In Elizabethan England buildings were made of timber and thatch and, because there was no proper fire fighting equipment, town fires were a constant hazard.
Stratford had serious fires in 1594 and 1595 which destroyed about 120 houses. These fires were blamed on a shoddy development which had grown to house the poor people who had drifted into the town and who made up about one third of the population of Stratford. The Corporation brought in regulations to deal with the problem which meant vagrants were not allowed into the town and newcomers were driven out. Anyone found trying to hide strangers was fined.
Many of Stratford's timber framed buildings date from after the fires in 1594 and 1595, including Harvard House.
In 1608 there was another epidemic, probably smallpox, in 1614 a fire and the year Shakespeare died, 1616, the outbreak of the 'new fever' which is thought to have been typhus.
Elizabethans worked hard, but they also played hard. They did not have a fortnight's summer holiday but instead had fairs, markets and festivals throughout the year.
Every town had a weekly market where local farmers and their wives took their produce to sell and they would buy things they needed, meet their neighbours, catch up on the news and drink ale at the local tavern.
Larger towns had an annual fair; most had their own speciality either sheep, cattle or horses for example.
There were also 'mop' fairs where rates of pay were fixed for the next year and people went to find jobs.
At the big fairs, merchants from France, Spain, Italy and Germany would visit to do business selling silks, velvets, furs, linen and wine in exchange for English wool, tin, lead and iron.
The fairs also attracted showmen to entertain people including troupes of strolling players, jugglers, acrobats and wild-beast shows.
Throughout the year Elizabethans celebrated special occasions. At Christmas and New Year houses were decorated, work stopped and everyone celebrated for the twelve days of Christmas, eating, drinking and being hospitable. They played board games, cards, party games and also enjoyed dancing.
17th Jun 2005
Key Stage 2, Key Stage 3, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 4+