Best Foot Forward: Research at 36 High Street reveals 1473 building

No. 36 High Street, one of the properties examined as part of the StratFire project, is an unassuming building. But behind the modern, three-storey structure with a brick façade (c1758-1790s), lies a whole lot of history.

The StratFire (three-year) project aims to look at the effects of the fires of 1594, 1595 and 1614 on Stratford’s buildings, economy and people, using a combination of archival and building research and tree-ring dating (dendrochronology). The initial focus is on High Street and Chapel Street and no. 36, now ECCO® shoes, is one of the sites being studied. Surprisingly, no evidence of historical fire damage or discolouration was found at no. 36. The building was clearly not burnt to the ground. But we have learnt a great deal.

Analysis of oak roof trusses on the second floor and oak beams on the ground floor passageway showed that the trees, locally sourced, were most likely felled (a 94.5% probability) between 1463 and 1477. This coincides with historical research, which found a 1473 lease to a wealthy textile dealer, Roget Paget, which required him to rebuild the property. The building was then was called the Clockhouse, and as well as being required to rebuild it, Paget was also obliged to put in place a warden to look after the bell and clock attached to the building – hence its name. Seven years later, the clock was removed to the market cross, which then stood at the corner of High Street and Wood Street. The building was still known as the Clockhouse in 1500-01, around which time Paget died.

This is not the building’s only claim to fame: it also has connections to Shakespeare. In 1616, the year of his death, Shakespeare’s youngest daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney (on 10th February). The couple lived just across the road, at no. 1 High Street, on the corner of Bridge St, the cellar of which was once part of an early town gaol, known as The Cage.

And at no. 36, just decades before, the lease was held (from 1561) by Adrian Quiney, Thomas’s grandfather. On Adrian’s death, the lease passed to his son Richard (from 1600-04) and then to Richard’s widow, Elizabeth. It was Elizabeth who, in 1612, arranged that the lease should go to her son Thomas – the same Thomas who, four years later, married Judith, and transferred his business across the road to no. 1.

The early history of the building has been traced back to when the freehold belonged to the Guild of the Holy Cross. After the Guild was suppressed, the site passed, along with others, to the recently incorporated (1553) Borough of Stratford-upon-Avon.

And what of the building now? It is Grade II listed, although sadly, much of its history, still in evidence in 1945, is now missing. This includes a magnificent stone fireplace, and on the first floor, late 16th century panelling and some frieze panels from the 18th century. These may have been removed in the 1980s. But we can take heart in the fact that some of the old timbers remain, and that, if the demolition of the building to the south of no. 36 goes ahead, then more of the original frame may be revealed.

In the meantime, it’s interesting to reflect on another part of the property’s history. In 1910, no. 36 was owned by the town corporation, and occupied by the Public Benefit Boot Co. Not a public or charitable company, as you’d think from the name, the Public Benefit Boot Co. was effectively a shoe shop, with many branches, just like ECCO®.

Ellie Stevenson, November 2023