Reached 717km, today my 101km ride made me pass through two well known cities, Stratford which is William Shakespeare home town and Coventry which has greatly suffered during WWII. Have a look to the postcards I send from these two cities along with some interesting facts about it.
There’s much more to Stratford upon Avon than Shakespeare, however – with Anglo-Saxon origins, the town was already a thriving population centre by the time the market charters were granted in 1196.
Shakespeare’s house itself is still there in Henley Street. Bought by his father in 1556, the bard was born there eight years later, and Shakespeare descendants continued to live there for over a hundred years until his granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard died in 1670. She left the cottage to Shakespeare’s great-nephew, Thomas Hart, and the property remained in the wider family.
Unusually for Victorian renovations of historical monuments, Edward Gibbs’ restoration took the house closer to its original Tudor structure than it had been for some time. Today, it’s next door to the Shakespeare Centre, which opened in 1964.
Theatres and Stratford go back a long way too – celebrated 18th century actor David Garrick built a wooden structure for a Shakespeare Jubilee in 1769, not far from where the modern-day RSC Theatre stands now. Together with The Swan, built on an Elizabethan theatre model, and The Other Place, Stratford has some of the finest acting spaces in the UK.
You could be forgiven for thinking that you’ve arrived in a new town from the architecture around you, but the Coventry Blitz of November 1940 did for most of the old buildings, including the beautiful 14th century Cathedral.
Like many of the beautiful historic towns you’ve already seen on your travels, the Romans had a hand in the first civilised settlement. Another formed around a Saxon nunnery, although King Canute – the one that tried to turn back the sea – left that in ruins in 1016. However, Lady Godiva (she of the naked horse ride through the town) and her husband built a small town on the ruins, and by the 14th century, it was an important market town, gaining its charter in 1345.
By Tudor times, Coventry was a site of artistic excellence as well, with prestigious theatres. It’s widely thought that the plays Shakespeare saw there during his teens inspired him in his own works. Coventry continued to thrive, becoming a major trading and later manufacturing centre. The first council houses were let to tenants here in 1917, and Coventry’s reputation as an industrial base continued to soar.
The town suffered more damage during the war than any other English town other than London, Hull, or Plymouth, and it was selected for destruction primarily because of its almost untouched mediaeval heart. The new town, however, and especially the new St. Michael’s Cathedral – consecrated in 1962 with a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem to mark the occasion – show that Coventry is growing and thriving.