Built in 1420, Shakespeare’s Schoolroom & Guildhall – where the great playwright spent his early schooldays – has contributed richly to life in Stratford-upon-Avon and been witness to countless fascinating chapters of history. However, as a result of the current Covid-19 outbreak 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 the First and Second World Wars, 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 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 doors it invites all to come and mark the 600th anniversary of one of the most atmospheric and historically rich buildings in Stratford-upon-Avon.