Simanaitis Says

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I HAVE claimed that old guidebooks are useful for travel today. (See “Baedeker’s Handbooks for Travelers,” What was worth seeing a century ago is still worthy of attention today, provided, of course, that it’s still there.

I offer here a perfect example for visiting Shakespeare country.


Highways & byways in Shakespeare’s country, by W.H. Hutton, illustrations by Edmund H. New, Macmillian and Co., Limited, 1914, first pocket edition 1926.

Hutton’s guidebook covers a lot more than simply Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s town 100 miles northwest of London. The book has 23 chapters and its Byways aspect includes tours “From Shipston-on-Stour to Compton Verney” and “From the Four Shires Stone to Compton Winyates and Tysoe.”

These charming names remind me of Michael Flanders and Donald Swann singing in celebration of English travel on “The Slow Train,” (See “Have Some Maderia, M’Dear,”, for other Flanders and Swann lore.)

Author Hutton notes that the name Compton looms large in Shakespeare country, one reason being William Compton, c. 1482 – 1528, a prominent courtier of Henry VIII. William rose to Groom of the Stool, an influential responsibility what with having the king’s undivided attention each day.


Compton Wynyates, Tudor residence 15 miles southeast of Stratford-upon-Avon. Image from Highways & Byways in Shakespeare’s Country.

Hutton writes that William Compton began building Compton Wynyates in 1509, the year that Henry VIII became king. (Given Compton’s later title, I was tempted to say “came to the throne.”)

Compton Wynyates, Hutton notes, is a perfect example of Tudor domestic architecture. What’s more it has always belonged to the family that built it.

Hutton made this observation in 1914 and it’s still true today. In fact, research indicates that Comptons lived on the site as early as 1204 and that William’s father Edmund began the current home’s construction around 1481. William’s contribution was aided by generosity of Henry VIII, who offered him the ruins of Fulbroke Castle from which Compton took a huge bay window of heraldic glass, the mullioned windows and other bits and ornamentation.


Compton Wynyates as it appears today. Image, ca. 1960s, from

The façade of Compton Wynyates appears in the opening scenes of the Miss Marple film, The Mirror Crack’d, 1980.

Stratford-upon-Avon is obviously filled with Shakespeareana. Hutton observes that the town’s “New Place, or the site and foundation of it, must certainly be examined by every visitor to Stratford. Between 1597 and his death [in 1616], Shakespeare had been its owner.”

Only the foundations of this house are left. By contrast, Hutton asserts that, “as a pilgrimage place, what is now called the Birthplace has a much shorter record than the church and New Place. Apparently not till after 1760 was this double house in Henley Street regarded, or made famous, as that in which Shakespeare was born.”


Shakespeare’s Birthplace, possibly. Image from Highways & Byways of Shakespeare’s Country.

Hutton notes that John Shakespeare, William’s father, had property in Henley Street as early as 1552, “when he was fined for having a dungheap in front of his house.” In 1575, he bought the house now called the Birthplace.

Hutton continues, “William Shakespeare was born in April, 1564. From these facts one may draw what conclusion one can.”


Shakespeare’s Birthplace, possibly, as it appears today. Image from

The guidebook’s chapter “From Salford to Evesham to Pershore” caught my eye because Paul Temple’s Bramley Lodge country home is in Evesham, about 115 miles northwest of London, 20 miles west of Stratford-upon-Avon. Temple is my favorite (fictional) English detective, (This is in contrast to the tantalizingly real Sherlock Holmes.)

Some of the Temple adventures have Paul and his wife, nicknamed “Steve,” based at Bramley. More often, they’re at their London flat, 26A, Eaton Square, Belgravia.

It was in 1265 that Prince Edward (later King Edward I) defeated Simon de Montfort in the Battle of Evesham. Hutton cites the town’s Shakespearean link in the line “Farewell, my lord: I as your lover speak;/The fool slides o’er the ice that you should break,” Troilus and Cressida, Act III, Scene 3.


The Bell Tower, Evesham. Image from Highways & Byways in Shakespeare’s Country.

At the heart of this connection was an Evesham lad said to have become enamored of a touring player, likely a “gentlewoman boy” (as all actors were male in Shakespeare’s time). The lad did more than fall for the touring player; he fell through the ice in pursuit of his love.


The Bell Tower, Evesham, today. Image by oosoom.

Hutton makes no mention of Bramley Lodge. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015

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