Almost 420 years since Shakespeare’s lavish and magnificent house was raised to the ground, archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the Bard’s demolished kitchen.
Uncovered in the remains of New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon – the site of his family home – the experts found a well hearth and cold storage pit, which was used like a fridge to store cheese.
Historians are still trying to piece together clues to build a picture of what the impressive home would have been like and this discovery has been described as ‘vital’ to this effort.
Archaeologists from Staffordshire University also found fragments of cookware in the ‘highly significant’ discovery.
The Bard was an established playwright when he bought what was reportedly a magnificent house in 1597 and lived there for the last 19 years of his life.
He wrote 26 of his plays, including The Tempest, while living at the property with his wife Anne Hathaway and their three children.
It was demolished in 1759 by its then owner, Reverend Francis Gastrell, who was annoyed by visiting Shakespeare enthusiasts.
Archaeologists began their investigations in May and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which owns the site, has now revealed they found several vital artefacts which would have made up the kitchen.
The walls surrounding the hearth would have held an oven in place, while the cold storage pit would have been below ground level and used to store cheese, for example.
The finds are both part of the medieval foundations of New Place, which was built in 1483 by the Clopton family.
The team also found evidence of a brew house where beer was made and pickling and salting took place to preserve food.
Beer was drunk instead of unsafe water at the time.
Fragments of plates, cups and other cookware were also found and copies will be available for visitors to handle at Nash’s House, another Tudor building next door to the site.
It intends to turn the site into a heritage destination to shed light on the Bard’s family life and the man behind the famous works.
Dr Paul Edmondson, head of research and knowledge at the Trust, said: ‘Finding Shakespeare’s kitchen proved to be a vital piece of evidence in our understanding of New Place.
‘Once we had uncovered the family’s oven we were able to understand how the rest of the house fitted around it.
‘The discovery of the cooking areas, brew house, pantry and cold storage pit, combined with the scale of the house, all point to New Place as a working home as well as a house of high social status.
‘A much richer picture of Shakespeare has emerged through the course of our excavations.
Dr Edmonson added: ‘At New Place we can catch glimpses of Shakespeare the playwright and country town gentleman.
‘His main task was to write and a house as impressive as New Place would have played an important part in the rhythm of his working life.’
Shakespeare bought New Place for the considerable sum of £120 in 1597 at a time when a school teacher’s annual salary would have been about £20.
The house was the largest single residence in the borough of Stratford-Upon-Avon.
The dig has helped to establish the size of New Place, enabling new plans to be drawn up that depict the most accurate vision possible of how the house would have looked like during Shakespeare’s ownership.
Experts believe the house had an impressive frontage as well as a ‘great chamber’ and gallery with 20 other rooms and 10 fireplaces.
The kitchen artefacts have been reburied and workers have redesigned the construction plans the New Place heritage centre to ensure they lie undisturbed.
Julie Crawshaw, project manager of Shakespeare’s New Place, said: ‘The trust knows just how powerful this site is.
‘Not just because of what will be seen above the ground but because of the history which lies underneath, layers of earth and foundations which have been untouched for hundreds of years.
‘We have unearthed some significant archaeology which is all part of the story of New Place and its history.
‘This will be shared in our exciting retelling of New Place where visitors will be able to discover Shakespeare on the very ground where his family home stood.’
The trust plans to open the re-imagined New Place as a heritage landmark in the summer of next year which marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.