Magic Alley & The Lost Years Of William Shakespeare; the world's oldest makers and purveyors of magical wares, and msueum of magic, fairytales and time travel

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Press Release: November 9th, 2017

 

 

Stratford-upon-Avon’s popular tourist destination Magic Alley will be moving from its current location in Henley Street to a larger site at Bell Court next year.

Known for its magical-inspired gifts and enchanting museum, Magic Alley takes visitors on a journey into the magical world of a time-travelling William Shakespeare and will be celebrating an era of invention and imagination, seamlessly blending science, art, time travel and magic as it transports you back to the turn of the 19th century in 1899.

The spectacular new attraction - think Jules Verne meets Thomas Edison and HG Wells with a hefty dose of William Shakespeare will be packed with magical experiences including a life-size animatronic bust of William Shakespeare complete with stovepipe hat and steampunk jacket; hatching dragons’ eggs and a magical book that writes all on its own in addition to a new look Golden Broomstick Pumpkin, Butter & RootBeer Bar where visitors will be able to get their own “Potion To Go”. There will also be nearly 1,500 square feet of themed retail packed with traditional and magical gifts, books and even magic wands direct from the Ministry of Time. The soundscapes will be created by film and tv composer Andy Cox

Magic Alley, which is owned by STMO Media Group, will occupy around 4,500 square feet spread over two floors when it opens at Bell Court and will “retain” features that were present in their original store in Greenwich, London, with the feel of a late 19th century Bonded Warehouse. It will combine styles ranging from late Victorian, to Art Nouveau via Industrial Gothic in order to create a majestic steampunk Cathedral that needs to be experienced more than once.

Dave Matthews, Creative Director of STMO Media Group said: “We are excited to be expanding into a larger site at Bell Court, and this will be our new flagship store heralding an exciting phase of growth for the company.  Our Bell Court site represents a significant financial investment and will be a re-imagining of the Lost Years of William Shakespeare featuring mechanics, exposed brick and wrought iron work, state of the art animatronics, atmospheric lighting and movie quality wonder and whimsey.”

Based on the best-selling Chronicles of Wizard’s Thatch series of children’s’ books, Magic Alley explores the Lost Years of William Shakespeare, offering a potential explanation of how the Bard of Avon went from being a relatively uneducated schoolboy to the world’s greatest playwright with in-depth knowledge of military strategy, the law and ancient Rome before the age of the internet.

“The solution is simple,” explains Dave. “William Shakespeare must have been a time-travelling wizard, it’s the only possible answer!”

Magic Alley has been delighting visitors with its magical wares since 1990, with the original store located in Greenwich, London. The new store and attraction are planned to open in Spring 2018.

John Stacey, Asset Management Director at UK & European Investments, owners of Bell Court, said “Magic Alley will bring a new dimension to Bell Court, introducing another leisure offering at the development. It’s already a popular attraction amongst tourists and local residents, and having seen the plans for the new store, it’s certainly going to get a lot of people excited when it opens.”

Prior to Magic Alley opening at Bell Court, the team behind the new attraction have been working with UK & European on a number of family-focused events that will be held in Bell Court in the run-up to Christmas. More information on these will follow in the coming weeks.


 

 

 

Sneaky Peeks: Concept Art For Magic Alley, Bell Court

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2018: The History Of The Creaky Cauldron, one of the most haunted buildings in the country

 

The Stratford Ripper - a notorious serial killer from the late 1700's at The Creaky Cauldron, Stratford upon Avon's most haunted museum, visitor experience and scare attraction set within the only remaining part of the infamous White Lion Inn, the largest Coaching Inn in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries

Although Magic Alley will be moving in the Spring of 2018, the Creaky Cauldron will be staying exactly where it is...

 

 

Number 21 Henley Street can be found at the end of Henley Street just by the official entrance to William Shakespeare's birthplace and is more than just a little creepy after dark...  The picture above shows an image captured in one of the rooms - to us it looks like there is a ghostly apparition to the right of the image. We call him Sarah's Butler, if you look closely you can see his head, white collar, dinner jacket and that he is holding a tray in front of him.

 
The three storey half timbered building has been part of the Stratford skyline for over 450 years and is literally steeped in history. In fact as you drive into the town on the Birmingham Road you can see the impressive roofline and chimneystack towering over the rooflines in front of you. Mentioned both by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Rupert Graves, the Creaky Cauldron is now the only remaining section of the famous White Lion Inn that still stands. Without doubt the building will have seen many local characters pass through its doors including one John Shakespeare celebrating the birth of his son William with a flagon of ale!
 
This image from the early 1700's shows 19-21 Henley Street as part of the White Lion Inn. The facade is exactly the same now as it was then - although timbers were added to improve the street frontage sometime in the early 1800's.  Inside, of course, you can still see parts of the original wattle and daub structure along with the original supporting beams dating back to the early 1600's.

One of the oldest surviving pictures of the White Lion Inn

The oldest part of the current building is the exposed timber frame and wattle and daub walls that are visible running through the centre of the building and it is believed that they date from sometimein the mid 1500's.  However, there is a record of a building on this site dating back to the early 1100's when Stratford was first established.  In fact the plot occupied by the White Lion Inn was, according to the Stratford Society, one of the earliest listed in the town. Irrespective of belief - the Inn appears as large and established in 1604.
 
When the town was first laid out it was on a grid pattern and the exception to the grid layout was the inclusion of the ancient road that became known as Henley Street.
 
Interestingly the building itself was listed as being of special importance by the Stratford Society in 1977 when an application to knock it down was made by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.  Needless to say, the application was rejected.

The layout of the current building is completely at odds with the original layout of the Inn; rooms that are currently at the front were in fact at the back, and the ones at the back were in the middle. Confused? You will be!  The plan below clearly indicates that the main entrance was on the Birmingham and Penton Road as it was then known, but shows the building that is the current Creaky Cauldron on Henley Street (indicated).
 
The massive chimney stack that still runs through the centre of the building is clearly visible on the floorplan.  the only remaining part of the Inn is indicated by the numbers 40, 41 and 42 - now 19, 20 and 21 Henley Street.
 

Floor plan of the White Lion Inn in Stratford clearly showing the building stretching from Henley Street (top) to the Birmingham and Penton Road (bottom).  The Birmingham and Penton Road stretched from Birmingham (unsurprisngly) to Pentonville in London as was referred to as the Holyhead Road as it was for many years the main turnpike from London

In its heyday, the White Lion Inn was the largest coaching inn in Europe stretching from Windsor Street all the way to the site of William Shakespeare's birthplace, and from Henley Street to Guild Street; it was absolutely enormous!
 
The Inn would have seen all kinds of comings and goings; births, deaths and maybe even the odd marriage or two. It has been a hotbed of secret meetings where plans with stranger than fiction plots would have been hatched and perhaps even executed.
 
Known to have links to several Secret Societies and even royalty; this is a building with more than a secret or two to tell.  Is this why the Inn has so much paranormal activity? You'll just have to come and visit us to find out....
 
Although many buildings in Stratford try and stake a claim on a Shakespearean connection, Number 21 Henley Street can do so with more authority than most.  We have no need to make assumptions or spurious claims as historical fact far outweighs myths and legend.
 
William Shakespeare was born just yards from the building and was baptised on 26 April 1564. His father was a glovemaker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do local landowner.   1564 was also the year that the plague came to Stratford and parts of the building resonate to this day with spirits of those that died from this terrible disease.
 

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This 1759 map of Stratford clearly shows the White Lion Inn in Henley Street

By the early 1700's The White Lion Inn was known as the famous White Lion Inn and was the largest coaching inn in Europe and would have been the heart of most civic activities.  In fact the map above drawn in 1759 clearly indicates the White Lion Inn in Henley Street and implies that it was a building of note even then.

Its central timber frame construction is typical of the Tudor period in history and the building is as solid today as it was when first built. The Tudor method of building was effectively prefabrication - and the original roman numerals are still visible on some of the beams telling the builders in which order to fit them. In fact the beams that are exposed on the ground floor are probably some of the oldest still in their original position in Stratford.  A lot of buildings claiming authenticity have been substantially "remodelled" or even completely reconstructed (one even had an extra floor added at the beginning of the twentieth century that was designed to look like it had always been there!).

Originally the gaps between the timbers that make the frame of the building would have been filled with wattle and daub (an example of which is displayed on the front of the birthplace) - but over the centuries, much of the wattle and daub has been replaced with brick and lime plaster.

 

The English Reformation began as just another chapter in the long running dispute between Henry VIII and the Catholic Church and their claim for jurisdiction over the lives of the English people. The eventual split from Rome led to the English Monarch being named head of the Church of England.
 
During this period of history, it became illegal to practice Catholicism and religious practices had to be done in secret often in specially constructed hidden rooms "Priest-Holes".  One such can be seen at the top of the stairs in the Museum where a small room was built behind a linen cupbaord (this area now houses the Enchanted Forest exhibit). Eventually this conflict led to the Civil War.

 

Between the years 1642 and 1651, England saw a series of armed conflicts and political machhinations between Parliamnetarians and Royalists and the country was literally split down the middle often pitting brother aganst brother. During this time, the White Lion Inn was essentially a Parliamentarian Stronghold with troops billetted here before dusring and after the Battle of Edgehill.
 
In fact so strong is the Civil War link to the building's history that many visitors state they have felt a very strong presence from that period in history...

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1746 marks a turning point in the inn's history with it passing into the hands of John Payton.  According to a report prepared by the Stratford Society John Payton was "one of the few figures in the history of 18th century Stratford characterised by any enterprise or flair!" 1747 saw the birth of his first, and only son, John Payton II.  In 1762, after his wife Mary had died he remarried, this time to a certain Anne (nee Ives), widow of a certain William Shakespeare!
 
In 1767, George Alexander Stevens, the famous comic actor came to stay at the White Lion and it was here, during a dinner held in his honour, that the initial plans for the great jubilee of 1769 were first hatched. It was decided that the actor David Garrick be approached to "front" the jubilee.
 
Garrick was then at the height of his popularity and was known to have a love of anything Shakespearian. When David Garrick visited shortly thereafter to discuss the preliminaries - the Corporation of Stratford threw a Celebratory Dinner in his honour at the White Lion and David Garrick stayed in a specially prepared suite of rooms.

Garrick was officially asked to give a statue of William Shakespeare to fill a vacant niche on the town hall and in return he was to be made an Honorary Burgess of the town. Garrick quickly took over the entire project and it went from being a relatively modest affair to a celebration encompassing the whole town. His plans were grand indeed, and even included a request that all the houses be whitewashed!

By 1780, the inns reputation was going from strength to strength. Several travellers have left accounts of their visits here. John Byng, later Viscount Torrington, stayed here three times in 1781, 1785 and 1792.  He enjoyed his visits so much that he left numerous references to his stays in his correspondence, commenting in 1785 that he could order dinner "from a bill of fare equal to that of the Piazza Coffee House".

The Prince Regent, who stayed at the infamous White Lion Inn, now the Creaky Cauldron in Stratford upon Avon, one of the most haunted building's in England

In his novel "The Spiritual Quixote" (1790) the author Richard Graves records the Inn as being in "great vogue". So great was the reputation of the White Lion that it even became frequented by royalty.  In 1785, Francois and Alexandre de la Rochefoucauld, the young sons of the Duc de Lioncourt (Grand Master of the Wardrobe to the ill fated French Monarch Louis XVI) stayed here and in his journal, Francois records that the inn had good stabling and gardens.

In 1806, the Prince Regent (later George IV) was received in Stratford and stayed in apartments specially prepared for him here.

In 1818, John Payton Junior (who owned it at this stage) died and the inn was sold to Thomas Arkell - and in 1836, Arkell's son James sold the inn once again, this time to one Thomas Warden.

Dowager Queen Adelaide who stayed at the infamous White Lion Inn, now the Creaky Cauldron in Stratford upon Avon, one of the most haunted building's in England

In August 1842, Warden received an unsettling and yet exciting message on horseback. He was to receive a visitor in less than two hours. The Dowager Queen Adelaide and her party were at Leamington and on their way to stay. Accommodation was required immediately. All the stops were pulled out and a suite of rooms specially prepared.

In 1853, Harriet Beecher Stowe describes the inn as follows: "We went to the White Lion and soon had a quiet parlour to ourselves, neatly carpeted with a sofa drawn up to the cheerful fire, a good toned piano and in short everything cheerful and comfortable."  By the mid 1850's however, the inn had closed - although it was reopened briefly in 1864 to accommodate visitors to Stratford for the Tercentenary of Shakespeare's birth.
 
Since then it has been both a private residence and business premises for a variety of retailers and sometimes both at the same time.  It has more importantly been continually occupied since it was very first built with literally hundreds of thousnds of people passing through its errie corridors and hallways.......
 
 
 
 




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 "Wonderful stories - thank you!"   "The Wizarding Timeline was awesome!"    "OMG! You've got wands!"
"You made our visit to Stratford - thank you!"    "It's a must see for fans of Wizard's Thatch!"
"We drove for 4 hours to get to you, was it worth it?  You bet it was, thank you!"

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