William Shakespeare: Controversy over decision to sell land near Bard's wife's cottage for redevelopment

Campaigners are angry at a decision by the charity in charge of key sites in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-on-Avon

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It is the sort of dilemma that the Bard himself might have relished. Whether to sell part of the family seat to protect what remains of it or refuse and risk future damage to a treasured corner of “this other Eden”.

Campaigners have expressed disappointment at a decision by the charity in charge of key sites in William Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-on-Avon to sell a parcel of land close to the home of the playwright’s wife, Anne Hathaway, to a developer.

A decision this weekend by trustees of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to sell some three acres of land close to the Tudor cottage will allow the building of a link road for a new development of 800 homes to the west of the hamlet of Shottery.

The trust, along with residents’ groups, had initially been strongly opposed to the proposals, which place the road within 200m of the thatched cottage on the site where a teenaged Shakespeare is thought to have wooed his older bride before they married in 1582. 

The development plans for Shottery have been the subject of a lengthy planning dispute that went all the way to the High Court after the local authority refused permission for 800 homes on two sites. The project was given the go-ahead by former Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles in 2013 but only gained final consent after the High Court turned down an appeal by Stratford-on-Avon District Council.

Protesters accused the trust of having waited to secure the best deal once the development became inevitable. In a statement, Debbie Griffiths, of the Save Shottery campaign, said: “They’re like a weak-willed Hamlet, publicly agonising about taking decisive action. I resolve to boycott the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.” 

Leaders of the trust said the deal would safeguard the views and the setting of the house by ensuring the new road is placed in a cutting to ensure no vehicles using it can be seen from the grounds. It will also open the way for the creation of a new parking area to remove coaches from a narrow road passing in front of the cottage.

In a statement, Peter Kyle, chairman of the charity, said: “In an ideal world we would not sell the land. None of this is of our making. Our job is to get the best outcome in line with our duty to protect and enhance the Shakespeare legacy… We are pleased to have been able to save the setting and views of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage by minimising the impact of the proposed link road.”

Some 135,000 people a year visit the house, which was the childhood home of Hathaway but was significantly enlarged 200 years after her death. It was acquired by the trust, which manages five properties linked to Shakespeare, in 1892.