Written in Black and White: The Architecture of Shakespeare’s Stratford

Half-Timbering, Shakespeare, and Ye Olde Inns

The most notable architecture in Stratford-upon-Avon is half-timber work, where buildings have an exposed wooden framework, with the rest typically filled with brick, plaster or wattle-and-daub.


Half-timbering was common in China and Japan and became especially popular France, Germany and England in the 15th and 16th centuries.

The contrast between the dark timber and the light plaster became starker than in earlier examples – decorative elements such as floral plasterwork, tile or slate inlays, carved motifs, timber chevrons and herringbone brickwork were added.

You can see most examples of half-timbered houses in the South of England and the Midlands where a stone was more difficult to come by.

Half-timbered houses often have an overhanging upper storey, which added vital space but was also a structural device. It was common courtesy in England for the man to walk on the outer side of the pavement (where there was one), where he was most likely to be splashed by the contents of chamber pots emptied from above.


The building housing the Garrick Inn dates from 1595, although there may have been a pub on the site from as early as the 14th century. Today it houses a pewter museum.

Harvard House, to the right of the Garrick Inn above, was the home of John Harvard’s (the founder of Harvard University) mother, Katherine Rogers.

Stratford-upon-Avon is most famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, and the house where William was born in 1564 remained in the Shakespeare family until 1806.

Other members of the Shakespeare family have houses dotted around the city, such as Nash’s House (inherited by Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna), and of course, his wife Anne Hathaway’s family home about a mile North of the city.

The Shakespeare Hotel is a Grade I listed building, which is the highest architectural preservation listing in the UK.


In the 19th and 20th centuries there was a Tudor architectural revival – referred to as Mock-Tudor), which was a reaction to the Victorian Gothic style. Mock-Tudor focused on the simple, rustic and less ornate aspects of Tudor buildings – keeping the steeply pitched roofs, herringbone brickwork and half-timbering, but losing a lot of the carving, inlays, and plaster motifs.


As part of our 7-day cycle tour, we take in the sights of Stratford-upon-Avon, where we visit some of the historic houses of Shakespeare’s family, now owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. We can even take in a matinee or evening performance by the Royal Shakespeare Company – what better place to see Hamlet or Macbeth than in Shakespeare’s hometown?