2nd March 2016

What a thrill to be in the room where William Shakespeare learned to read and write. Where presumably he was inspired by history and (you learn something new every day) he probably saw his first theatrical performance.

I live in Stratford -Upon-Avon and in this year 2016 we celebrate 400 years since the death of our most famous son, William Shakespeare. As a result there are lots of events and a few new sites to see. A new statue (opinion reserved for now) and The Schoolroom.

When guiding around Stratford as I have done for 14 years I have always pointed out the half timbered building and waxed lyrical about how the young Shakespeare learned his 3 ‘r’s’ in ‘that very room up there’ – access to the public being impossible until now. The scaffolding had been up for months, advising us that work was under way to open up this hallowed room to the public. But years of deterioration – after all an ancient building was still in use by the very same school was bound to have suffered over the years, not least from an well meaning Victorian ‘renovation’ and well, 500 years of general wear and tear.

So when I read in the local paper that a free tour was to be available for local residents to see how the project was progressing prior to its scheduled opening in time for the 400 year celebrations on 23rd April, I jumped at the chance. It was un-ticketed event and I get the feeling the organisers – The project manager and the chief architect were somewhat overwhelmed when in excess of 80 people turned up – almost capacity considering workmen were still in occupation.

The mildly spoken architect blinked like a rabbit in the headlights and was heckled to speak up and he gamely raised his voice barely a fraction of a decibel and carried on. Guiding obviously is not his forte. But it is mine, and not being a novice I managed to strategically place myself right at the front (an advantage to being short!) – all the better to hear, see and ask questions. And as it turns out, to get into the photos – look for me in the Observer this week! Result!

All in all a very sympathetic restoration and preservation programme. Of course we have no way of knowing the school rooms’ exact 16th century appearance, not even where the stairs were that young Will would have clattered up and down, but with original beams exposed, the damp and humidity problems solved with modern, well hidden technology, discreet lighting, wheelchair access, this is going to be a perfect addition to the existing Shakespeare buildings. Though unconnected with the Birthplace Trust, a considerate pricing strategy should ensure an enthusiastic public does not pass it by.

Opening hours will be slightly restricted by the fact that all involved want this to remain part of the educational establishment – continuity of purpose being a huge aspect of its authenticity – but that shouldn’t detract from its appeal.

There are two more free tours scheduled for Wednesday 8th March.