close friend of our vicar, John Bretchgirdle. He arrived in the town towards the end of Mach and on 1 April entered into the usual agreement to teach any boys from the town who apply to him.
On 20 June John Bretchgirdle died, having been vicar for only 3 1/2 years. The new vicar will be William Smart.
There has been a scandal in the Council Chamber this year. William Bott, who last year did his best to deprive William Clopton of his inheritance, at the same time managed to get himself appointed as an alderman without any previous service on the Council. We suspected then that he had friends in high places, but nothing could be proved. However, less than 12 months later the Corporation have managed to get rid of him. In May he was accused of libelling the Bailiff and Corporation, saying there was not an honest man amongst them; and, as he did not appear to defend himself, he was expelled from the Council. Nobody will regret his going. His place will be taken by a much more reliable man, John Shakespeare.


November 1565 - November 1566
This year the Midlands was honoured with the first visit by our Queen. We hoped she might call here but this was not to be; she arrived at Coventry on 17 August and went on to visit the Earl of Leicester at Kenilworth two days later. On 22 August she arrived at Warwick and many people from Stratford took the opportunity of going over to see her. On 24 August she passed even nearer the town, stopping at Charlecote to knight Master Thomas Lucy, before moving quickly on to Broughton and Oxford the same day.
We did, however, receive one distinguished visitor soon afterwards. On 9 September, Philip, the 12-year-old son of the well-known Sir Henry Sidney, and nephew of the Early of Leicester, stopped here on the way from Oxford to Shrewsbury, where he is at school.


November 1566 - November 1567
We had a ridiculous situation at the Council elections in September. There were three candidates for bailiff, Robert Perrott, John Shakespeare and Ralph Cawdry. Perrott received 16 votes, Shakespeare 3 and Cawdry none, but on the refusal of the first two to take office, Cawdry was declared elected. It seems very strange to us, and a sad reflection on members of the Corporation, that the highest civic office has been bestowed on somebody who could not command a single vote.


November 1567 - November 1568
The problem of unwillingness to serve on the Corporation has been partially solved. John Shakespeare was persuaded to take on the office of bailiff this year and a new bye-law has been made imposing a fine of 20s on anyone who refuses to serve on the Council or, if elected, as an alderman or high bailiff. Let us hope this will make people a little more public-spirited.


November 1568 - November 1569
The new bye-law about attendance at Council meetings is not working too well. Alderman Perrott has taken to absenting himself from Corporation meetings, and even though he was fined a massive sum of £20 in September, with a further £5 for every subsequent default, he still refuses both to pay the fine and attend meetings. We presume he must have a reason but it has not yet been declared.
In April an important social event took place in the town when the High Bailiffs new daughter, Joan Shakespeare, was baptised in the parish church. A large crowd witnessed the happy event, including of course the baby's four year old brother, William, who behaved very well.
An interesting development during John Shakespeare's term of office has been the encouragement of travelling players who visit the town from time to time. In August the Queen's players were here and gave a performance before the Bailiff and Corporation in the Guild Hall for which they were paid 9 shillings; the Earl of Worcester's Company was also in town soon afterwards but were thought by the Corporation to deserve only 1 shilling. Let us hope that this patronage will continue, as these visits certainly help to liven up the town a little.
The escape from Scotland of Mary Queen of Scots and her arrival in England has caused a lot of unrest in the country and the justice have been visiting the local towns to take note of those who can serve as soldiers if required and to ensure that their weaponry is in good order. They arrived here in the late summer and found little to complain about.


November 1569 - November 1570
The saga of Alderman Perrott continues: He has refused to attend any of the meetings over the last 12 months, and has been clocking up additional fines of £5 a time.
As expected the flight of Mary Queen of Scots did lead to trouble and in November a Catholic rebellion broke out in the north. Our local levies were called up before the end of the month under the command of the Earl of Warwick, and they had actually begun to march north when the news arrived of the collapse of the rebellion. Anti-Catholic feeling has been running high as a result, and the vicar, William Butcher, has been deprived of his living. He was always a little suspect in his views, and a more reliable person, in the shape of Henry Heycroft, has been elected to fill his place. The schoolmaster, John Acton, has also had to leave the town as a result of the rebellion: his successor will be Walter Roche.


November 1570 - November 1571
The problem of Alderman Perrott has eventually been resolved. It seems that he had taken an oath, presumably on religious grounds, never again to be a member of the Corporation, and, after going into the case thoroughly, a group of arbitrators, including Sir Thomas Lucy, from neighbouring Charlecote, decided that he ought to be excused from serving on the payment of £13 with a further £40 to be paid in instalments. Everyone is now glad the matter is settled, even though it cost the Corporation £1 17s 4d in food and board for the arbitrators at the Bear.
The vicar got married this year to Emma Careless. It still seems strange to some of us that this is now allowed.
Our new Bailiff this year is Adrian Quiney with John Shakespeare as chief alderman.


November 1571 - November 1572
There has been much coming and going between Stratford and London by members of the Corporation. It is said they are trying to get extra privileges for the town from the Earl of Warwick, the lord of the manor, but the whole thing is rather confused and no-one outside the council chambers seems to be too sure about what is going on.
In the summer the Queen was in the Midlands again. On 11 August large crowds from Stratford went over to the civic reception given for her at Warwick. She went on to Kenilworth on the 13th, but surprised everyone by suddenly returning to Warwick on the 16th. Thomas Fisher, whose house she visited, was caught in bed with a bad attack of gout! A firework display was held in the castle on the 17th and the following day she went back to Kenilworth. She passed through Charlecote on her way home the following weekend.


November 1572 - November 1573
This has ben quite a year. In October we had a visit from the Earl of Leicester`s company of travelling players, to whom the bailiff gave 5s 8d. They are the leading dramatic company in England headed by the famous actor James Burbage.
The number of stray animals in the town is causing considerable concern, and in October the Corporation agreed to appoint someone who would impound all stray horses, pigs, geese, ducks and cattle found within the borough, especially on the Bancroft.


November 1573 - November 1574
Another quiet year. In January, Thomas Lucy of Charlecote married Dorothy Arnold, daughter of Sir Nicholas Arnold. on a sadder note, a little child, the son of a minstrel, John Knowles, born in the town where he and his wife were here in July, died within a week.
Unpleasant rumours are reaching us from Warwick that the executors of ThomasOken are refusing to prove his will. Oken died in July of last year having left money to charitable uses both in Stratford and Warwick. The executors have been so slow in taking action that corruption of some sort is suspected.


November 1574 - November 1575
The Queen is becoming quite a regular visitor to the Midlands. From 9-27 July she has been visiting the Lord of Leicester again at Kenilworth, wearing out the court in a succession of hunts, dances and firework displays.
The despute over Oken`s will has been settled at last and in January our Bailiff and Corporation went over to Warwick to fetch the £40 which he left to the town. The money is to be used as loans to help eight young men set up in some trade or craft. This will be a great help in the worsening economic climate.
The Earl of Warwick`s players were here in the summer, and performed so well that the Corporation gave them the handsome sum of 17s.
We are relieved to note that William Wedgewood has left the town. He arrived in Stratford a few years back (having deserted his wife in Warwick), setting up house with another women in Henley Street. He was proved very troublesome to his neighbours, after a few years he decided to return to Warwick. We understand that the authorities are trying to keep him out, but, for our sake, we hope they fail.


November 1575 - November 1576
We had a visit from the government inspector concerning the administration of the Status of Caps. This measure, designed to stimulate the wool trade by making it compulsory for men to wear woollen caps on Sundays and Holy Days, is not really well enough known and by no means universally observed. Other visitors were JPs from Warwick, who cost us 11s 8d in wine and sugar while staying in Stratford deciding what taxes we should pay!
There was a quiet wedding in December between Abraham Sturley and the 14-year-old daughter of the high bailiff, Richard Hill. Their first child is expected in August.
Much to our surprise, one of our former vicars, Roger Dyos (appointed as a Catholic in the previous reign) has been able to recover his unpaid salary due to him when he hurriedly left the town in 1559. The Corporation spent a good deal of money in legal fees, trying to avoid repayment, but it seems that Dyos now has influencial friends.


November 1576 - November 1577
The economic situation is getting worse and the problem of providing for the poor more serious. This year every alderman had to give 2d and every burgess 1d to relieve the situation. What is really annoying is that some people have evidently been abusing what welfare exists, and a new rule has had to be made that every applicant for admission to the almshouses must make a personal appearance before the Corporation. There have been a number of visitors this year. Lord Chandos was here in the summer and was entertained by the High Bailiff (even though some complained about the cost of 3s 8d being spent on wine, ginger and lemons). The new bishop of Worcester, John Whitgift, was also here in October, making notes of any non-comformity. The Queen is particularly anxious to suppress the extreme Puritans at the moment and to get lists of those not attending church. He stayed at the Swan in Bridge Street, costing the Corporation a further 8s 8d in wine. He made his report on 5 November but due to an administration mix-up he could not make it as full as he had wished. We cannot expect, however, to get off as lightly as this every time. At the very end of the year, a new beadle was appointed. The Bailiff is to provide his board and each alderman is to contribute 4d quarterly and each burgess 2d for his salary. His coat and hose will be supplied by the chamberlain.
We have noted, incidentally, that John Shakespeare has stopped coming to the Council meetings. He is said to have fallen on hard times just as he was about to claim a coat of arms. The Earl of Leicester`s players were here in October, giving another fine performance.

Francis Drake cimcumnavigates the globe (1577 - 80)


November 1577 - November 1578
There was an extraordinary scene in the Council Chamber on 15 January when Alderman Ralph Cawdry brought his son William before the assembled Corporation to show them that his left ear had been mutilated by a kick from a horse. Quite what the alderman had hoped to achieve by this is uncertain, but he is known to be contemplating taking legel action.
John Shakespeare`s affairs are not improving: in fact, it is said that he has begun morgaging his wife`s inheritance. In January when each alderman was asked to pay 6s 8d towards the cost of weaponry for the defence of the town, his contribution was reduced to 3s 4d. Even so, he has not paid it, and there seems little prospect over his ever being able to.
The Earl of Worcester`s players were here around Christmas, but were not very well received.


November 1578 - November 1579
On 11 February we had the first visit from a new company of travelling players under the patronage of Lord Strange, the eldest son of the Earl of Derby. The Corporation were not over-impressed by the performance and only gave them 5 shillings. The Bidge is causing problems again. Following floods in the winter, workmen were busy for two weeks in March repairing the damage at considerable expense.
In both June and October our soldiers were called out for an inspection of their weapons and equipment at Warwick. The reason for the government's concern is, of course, the general unrest in the country ot the prospect of the Queen marrying a Catholic, the Duke of Alencon. The situation has been very tense and not least here. Three meetings of the Corporation had to be abandoned for lack of numbers, as nobody wants to commit himself while everything is so uncertain. A major outbreak of violence here is still very much a possibility, despite the appeal made in September to those attending the market, to leave their weapons at their inns. It will only need a spark to set off a major riot.


November 1579 - November 1580
On 31 May a very fashionable wedding took place at the parish church between Joyce, the 17-year-old daughter of William Clopton of Clopton House and George Carew, aged 25, son of George Carew, Dean of Windsor. The bridegroom has a reputation as a fearless soldier with good Protestant beliefs, having served in Ireland since 1574.
The unease over the French marriage gradually subsided, although in December the bailiff had disscusions with Sir John Hubaud about how best to keep the troublesome men from Henly-in-Arden out of the town, and in April another inspection of our military was carried out by the royal commissioners. In December the river claimed another victim, this time Katherine Hamlet of Tiddington, who went down to the water`s edge with a heavy pail and over-balanced into the river.
In early August we heard news of Richard Debdale of Shottery. Many will remember how, as an avowed Catholic, he had fled the country in 1575, but, on 29 July last whilst trying to re-enter the country as a Catholic missionary, he was arrested at Dover and imprisoned. During his examination it came out that he had previously entrusted a letter and various tokens for his parents to Thomas Cottam, another Catholic missionary coming into the country; he turns out to be none other than the brother of John Cottam, our new schoolmaster. This has caused a great deal of embarrassment and it is not expected that John Cottam can remain here very long.
In these difficult times it is very gratifying to note that in September Adrian Quiney granted an annuity (after his death) of 13s 4d to the Corporation, half to be distributed to the almsfolk and the remainder to be used as the Corporation sees fit.


November 1580 - November 1581
Amongst the local wills this year was that of Richard Hathaway - the Shottery farmer, who died in September. His eldest daughter, Anne, now aged 25, is to get £6 13s 4d if and when she marries. News about poor Robert Debdale arrives from time to time. He has been given the usual tortures, but the authorities have not prevented communication from his parents. As recently as 3 November William Greenway, the Stratford carrier, set off for London with a letter, two cheeses, a loaf and 5 shillings for him.


November 1581 - November 1582
Three people were drowned in the winter floods this year, William Mackerel, Michael Walton and one of the sons of Edward Ingram who rents the fishing rights below the mill.
The election of the bailiff this year was the cause of some excitement. There were three candidates, John Saddler, Adrian Quiney and George Whateley. Quiney was beaten into second place, mainly because his son Richard voted against him. In the end Saddler, who was declared the winner, withdrew (he is in very bad health) and Quiney took office in October.
Thomas Cottam, the Catholic priest imprisoned in London, was executed on 30 May. As expected, his brother John, our schoolmaster, could not live down the scandal and left the town hurriedly. He has been replaced by Alexander Aspinall.
There was a serious fire this year which did extensive damage to Adrian Quiney`s property. The Corporation voted him six elm trees to repair the damage, and, as a precaution against further outbreaks, every alderman is required to provide two leather buckets and every burgess one.
There has been a good deal of activity this year in an attempt to extend the powers of the Corporation which is regarded as essential if we are to recover from the recession. Several members of the Corporation visited London to seek legel advice and then went over to Warwick to discuss the matter with the Lord of the Manor, the Earl of Warwick. He later came over to Stratford and was entertained at the Bear at considerable expense, but little progress has been made.


November 1582 - November 1583
Of the marriages this year, the gossip`s favourite has been Anne Hathaway`s. With a small dowry, she could not hope for much and so she has married William, the 18-year-old son of the luckless John Shakespeare. Once our high bailiff, he has fallen on very hard times and is beset by all sorts of trouble. The marriage was rather a hasty one as they are expecting their first child in May, But let us hope that, being eight years older than William, she will bring a steadying influence to bear and thus help to restore the family fortunes. All to often he is found to be hanging round the Guildhall watching the travelling players and, as expected, he took part in Davy Jones` amateur theatricals at Whitsun. On 17 November, 1583, we observed the 25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth`s accession with the usual public holiday.
We hear that in London the event was commemorated by a sermon delivered by our old bishop of Worcester, John Whitgift, who has just been promoted to Canterbury.

to be continued.......