In 1597, two years before the Globe Theatre was built, Shakespeare’s success in London financed the purchase of New Place, a house in his native Stratford-upon-Avon. Originally built in 1483, it was the second largest house in the town, demonstrating that by this point Shakespeare was already a successful dramatist. Its ornamental beamed frontage comprised three storeys and five gables, and it had two barns, two orchards and two small gardens that Shakespeare later extended. One of the gardens famously contained a mulberry tree, which was said to have been planted by Shakespeare. This possibly happened in the spring of 1608 when King James decreed that many hundreds of thousands of these trees should be imported from France in order to encourage the silk industry (mulberry leaves are an important food for silk worms). This mulberry tree took on increasingly legendary status in the years following Shakespeare’s death at New Place in 1616. In 1753, the Reverend Francis Gastrell, a retired vicar, bought New Place. In 1759, annoyed by tourists, he ordered the tree to be cut down and chopped into firewood. Shortly afterwards, he had the whole house demolished and the land sold off.
This drawing, labelled ‘Something by memory and ye description of Shakespeares House’ was jotted down 35 years after the building had been remodelled, by the antiquary and engraver George Vertue (1684-1756), during his sightseeing tour in October 1737. There are no known earlier illustrations of the house.