Crypt linked to Shakespeare opened

All Saints, Billesley, Stratford upon Avon - image Sarah McCarthy

All Saints, Billesley, Stratford upon Avon - image Sarah McCarthy

The mysterious crypt at All Saints, Billesley, Stratford Upon Avon - one of the churches rumoured to be William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway's wedding venue in 1582 - has been opened for the first time as part of ongoing conservation work by The Churches Conservation Trust to protect this historic church.  

Billesley is a Grade I listed ancient monument that dates from the 11th Century. It is among a clutch of churches around Stratford including Temple Grafton, Luddington and Holy Trinity Stratford that lay claim to being the venue of William and Anne's wedding.  

The mystery of Shakespeare's wedding venue has become an international puzzle with historians both professional and amateur exploring the folklore and tales of time for clues.  However, no parish registers survive from that time to prove theories one way or the other.  

One of the reasons Billesley is a leading contender in the mystery is the strong historical evidence to suggest that Shakespeare's granddaughter, Elizabeth Barnard, was married at the church.  Did she choose the church because it was where her grandparents married?   Rumour and speculation has also surrounded Billesley Crypt perhaps holding clues to the venue of Shakespeare's wedding - but no one has ever been into the Crypt, until now.

Billesley is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust, the national charity protecting historic churches at risk.  The Trust's Conservation and Archaeological team had to dig their way into the Crypt - eventually squeezing in through a tiny opening, into a dark and sealed space.  Once inside they found five stone and lead coffins and one small wooden child's coffin dating from early 1700s, as well as stone carvings on the walls and other markings.   These coffins belong to the Whalley family, the owners of the local manor house during this time.  

Jo Cross, Churches Conservation Trust, Midlands Officer, said:  "It was tremendously exciting go into the Billesley Church crypt.  Knowing that we where the first people to enter this space for hundreds of years sent shivers down my spine.  It was moving to come across the burial sites, particularly the child's coffin.   Once inside we undertook a conservation survey to find out what work is needed from the Trust to ensure this 1,000 year old church has a viable future.  We will know the results of our survey shortly and also know if we've learned anything new about the church and its history.

"The markings on the coffins and the inscriptions and other markings in the crypt where photographed and will be analysed and information put on our website.  The mystery of Shakespeare's wedding venue remains unsolved, but trying to track down where our most famous writer tied the knot still remains as exciting and challenging as before.  We will explore the myths and legends that surround Billsely and the other churches in the frame in our new exhibition - 'And Thereby Hangs A Tale' - and encourage everyone to come along!"

The exhibition will be opened by Loyd Grossman, Chairman, The Churches Conservation Trust, on 15 September at Anne Hathaway's Cottage before touring across the Midlands.

For more information see:

Share this story