Pupils are still taught in Shakespeare’s historic 587-year-old half-timbered former classroom today.

But if a £1million Heritage Lottery Fund bid is successful, one of the finest surviving old schoolrooms in Britain could become open to the public for the first time.

“It became William Shakespeare’s classroom when he was educated in the 1570s,” explains Bennet Carr, headmaster of Stratford’s King Edward VI Grammar School (KES).

“John Shakespeare, William’s father, was appointed Bailiff, or Mayor in 1568, and had the right for his son to attend the school free of charge. There would have been 40-60 boys in the one class.

“It is where Shakespeare would have been taught Latin, rhetoric and Greek and was most likely to have experienced theatre for the first time, as 30 troupes came out of London.

“We would like to restore the building and open it up for the first time.

“We would continue to teach until mid-morning and open the classroom in the afternoons, weekends and holidays. It’s the first time it will ever have been opened. It’s an absolute gem.”

The simple timber-framed medieval classroom is on the second floor of the Guild Hall in Church Street and has not changed since Shakespeare’s day.

The ground floor was used as a library until last year. The Guild Hall has the first authorised painting of the Tudor Rose dating back from 1493.

Restoration work which needs to take place includes a new roof, new timbers and stone preservation work.

The Guildhall exterior.
The Guildhall exterior.
 

“The ground floor of the Guild Hall was created in 1420 and the top floor added in 1427,” explains Bennet.

“It was the civic heart of Stratford-upon-Avon pre-Reformation. The last time it was restored was in the 1890s. It’s virtually unique for a Guild Hall and needs to be preserved. It’s had hundreds of boys going in-and-out.

“For local people who have never been in it to see where Shakespeare was taught, it’s really exciting. Everyone comes to Stratford once – now there would be another reason to come down. It has the wow factor.”

The Guild Hall lottery bid will be submitted later this month as the town gets ready for Shakespeare’s 450th birthday celebrations and the school will find out if it has been successful in June.

BBC historian Michael Wood has made a film retelling the history of the Guild Hall for a future fundraising appeal.

“In 2003 Michael did a six-part documentary In Search of Shakespeare tracing his life. As part of that he came to the school and has become a really good friend of the school,” says Bennet.

“He has very kindly produced a 10-minute film briefly recording the history of the building and launching a fundraising effort. If successful we will be seeking sponsorship to match the lottery bid for anyone who would like to be involved.”

KES was founded in 1553 by Henry VIII’s only surviving son Edward VI, who died aged 15. Previously known as the Guild School it was renamed the King’s New School.

Shakespeare was born and died on the same day – April 23 – St George’s Day.

On Saturday, April 26, KES head boy Christian Van Nieuwerburgh will lead the annual birthday procession celebrating Shakespeare’s 450th birthday.

The parade through Bridge Street is followed by The Quill Pageant – where a costume character William Shakespeare hands over a symbolic quill to the head boy of KES who will use it to signal the start of the flag unfurling ceremony. He will then carry it to Holy Trinity Church, symbolising Shakespeare’s journey from the cradle to the grave.

The desk in the Council Chamber.
The desk in the Council Chamber.
 

Christian will be followed by 600 pupils – and for the first time 39 sixth form girls, who were admitted to the school last September.

It was former KES headmaster, Rev Robert de Courcy Laffan, that first initiated the annual birthday procession and laying of flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church in 1893.

“Robert de Courcy Laffan was a great friend of the Flower family who helped to restore the school building in the 1890s. He was a great education reformer. He, head boy Ralph Garlic and a representative from Shakespeare’s Birthplace decided they would walk from the school to Holy Trinity Church and lay flowers on the grave. The following year was the beginning of what has become the annual procession,” Bennet explains.

“There had been a small parade by counsellors in 1810, but the school initiated the procession. It was reported in the Times of London, newspapers in Stratford, Leamington and the Birmingham Post

“The procession has been going 121 years. Until the 1960s the head boy used to carry a quill to replace the old one on the Shakespeare bust at the church. That tradition was reintroduced last year.

“We are only a small faith school with 600 pupils and even though it’s their Easter holidays most students want to be there. It’s unfortunate that it’s the holidays – but only three students are unable to attend.

“And for the first time this year we have girls parading with us – as 39 girls joined the sixth form.

“It’s quite a sight. All the pupils will carry blue and yellow flowers and the youngest boy Dominic Ellis he will lay a laurel wreath on the actual grave. The flowers will go on the gravestone.

“The pupils lead the way with me and the staff following. Many Old Boys come back. It’s quite a spectacle. Where else would you see teenagers walking through a town each carrying a bunch of flowers?

“It’s a delightful English tradition.

“This year is particularly important being the 450th anniversary. It’s going to have added emphasis.”

Shakespeare's Birthday celebrations
Shakespeare's Birthday celebrations
 

450 years of birthday celebrations

1650 – Visitors started travelling to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespeare’s place of birth.

1824 – The Shakespeare Club marks the birthday itself (April 23) with a procession to Holy Trinity Church and a ceremonial dinner.

1893 – The boys of King Edward VI School – parade to lay flowers at Shakespeare’s grave, which becomes an annual event. Over the years the tradition grows to include the flag unfurling ceremony, quill pageant and wearing rosemary for remembrance.

Godiva to lead amazing procession

This year Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations include a huge 3.8m high birthday cake pulled by a horse drawn carriage, a 20ft Lady Godiva and the first flight of a mechanical Humming Bird.

Thousands of visitors from across the  world are due to pay tribute to Britain’s most famous playwright and poet in the town on April 26 and 27.

On the Saturday, festivities begin from 11am with the grand Birthday Procession, which parades through Stratford and finishes with the laying of flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church.

 Lady Godiva  – part of the 2012 London Olympiad – will be leading the town’s biggest ever community celebration – the People’s Pageant. Launching a regional odyssey Godiva will be sharing stories and exploring the role of women in Shakespeare’s works.

In Bancroft Gardens Godiva will meet her future lifelong companion, The Humming Bird, for the first time – an exquisite mechanical bird, capable of flying one-and-a-half kilometres

Also created by Coventry’s Imagineer Productions the bird will make its inaugural flight in a premier outdoor performance.

Val Harris, project manager of Shakespeare’s Birthday Celebrations, said: “The icing on the cake is an enormous model cake pulled by two horses and a cart.

“It’s 3.8m high and 3m in diameter, so everyone will be able to see it.

Lady Godiva
Lady Godiva
 

“It’s giving Shakespeare his birthday cake 450 years after he was born – he deserved it. It is going to be decorated by local children through a series of community workshops by Escape Community Arts.”

She said the cake was funded by a £10,550 grant from the Warwickshire County Council Footfall Fund aimed at encouraging community groups to draw people into the county’s town centres.

“We have a local bakers producing individual birthday cakes to be sold in the town centre shops on April 26 and also a giant 450 Cup-Cake Stand outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace so young people taking part can claim their cup cake.

 “Last year there was a footfall of 42,000 on the day and we hope to increase on that. It promises to be an exciting day.”

The RSC will be running free family-friendly RSC acting and theatre make-up workshops and for 50p, visitors can cross the river on the ferry listening to RSC actors reading sonnets.

More birthday cake will be served at Shakespeare’s Houses plus family picnics, tours and a performance of The Complete Works performed by resident troupe of actors, Shakespeare Aloud, in two hours.

The very first Shakespeare Week runs in schools, theatres, historic sites, museums, galleries, cinemas, and libraries all over the UK this week.

* LINKS:

www.shakespearesbirthday.org.uk

www.shakespeare.org.uk

http://shakespeareweek.org.uk