Monday, 23 April 2012

Shakespeare Country Tour

Shakespeare and Warwickshire Celebration Tour : April 21-22, 2012

Film footage and photos

Stratford-upon-Avon - Birthday procession, Mary Arden's farm, Aston Cantlowe Church, Henley-in-Arden, Warwick and Upton House

The Shakespeare World Festival started on 21 April in Stratford-on-Avon with his Birthday celebrations (two days early). We witnessed the well-attended ceremonies and procession, with a couple of marching bands and the unfurling of the international flags.  I was particularly pleased by a Chinese delegation with swirling dragon and some Japanese in full traditional attire and make-up.

Then we made our escape to Mary Arden’s Tudor Farm, the farm of Shakespeare’s mother, three miles from Stratford glad to get away from the milling crowds, left without a huge amount of magic to enjoy.   We were not disappointed.  “Mary Arden’s Farm” knows what people really want and delivers it -  superbly.  I would rate it as one of the top tourist attractions in the world. It is relevant too in terms of teaching about "low carbon living". Its animals and birds are captivating.

The Delights of Mary Arden’s “Living Tudor Farm”
The Arden Tudor farm is about four miles from Stratford, in the hamlet ("village without a church") of Wilmcote. The real Arden farmhouse, Glebe Farm, stands next to the larger yeoman Palmer's Farm that was always believed to be the Arden’s farm until the 1990s. Both these farms have now been brought to life as “living Tudor farms” by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

This property was inherited by Robert Arden from his wealthy ancestors the Ardens. Robert married Mary Webb of Stratford, daughter of (Sir?) Henry Webb, who may have served the Queen, Katharine Parr at Court. Mary Webb was the sister of Abigail Webb, William Shakespeare’s other grandmother in Snitterfield, who he knew until she died in 1590.

Robert and Mary Arden were the parents of Shakespeare’s mother Mary.  After Mrs Mary Arden (nee Webb’s) died, Robert Arden  seemingly married his blood niece (also related by marriage), widow Agnes Hill, the daughter of his sister Grace Webb (nee Arden). So Mary Arden’s stepmother, Agnes Arden, who ran the Wilmcote Farm after Robert died, was also her first cousin - and the first cousin of John Shakespeare too.

Interestingly, William Shakespeare’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth Nash married second Sir John Bernard of Abington, a fine house in Northampton. He was the only son of Baldwin Barnard by his second wife, Eleanor Fullwood of Ford Hall, Warwickshire. Eleanor's great-grandmother was the same Agnes Hill or Agnes Webb, later Agnes Arden - the stepmother of William Shakespeare's mother, Mary Arden. So Sir John Barnard was also a distant blood cousin of William Shakespeare since both were “Webbs”.   This indicates that the Wilmcote farm family (the Hill-Ardens) continued being close to the Shakespeares - all of them being close “Webb-Arden cousins”.

This Tudor farm is a living, inspiring, working example of how to live sustainably :  the Tudors aimed for complete self-sufficiency. When their animals were slaughtered in the autumn to save feeding them over winter, everything was fully used. Of course, edible meat ran out by Lent, which is why people lived on beans. Apparently, no shopping was needed by the pious Ardens. Instead, the family and their uniformed, live-in servants would walk about two miles across the fields to their local church at Aston Cantlowe which is where Mary Arden married John Shakespeare, William’s father.  

There was no running water and no electricity until only recently at the Arden farm. Water had to carried in by the women from the well in the garden. The Ardens and their servants used so much energy under taking their tasks, that they burnt about 5000 calories a day, so a lot of bread, pastry and cakes were baked.  William Shakespeare explains how to make cakes, at the start of “Troilus and Cressida” using “fine flour”.  At the farm, they told me that fine flour was made by passing it through a muslin cloth.

The Webb-Ardens could walk for over an hour into Stratford or Snitterfield to visit Shakespeare-Webb relatives, and at May Day probably danced round the Maypole, in Stratford, banned later by the Puritans. Now and then, they had to got to Stratford market to buy things they could not make.

Surely William Shakespeere knew and loved his mother’s home farm as his cousin, Agnes, ran it, after Robert Arden died.  As a boy, William could have been evacuated here, during the plagues which ravaged Stratford in the early 1570s, or he was sent to his Webb grandmother, Abigail Shakespeare in Snitterfield.  He could well have spent summer holidays here, playing with his Hill cousins, working, riding across the countryside, getting to know wildlife, always observing “the surface of the earth”.  It is very peaceful and close to nature.  

We saw Tudor cooking demonstrations - offered by the delightfully costumed servants. We talked with them about how water was boiled in a cauldron over the fire in the morning, how bread and cakes were made in an outside oven in the garden. Food is cooked authentically on the farms each day for the staff, who eat lunch together - as the Tudors would have done.

We saw the herbal “Apothecary’s Garden” laid out in circles according to the Zodiac and the kitchen gardens being planted for vegetables.  We saw farm carts, delightful farm animals and several barns.  The Tudor farm’s way life was very similar that in the high, remote Alps, lived by women who have died over the past fifty years. It is a way of life that persists all over the world in poorer countries and survives in remote areas of Eastern Europe even today. No doubt, as in the Alps, the highlight of the Webb-Arden women’s year was a tending a fertile kitchen garden, in the sun wearing a broad straw hat. This is also the central image in Shakespeare’s work too:  the benevolent sun, being able to work outside, weeding a fertile kitchen, or flower garden.  I can understand that this desire must have been very deep in Webb-Arden female’ psyches - and why. It meant a more varied and better diet after the deprivations of winter.

The falconry demonstration at Mary Arden’s farm (undertaken daily) is, for me, is quite unforgettable.  A green costumed “master falconer” (just like Robin Hood) brilliantly explained the background to medieval hunting birds including , buzzards, owls, sparrowhawks and falcons and how they were used in Elizabethan times, who could own which birds (ownership of hunting birds was ranked according to someone’s class).

He informed us that the barn owl is white with hearing so good it can hear the heart of a mouse beating a field away.  It is certainly an agent of death - for mice.  Because it is silent, Elizabethans thought barn owls were the ghosts of the dead, suddenly appearing out of the dark e.g. in graveyards.  He also clarified that the famous “tu whit, tu woo” owl sound, quoted by Shakespeare in his songs, is only made by tawny owl pairs, talking to one another (the sound is not made by just one owl).  Shakespeare’s attitudes to owl - he linked them to “bad omens” - reflected the superstitions of the people of Warwickshire about owls haunting graveyards - as white ghosts of the dead. 

The falconer showed us his delightful white female barn owl, Millie, who flew over our heads silently, her wings literally inches from our hair.  We could feel the flap of her wings without any sound.   Apparently at weddings, she can be hired to deliver the wedding ring to the groom, flying down the aisle of the church “while the congregation has a collective heart attack”. Then we met his huge, comic great eagle owl, native to Britain but rare because people shoot them, for no reason. He refused to fly but walked around squarking for food on huge great black talons.  Loud laughter did not upset him.

Finally the falconer, using a lure, which is bait on a long string, swung around the head, flew his peregrine falcon - the fastest bird on the planet able to reach a speed of 200mph.  The peregrine falcon long used in Asia for hunting was first brought back to England by the Crusaders as a bird of prey. It is a fantastic, if small, bird. We witnessed three times it 'stoop’ onto the lure from the tops of the farm buildings, plunging down down in a perfect and artistic "arc". Apparently the falcon decides which line to take in advance - and then executes it. So if one comes towards you  - duck - but do not move to right of left.  The peregrine falcon is breathtakingly sure, bold, fast and streamlined and was designated for use by Earls. Its eyesight is two and a half times more powerful than that of human beings.

William Shakespeare clearly enjoyed this bird for its speed, sharp sight, agility and boldness and put it on his coat of arms - holding a spear - which looks rather like a pen. I think his falcon originates from the Webb family arms (John Shakespare was also a Webb). In heraldry, it can signify “Crusades to Palestine”. Did Shakespeare want, in his writing, to ressemble this bird of the nobility - fast, bold and breathtakingly elegant - and so self-assured?

There are many lines in his plays about the falcon’s speed and nobility (see Shakespearean quotes below). I can now understand why.

Henley-in-Arden and the vanished “Forest of Arden”
We went on to picturesque Henley-in-Arden, once the heart, in a clearing, of The Forest of Arden like the Weald of Kent. The Forest of Arden has now completely vanished but there are remains of it in the timbers of its many ancient buildings, lining the fine main street. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the Forest of Arden was being "developed" or rather eradicated.  Henley-in-Arden and Tamworth were the heart of the Anglo Saxon fiefdom of Shakespeare’s direct ancestor - Anglo Saxon nobleman, Turchill of Arden - who were not dislodged from landownership by the Normans although they built a Norman church in Henley.  

The Arden family, his descendants, no doubt drew strength from their pre-Anglo Saxon ownership of this forest and from their roots in pre-Anglo Saxon culture (Brythonic-Welsh was spoken around here until the 13th century). Their ancestors had the ability to vanish into the Forest of Arden and to be self sufficient. Shakespeare’s play, “As You Like It” describes this very skill.

I felt quite sad about the loss of Arden - or “our den” as Shakespeare also calls it.  Only seeing a magnificent bright rainbow with one portion of flaming red fire, right across where the Forest of Arden once stood, cheered me.  Of course, The Forest the Arden has been “eternalised” in “As You Like It”,  in which a simple, dull, country bumpkin character appears calls “William of Arden”.

We dined at “The Clarendon Arms” next to the “Queen and Castle” opposite the gatehouse of Kenilworth Castle whose red brick loomed out of the dusk, with its half-sad and half-romantic silhouette.  Rooms (which can be visited) inside the intact gatehouse were created for Queen Elizabeth 1 by then owner Robert Dudley.  His “ruined love” for his Queen is like the walls of the tumbled down house, but still somehow fine. The actual house is in some sense still standing, just. It reminded me that the Calvinist Dudley family was firmly behind the “reformed” influence on the Elizabethan age.

Warwick - view of the Castle (photos to follow)
We found unforgettable Mill Lane in Warwick which is a medieval cul-de-sac. Luckily, the privately owned mill garden at its bottom, on the weir, below the mighty walls of Warwick Castle was open for visitors (for £1.50) - and a more awesome and historic place in England, or the world, cannot exist.  From the delightful garden with its various summerhouses, there is a surreal view upwards, of the vertical ramparts of medieval Warwick Castle, a view straight out of a fairy tale, or even Lord of the Rings. In the massive Round Tower, Warwick the Kingmaker imprisoned his King, until he acceded to his demands.

St Mary’s Collegiate Church,Warwick
Magnificent, too, is St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Warwick which, in size falls between a large parish church and a Cathedral. It is not the Warwickshire’s Cathedral  - although it feels like it.  The Cathedral of Warwickshire was medieval, now modern, Coventry Cathedral. We attended the Sunday Morning Service which was traditional and had a choir. The accoustic, due to the vaulted roof seems unequalled. The dignity and  beauty of its choir stalls and sanctuary are barely matched in England.  The Dudley’s “ Bear and Ragged Staff” emblem in stone still dominates above the entrance its magnificent side chapel, The Beauchamp Chapel. This houses the tombs of Lettice Knollys, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester and Elizabeth’s 1st’s favourite “Warwick the Kingmaker” and Ambrose Dudley, Robert’s brother.

Having visited Warwick, I better understand why Shakespeare was always musing about princes and principalities. Warwick and its environs were a kind of romantic principality reminiscent of fairy tales. This Church played a central role in the life of the Earls of Warwick. Warwick Castle itself is one of the finest in England. We did not see the crypt in St Mary’s with its mighty memorial to Lord Brooke, Earl of Warwick and Recorder of Stratford  Fulke Greville, Elizabethan and Jacobean statesman and poet  He is said to have reported that he wished to be remembered as “Shakespeare’s master” - whatever that means. 

Reportedly another fascinating and unforgettable place in Warwick is “Lord Leicester’s Hospital”, an Elizabethan home set up for retired soldiers by Robert Dudley, in 1571.

Upton House, near Banbury
We had lunch in the restaurant of Upton House (National Trust).  I think the restaurant is the best part of this house - due to having a wonderful wall collection of Spode “Italian Blue” crockery all on display behind the counter. The food is excellent too.  

Upton House is set out like a 1930’s weekend house party - given by Shell (oil company) heir. There is one fine Canaletto painting of Venice and some reasonable drawing rooms, but the rest of the house is not terribly impressive. The blinds are kept closed, so one cannot enjoy the views of the garden from the house.  Probably art lovers would like this house best?

People are invited to play 1930s music on the grand piano. I played a Gershwin piece in 1930s style to a room of 40 milling people, who were otherwise not really “catching the 30s atmosphere”. A little Japanese girl seemed intriqued and inspired and the custodians seemed appreciative. More 1930s costumes and more 1930s music throughout the house would have helped “set the scene”.  

There is one rather interesting room displaying 1930s advertising posters about places in England to visit - published by Shell - to get people to buy and use motor cars (petrol).  Some of the places advertised, I have  never heard of.

These attractions were no doubt rather remote and could not have be reached by train which in the 1930s reached many villages in England, now inaccessible without owning a car.  I suddenly realised that the oil industry must have either invented or worked very hard to engender  “wanderlust” in people - creating the massive ongoing tourist industry. Oil and tourism go hand in hand.

Stratford-upon-Avon and Upton House could learn from Mary Arden’s Farm about what modern visitors really want for their money, time and devotion. It is something I would call “taste and class” - a touch of costumed, authentic past, a lesson on “living sustainably” and some unusual knowledge or insight into some craft that both educates and inspires.

Shakespearean quotations about falcons

Do these indicate that the Poet himself flew falcons for an Earl - or that he watched an Earl's master falconer train his falcons  
NB Only Earls were permitted to hunt using falcons

This said, he shakes aloft his Roman blade,
Which, like a falcon towering in the skies,
Coucheth the fowl below with his wings' shade,
Thought: Falcon's height engenders fear in other birds

Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer's voice,
To lure this tassel-gentle back again!
Thought: Falcon master's power over a tamed falcon
Romeo and Juliet

As confident as is the falcon's flight
Against a bird, do I with Mowbray fight.
Thought: Confidence of the falcon
Richard II

Harmless Lucretia, marking what he tells
With trembling fear, as fowl hears falcon's bells.
Thought: Fear of other birds of the falcon's bells

Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And 'tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty.
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg'd,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come, and know her keeper's call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat, and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat to-day, nor none shall eat;
Thought: taming a wife is like taming a disobedient falcon - bribe it with food
Taming of the Shrew 
("Haggard" comes from Old French for wild - a "haggard" is a falcon which reached maturity before capture)

As falcon to the lure, away she flies;
The grass stoops not, she treads on it so light;
Thought: Lightness and flight of the falcon
Venus and Adonis 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Alison
    I loved the farm. A long time ago I wrote a novella about a rural valley community. There is something satisfying about this. Going to post something in the future about Herbert and Herbs from The Country Parson.
    Alison G