Stratford-Upon-Avon is a bustling modern town, but what strikes you as you walk through the town centre are the many timber-framed Tudor houses intermingled with the familiar high-street shops. But why were houses built like this in the Tudor period and how were they constructed?
The Tudor period spanned the 16th and 17th centuries when, for the first time, buildings that were not specifically designed for the upper classes could be said to have a distinctive architectural style, ranging from farm buildings to labourer’s cottages.
Building Methods for Half-Timbered Houses
A typical Tudor house was half-timbered (also called timber-framed) – this means that the weight of the house was carried on a wooden frame. The space between the wooden beams was filled in with either brick or plaster. Brick only started to become a common building material during this period, and was still relatively costly. Where brick was too expensive, plaster was used as the infill between the beams in smaller houses. The plaster was whitewashed, giving houses a distinctive black-and-white appearance. The upper storeys were often designed to project over the ground floor. This was done to maximise the use of space, as the owner would be taxed according to the area of the lower floor projecting into the street.
Fireplaces and Chimneys
With the widespread adoption of coal as the fuel of choice during the period, chimneys and enclosed fireplaces were introduced; this became unavoidable, as the high volume of smoke from burning coal could not escape through a hole in the roof as had been possible with wood fires. Elaborate designs were applied to the chimneys, which were built in twisted and curved shapes and decorated in patterns with different coloured bricks. Oak panelling was widely used to decorate house interiors.
Tudor Buildings in Stratford
Examples of Tudor buildings in Stratford abound, with the most famous being Shakespeare’s birthplace, which is in Henley Street. This house was bought by Shakespeare’s father, John, in 1556. It is the house where the writer and his brothers and sisters were brought up. Another fine example is New Place in Chapel Street, where Shakespeare lived when he was not in London, and in his final years until his death in 1616. Another fine old Tudor house connected to Shakespeare is Hall's Croft which is in the street called Old Town between Stratford’s town centre and the parish church. This property was owned by William Shakespeare's daughter, Susannah, and her husband Dr John Hall.
You will see many other Tudor half-timbered houses while walking around the centre of Stratford, particularly in the High Street, Henley Street, Chapel Street and Old Town, and it is also worth exploring the numerous narrow side-streets. Many of the houses are beautifully preserved and open to the public, including the Shakespeare properties already mentioned, 40 Sheep Street (home of Tudor World), and Ann Hathaway’s cottage in nearby Shottery.
Stratford’s ancient Tudor buildings bring history to life. When you step inside one of these ancient houses, you might be viewing the same stonework that Shakespeare gazed upon while composing one of his world-famous plays!