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Closure for the first time in Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall’s 600 year history reveals fascinating past

Built in 1420 Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall has contributed richly to life in Stratford-upon-Avon and been witness to countless fascinating chapters of history. However, ironically, it is as a result of the current Covid-19 outbreak that it has had to close its doors for the first time in its history, when it should have been celebrating its 600th birthday. This historic first has led to a look back through the school archives, which reveal a fascinating story.

The archives record the fact that throughout the course of World War I and World War II, the building remained open and in use as a classroom. Stepping further back into the 18th century, despite numerous outbreaks of smallpox, the building remained open. During one of the worst outbreaks, which took place in 1736, it even became a place of refuge for the boys attending the school.

On one of the end beams in the Georgian classroom are three sets of initials, which are believed to be those of the only three boys to survive the 1736 smallpox outbreak. This episode had a particularly devastating impact on Stratford-Upon-Avon, with guards on the road preventing people from Shottery coming into the town. As the Headmaster of the time, Reverend Joseph Greene wrote, “the smallpox is

ruining my school as fast as it can”. And it did, with the lives of most of the boys in the school lost, said to be around 12 in number. However, three boys were hidden in the small school sanatorium, which had just enough space for three beds. Their initials on the beam stand as testament to what took place and the response that was taken to save their lives.

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall will remain closed to visitors until it is safe to re-open. When it is able to again open its door it invites all to join it as it marks the 600th anniversary of one of the most atmospheric and historically rich buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon.

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Notes to Editors:

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall is the original 16th century part of King Edward VI School, which following a £1.8million restoration was opened as a visitor and heritage attraction in 2016. As the place where William Shakespeare spent his school years and first experienced theatre, the Guildhall and Schoolroom has been described as “one of the most atmospheric, magical and important buildings in the whole of Britain” by historian and broadcaster, Michael Wood.

Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall was named visitor Best Visitor Attraction 2017 in the Coventry & Warwickshire Tourism & Culture Awards. In 2018 it won the Team of the Year award in the Pride of Stratford Awards. It won a silver award in the West Midlands Tourism Awards 2020 for Small Visitor Attraction of the year.

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