History Of The Creaky Cauldron
One of the most haunted buildings in the country
Creaky Cauldron is the name of the building otherwise known as 21 Henley Street, and is currently the home of Stratford's
original Magic Alley store which will relocate to larger premises in the Spring of 2018 in Bell Court. Once this has taken
place, the interior of the Creaky Cauldron will be restored and the ground floor refurbished as "Wartytoads Booksellers"
- the Wizard's Thatch Bookshop. The upper floors will be open by prior arrangement only.
Although Magic Alley will be moving in the Spring of 2018, the Creaky
Cauldron will be staying exactly where it is...
Number 21 Henley Street can be found at the end of Henley Street just by the official entrance to William Shakespeare's birthplace and
is more than just a little creepy after dark... The picture above shows an image captured in one of the rooms - to us
it looks like there is a ghostly apparition to the right of the image. We call him Sarah's Butler, if you look closely
you can see his head, white collar, dinner jacket and that he is holding a tray in front of him.
The three storey half timbered building has been part of the Stratford skyline for over
450 years and is literally steeped in history. In fact as you drive into the town on the Birmingham Road you can see the impressive
roofline and chimneystack towering over the rooflines in front of you. Mentioned both by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Rupert
Graves, the Creaky Cauldron is now the only remaining section of the famous White Lion Inn that still stands. Without doubt
the building will have seen many local characters pass through its doors including one John Shakespeare celebrating the birth
of his son William with a flagon of ale!
This image from the early 1700's shows 19-21 Henley Street as part of the White Lion Inn. The facade
is exactly the same now as it was then - although timbers were added to improve the street frontage sometime in the early
1800's. Inside, of course, you can still see parts of the original wattle and daub structure along with the original
supporting beams dating back to the early 1600's.
The oldest part of the current building is the exposed timber frame
and wattle and daub walls that are visible running through the centre of the building and it is believed that they date from
sometimein the mid 1500's. However, there is a record of a building on this site dating back to the early 1100's
when Stratford was first established. In fact the plot occupied by the White Lion Inn was, according to the Stratford
Society, one of the earliest listed in the town. Irrespective of belief - the Inn appears as large and established in 1604.
When the town was first laid out it was
on a grid pattern and the exception to the grid layout was the inclusion of the ancient road that became known as Henley Street.
Interestingly the building itself was listed
as being of special importance by the Stratford Society in 1977 when an application to knock it down was made by the Shakespeare
Birthplace Trust. Needless to say, the application was rejected.
The layout of the current building is completely
at odds with the original layout of the Inn; rooms that are currently at the front were in fact at the back, and the ones
at the back were in the middle. Confused? You will be! The plan below clearly indicates that the main entrance was on
the Birmingham and Penton Road as it was then known, but shows the building that is the current Creaky Cauldron on Henley
massive chimney stack that still runs through the centre of the building is clearly visible on the floorplan. the only
remaining part of the Inn is indicated by the numbers 40, 41 and 42 - now 19, 20 and 21 Henley Street.
In its heyday, the White Lion Inn was the largest coaching inn in Europe
stretching from Windsor Street all the way to the site of William Shakespeare's birthplace, and from Henley Street to
Guild Street; it was absolutely enormous!
The Inn would have seen all kinds of comings and goings; births, deaths and maybe even the odd marriage
or two. It has been a hotbed of secret meetings where plans with stranger than fiction plots would have been hatched and perhaps
Known to have links to several
Secret Societies and even royalty; this is a building with more than a secret or two to tell. Is this why the Inn has
so much paranormal activity? You'll just have to come and visit us to find out....
many buildings in Stratford try and stake a claim on a Shakespearean connection, Number 21 Henley Street can do so with more
authority than most. We have no need to make assumptions or spurious claims as historical fact far outweighs myths and
William Shakespeare was
born just yards from the building and was baptised on 26 April 1564. His father was a glovemaker and wool merchant and his
mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do local landowner. 1564 was also the year that the plague came
to Stratford and parts of the building resonate to this day with spirits of those that died from this terrible disease.
|This 1759 map of Stratford clearly shows the White Lion Inn in Henley Street
By the early 1700's
The White Lion Inn was known as the famous White Lion Inn and was the largest coaching inn in Europe
and would have been the heart of most civic activities. In fact the map above drawn in 1759 clearly indicates the White
Lion Inn in Henley Street and implies that it was a building of note even then.
Its central timber frame construction is typical of the Tudor period in history and
the building is as solid today as it was when first built. The Tudor method of building was effectively prefabrication - and
the original roman numerals are still visible on some of the beams telling the builders in which order to fit them. In fact
the beams that are exposed on the ground floor are probably some of the oldest still in their original position in Stratford.
A lot of buildings claiming authenticity have been substantially "remodelled" or even completely reconstructed (one
even had an extra floor added at the beginning of the twentieth century that was designed to look like it had always been
Originally the gaps between the timbers that make the frame of the building would have
been filled with wattle and daub (an example of which is displayed on the front of the birthplace) - but over the centuries,
much of the wattle and daub has been replaced with brick and lime plaster.
The English Reformation began as just another
chapter in the long running dispute between Henry VIII and the Catholic Church and their claim for jurisdiction over the lives
of the English people. The eventual split from Rome led to the English Monarch being named head of the Church of England.
During this period of history, it
became illegal to practice Catholicism and religious practices had to be done in secret often in specially constructed hidden
rooms "Priest-Holes". One such can be seen at the top of the stairs in the Museum where a small room was built
behind a linen cupbaord (this area now houses the Enchanted Forest exhibit). Eventually this conflict led to the Civil War.
Between the years 1642 and 1651, England saw a series of armed conflicts
and political machhinations between Parliamnetarians and Royalists and the country was literally split down the middle often
pitting brother aganst brother. During this time, the White Lion Inn was essentially a Parliamentarian Stronghold with troops
billetted here before dusring and after the Battle of Edgehill.
In fact so strong is the Civil
War link to the building's history that many visitors state they have felt a very strong presence from that period in
1746 marks a turning point in the inn's history with it passing
into the hands of John Payton. According to a report prepared by the Stratford Society John Payton was "one of
the few figures in the history of 18th century Stratford characterised by any enterprise or flair!" 1747 saw the birth
of his first, and only son, John Payton II. In 1762, after his wife Mary had died he remarried, this time to a certain
Anne (nee Ives), widow of a certain William Shakespeare!
In 1767, George Alexander Stevens, the famous comic actor came to stay at the White Lion and it
was here, during a dinner held in his honour, that the initial plans for the great jubilee of 1769 were first hatched. It
was decided that the actor David Garrick be approached to "front" the jubilee.
Garrick was then at the height of his popularity and was
known to have a love of anything Shakespearian. When David Garrick visited shortly thereafter to discuss the preliminaries
- the Corporation of Stratford threw a Celebratory Dinner in his honour at the White Lion and David Garrick stayed in a specially
prepared suite of rooms.
Garrick was officially asked to give a statue of William Shakespeare to fill a vacant
niche on the town hall and in return he was to be made an Honorary Burgess of the town. Garrick quickly took over the entire
project and it went from being a relatively modest affair to a celebration encompassing the whole town. His plans were grand
indeed, and even included a request that all the houses be whitewashed!
By 1780, the inns reputation was going from
strength to strength. Several travellers have left accounts of their visits here. John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, stayed
here three times in 1781, 1785 and 1792. He enjoyed his visits so much that he left numerous references to his stays
in his correspondence, commenting in 1785 that he could order dinner "from a bill of fare equal to that of the Piazza
In his novel "The Spiritual Quixote" (1790) the author Richard
Graves records the Inn as being in "great vogue". So great was the reputation of the White Lion that it even became
frequented by royalty. In 1785, Francois and Alexandre de la Rochefoucauld, the young sons of the Duc de Lioncourt (Grand
Master of the Wardrobe to the ill fated French Monarch Louis XVI) stayed here and in his journal, Francois records that the
inn had good stabling and gardens.
In 1806, the Prince Regent (later George IV) was received in Stratford and stayed
in apartments specially prepared for him here.
In 1818, John Payton Junior (who owned it at this stage) died and
the inn was sold to Thomas Arkell - and in 1836, Arkell's son James sold the inn once again, this time to one Thomas Warden.
In August 1842, Warden received an unsettling and yet exciting message
on horseback. He was to receive a visitor in less than two hours. The Dowager Queen Adelaide and her party were at Leamington
and on their way to stay. Accommodation was required immediately. All the stops were pulled out and a suite of rooms specially
In 1853, Harriet Beecher Stowe describes the inn as follows: "We went to the White Lion and soon
had a quiet parlour to ourselves, neatly carpeted with a sofa drawn up to the cheerful fire, a good toned piano and in short
everything cheerful and comfortable." By the mid 1850's however, the inn had closed - although it was reopened
briefly in 1864 to accommodate visitors to Stratford for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth.
Since then it has been both a private residence
and business premises for a variety of retailers and sometimes both at the same time. It has more importantly been continually
occupied since it was very first built with literally hundreds of thousnds of people passing through its errie corridors and