Why did Shakespeare buy New Place in 1597?
New Place was the second-largest house in Stratford-upon-Avon. When he bought the property on 4 May 1597, Shakespeare was preparing to return to his hometown as a successful playwright and businessman. New Place had been built by Sir Hugh Clopton in 1483. By the time Shakespeare acquired it, it had three storeys, five gables, two orchards and two small gardens. Between 1598 to 1602, Shakespeare was listed as a resident at New Place with his wife, Anne, and two daughters, Susanna and Judith. However, he still spent much of his time in London where he lived with the Mountjoy family as a lodger for a while. He continued as a key member of his playing company which was renamed the King’s Men when James I came to the throne.
In 1602, a second conveyance was drawn up to confirm Shakespeare’s ownership of the property. In it Shakespeare was described as a gentleman in recognition of the coat of arms he inherited after his father’s death in 1601. In 1611, William Shakespeare was living in Stratford-upon-Avon at New Place when he, along with seventy other key citizens, contributed to a fund ‘towards the charge of prosecuting the bill in Parliament for the better repair of the highways and amending divers defects in the statutes already made’. His name appears in a list of the town’s aldermen, and he is titled ‘Master’ William Shakespeare. By 1611, Shakespeare was counted among the wealthy and prosperous men in Stratford-upon-Avon, and he had made substantial investments in property in the town.
When Shakespeare died in 1616, he left New Place to his daughter, Susanna Hall. Susanna and her husband, Dr John Hall, sold their house on Church Street and lived in New Place for the remainder of their lives. When they died, the house was left to their daughter, Elizabeth. When Elizabeth died in 1670, the house was returned to the Clopton family. In the eighteenth century it was sold to Reverend Francis Gastrell. Unfortunately, Gastrell took it into his head to demolish the house in 1759, to the great disgust of many Stratford residents. A brief article in West Middlesex Advertiser and Family Journal from September 1858 described what happened:
After realizing a handsome competency in London, Shakespeare returned to his native place, purchased a house from the Clapton family, in which he died, and which house was again bought by Sir Hugh Clapton, whose executor sold it to a clergyman named Gaskell, who because he was assessed to the poor rate, cut down a celebrated mulberry tree, venerated by the inhabitants as a memento of their immortal bard, having been planted by his own hand; and this vindictive man, a disgrace to his cloth, also pulled down his house. For these malicious acts, he incurred such public odium, that he was obliged to leave the neighbourhood. In this house, Shakespeare died on his birth day, April 23 1616, having exactly completed his 52nd year.
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