Report January 2016

Report on monthly talk on Friday 15th January 2016
On the coldest day of the year so far the Kineton and District Local History Group gathered to hear their President, Dr Bob Bearman, speak about Stratford-upon-Avon’s Historic Spine. Dr Bearman drew effortlessly on his expertise, and, as the former Head of Archives and Local History at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, he tackled a topic which is obviously close to his heart.
Dr Bearman first answered the question “what is Stratford’s historic spine?” by showing how Stratford grew from nothing in AD 1200 to a planned town set out on a grid of streets south of Bridge Street, the access to the river crossing. He called this the Historic Core, with the route from the Birthplace to Holy Trinity Church comprising the Historic Spine. He justified this identification by pointing out the concentration of nationally important buildings along this route, using well-chosen historic pictures as well as more recent photographs of the same views. However much of the unique historic character of parts of the medieval and Shakespearean town was compromised in the Regency period by what he called “keeping up with Leamington” improvements, especially in Bridge Street. The improvers demolished the market cross, Middle Row, and many picturesque and fascinating buildings before they ran out of steam. However, there are notable timber framed buildings visible along the Historic Spine, and more survive behind many bland stucco facades, with the prominent early stone edifices of the Town Hall and Guild Chapel still projecting into the street line.
In Dr Bearman’s opinion the twin pressures of the car and modern commerce have badly affected our appreciation of these surviving examples of the town’s historic character. The generously wide medieval streets, created to allow Stratford’s traders to set up their stalls, have made it easy for cars to navigate the modern town centre. They now dominate the street scene. His other bugbear was the many unsympathetic shop fronts and fascias which he described as cutting buildings off at the knees. The solutions to these effects are not easy. Several pedestrian schemes from elsewhere illustrated the pitfalls. On the plus side the redesign of some unfortunate Stratford shop fronts has been made possible through local authority grants. The pedestrianisation of Henley Street has removed the cars and coaches which once obscured the Birthplace, but has created a continental atmosphere on what was originally a medieval street with pavements, a carriageway and all the usual street furniture. Dr Bearman was not agin all post-Shakespearean developments, accepting that a healthy commercial life is essential for the town. He was particularly appreciative of the high Victorian HSBC Bank building, pointing out that it had been the site of a bank since 1810.
Following a probing question session Anitra Hall gave a fulsome vote of thanks for a thought-provoking as well as entertaining talk, and the meeting adjourned for convivial teas, coffees and biscuits. On Friday 19th January Richard Buckley will give our next talk, entitled “Richard III and his Discovery in Leicester”. Members and visitors are welcome at the Kineton Village Hall at 7.30 for what promises to be a popular evening.
DF 18.01.2016