BRITAIN

St George’s Day a bore, but 450th birthday of Shakespeare a draw for Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare hometown bucks apathy on day of patron saint, as it marks writer's 450th birthday

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 April, 2014, 10:30pm
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Most English adults have only the haziest idea of who St George was or when his feast day falls, but one English town celebrated 23 April with gusto; not for the sake of the country's patron saint, but for the glover's son born in Stratford-upon-Avon 450 years ago on about that date - the founder of the town's tourism fortunes, William Shakespeare.

While English Heritage, which cares for ancient buildings, is encouraging people to flock to St George events at their properties this weekend - despite a survey revealing that only one in five people had any plans to mark the day - in the Warwickshire town it is one of the most important dates in the calendar.

The man known as the Bard of Avon was baptised on April 26 and died on April 23. The town has celebrated his birthday for centuries but the plans are more elaborate this year, with a horse-drawn birthday cake, fireworks, a fancy-dress parade and a procession led by the pupils of his old school to lay flowers on his grave.

The first celebration of Shakespeare's birthday [he was born in 1564 and died in 1616] was in 1769. It launched the Shakespeare heritage industry but was a washout.

After two days of non-stop rain the Avon River burst its banks and swamped the theatre where the pageant was being held and it was abandoned.

Birthday cake was being served yesterday in the church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried, and the Royal Shakespeare Company planned a fireworks display after yesterday's performance of Henry IV.

However, the main celebrations this year, including the procession, are on Saturday. Most buildings linked to Shakespeare are open to the public, although only the gardens survive of the grand house bought when his genius made him rich: the house itself was demolished by an 18th-century clergyman irritated by all the tourists.

Last year more than 800,000 visitors trooped through the house on Henley Street where the writer was born and where a new exhibition includes the visitors' book signed by literary pilgrims.

There are plans to open Shakespeare's old schoolroom to the public. Renovation work has revealed slots in the oak timbers used for erecting the temporary stages for strolling players, the first plays Shakespeare ever saw.

The head teacher, Bennet Carr, is seeking a grant to open it to the public for the 400th anniversary of the bard's death. "It has an extraordinary atmosphere, a treasure which we should be willing to share with the world."