Church of the Holy Trinity


Heritage Category:
Listed Building
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wawickshire, CV37 6BG


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Statutory Address:
Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wawickshire, CV37 6BG

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Stratford-on-Avon (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:


Anglican church. Early-C13 transepts, crossing and lower stage of the tower are in the Early English style. The early-C14 upper stages of the tower, nave, arcades and aisles are in the Decorated style, and the late-C15 chancel, clerestorey, panelled battlements, north porch and the west end of the nave are Perpendicular. The spire was added in 1763 by William Hiorn of Warwick, designed by Timothy Lightoler. The church was restored in 1836-7 and 1839-41 by the Worcester architect Harvey Eginton, and in 1884-98 by George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner. C20 and C21 alterations, repairs and additions. Not included in the listing is the C21 single-storey extension parallel to the south aisle.

Reasons for Designation

The Church of the Holy Trinity, a C13 church with later alterations and additions, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: as the burial place of the nationally, and internationally, important playwright and poet, William Shakespeare, whose ledger stone and contemporary memorial in the chancel survive intact; * Survival of medieval fabric: the church has fabric from the C13, C14, C15 and C16, including evidence of medieval wall painting, C15 misericords, and other pre-Reformation fixtures and fittings; * Architectural interest: the restoration work to the church in the mid-to late-C19, firstly by Eginton and then by Bodley and Garner represents a significant phase in the building’s history; * Artistic interest: a high quality of craftsmanship to both the medieval and C19 fabric.


There is documentary evidence that the Church of the Holy Trinity is built on the site of a C9 monastery, but the earliest surviving fabric of the church are the early-C13 transepts, crossing and tower. The tower was raised and partially reconstructed in c1310, with the remodelling of the crossing arches at the same time. In the 1320s the nave, and the north and south aisle were rebuilt. The chantry chapel of St Thomas of Canterbury (south aisle) was founded in 1331 by the Bishop of Winchester, John de Stratford, for a college of five priests. The college was confirmed by a grant by Henry VI in 1415 and the Church of the Holy Trinity became a collegiate church. In the late C15 the chancel was entirely rebuilt by Dean Thomas Balshall, who died in 1491 and his tomb, which had been built several years earlier, sits against the north wall of the chancel. Further alterations to the church were probably carried out by Balshall’s successor, Dean Ralph Collingwood, who died in 1521 or 1522, and included the rebuilding of the west end of the nave, the clerestory and the north porch. A charnel house, built to the north of the chancel, was probably built at this time, as suggested by a late-C15 doorway (now blocked externally) in the north wall of the chancel, but had been demolished by 1799. The stone spire was added in 1763 by William Hiorn of Warwick to a Gothic design by Timothy Lightoler, and is said to have replaced a wooden spire.

In 1547, during the Reformation, the college at the church was dissolved and the right to collect the tithes was sold off. William Shakespeare, who was baptised at the church on the 26 April 1564 (the medieval font was restored to the church in 1872), purchased a share in the tithes in 1605 and this is argued to have permitted him the right of burial in the chancel. However, evidence of other parishioners’ burials in the chancel, that did not hold tithes, suggests that payment of a fee to the vicar was the determining factor. Shakespeare was buried at Holy Trinity Church on the 25 April 1616 and the inscription on the ledger stone includes a curse to prevent his bones being removed to the charnel house. His wife, Ann Hathaway, daughter Suzanna, son-in-law Dr John Hall, and Thomas Nash (the first husband of Shakespeare's granddaughter Elizabeth) are buried in the chancel alongside him. Within a few years of Shakespeare’s death a memorial was erected on the north wall of the chancel.

By 1618 the chancel was described as ‘ruinous’, and in the early C19 it was boarded off from the rest of the church. The church underwent a programme of restoration in 1836-7 and 1839-41 by the Worcester architect Harvey Eginton and included the replacement of the roof coverings of the nave and the chancel, the construction of a new high altar, repaving the chancel and new pews and galleries. As part of Eginton’s work, the chancel steps were altered and the Shakespeare ledger stones were reduced in length by 600mm. William Butterfield was approached to undertake further restoration work in the mid-C19 but following concerns from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), he declined the commission. The architect J T Micklethwaite subsequently produced a report on the church and further restorations were undertaken by Bodley and Garner from 1884 to 1898. This included the removal of much of Eginton’s work, as well as the addition of the organ, new panelling behind the choir stalls, repaving of the chancel, the insertion of modern sculptures of saints in the medieval niches on the east wall and the opening up of the window behind the Shakespeare memorial.

In 2015 a single-storey extension was added to the south elevation of the south aisle to provide ancillary facilities.


Anglican church. Early-C13 transepts, crossing and lower stage of the tower are in the Early English style. The early-C14 upper stages of the tower, nave, arcades and aisles are in the Decorated style, and the late-C15 chancel, clerestory, panelled battlements, north porch and the west end of the nave are Perpendicular. The spire was added in 1763 by William Hiorn of Warwick, designed by Timothy Lightoler. The church was restored in 1836-7 and 1839-41 by the Worcester architect Harvey Eginton, and in 1884-98 by George Frederick Bodley and Thomas Garner. C20 and C21 alterations, repairs and additions. Not included in the listing is the C21 single-storey extension parallel to the south aisle.

MATERIALS: it is constructed of squared and coursed local stone, including Arden stone, Blue Lias stone, Cotswold limestone and Hornton stone. The dressings are predominantly of Hornton stone. The spire is built of Warwick stone. The roofs are covered in lead.

PLAN: has a cruciform plan with a five-bay ‘weeping chancel’, (the chancel represents Christ’s leaning head as he died on the cross), a central crossing with tower and spire above, two-bay transepts and a six-bay nave with arcade and lean-to aisles, and a north porch. There is an early-C21 single-storey addition accessed from the south aisle which runs parallel to the nave.

EXTERIOR: the gabled west end is flanked by offset buttress and is set forward of the lean-to north and south aisles. The C15 four-centred arched doorway has a C15 door with Perpendicular tracery. Above is a continuous moulded cill band and three inset niches with crocketted pinnacles set within the large, Perpendicular, west window. The south aisle windows comprise three, three-light windows with Decorated tracery and a Perpendicular window and a smaller two-light window to the east bay. The bays are articulated by offset buttress, each with gablets and crocketted finials which rise above the parapet, beneath which are cylindrical water spouts. The arcaded clerestory windows are closely set and surmounted by a battlement.

The gabled south and north transepts each have a five-light, traceried window within a two-centred arch and a spherical triangular window above. The angled, offset buttresses are surmounted by a diagonally-set shaft with gablets, blind tracery and head stops to the base of each pinnacle. To the side elevations are lancet windows, and to the east side of the south transept is a lateral stack with a C19 monument to its base.

The five-bay chancel is articulated by offset buttresses which rise to form diagonal shafts carved with blind tracery with decorative hoodmoulds, and each surmounted by a gargoyle. The diagonal, offset buttresses to the east end have C21 gargoyles and crocketted pinnacles. The eight-light side windows and the seven-light east window have Perpendicular tracery and are set within double-chamfered arches with decorative hoodmoulds with crockets and insect-form label stops. The chancel has a continuous moulded plinth and battlements with blind tracery with a stone cross to the apex of the gabled east end. To the south side of the chancel is the C15 priest’s door with four-centred arched head and restored tracery. Above the Gothic arched doorway is an elaborately crocketted hoodmould.

The north aisle has a moulded plinth, offset buttresses and a coped parapet. The three-light windows have varied tracery and show a progression in date from east to west. The west window of the north aisle is interrupted by the C15 two-storied north porch. This has a moulded plinth with carved quatrefoils and substantial offset diagonal buttresses. The central C17 battened and studded north door is set within a two-centred arch of three orders with a three-light traceried window above with flanking niches. The battlements have a central cross to the apex and decorative pinnacles to the corners. There is a single cusped light with crocketted hood to the east and west elevation, and a stair turret to the west side.

The lower stage of the tower has small, early-C13, round-headed windows. There are C13 two-light belfry windows to the middle stage, and C14 rose windows to the upper stage. To the south-west corner is a stair turret. The tower has a decorative eaves cornice with battlements above and square pedestals with blind tracery and crocketted pinnacles to the corners. The octagonal C18 spire has three tiers of arched openings. There are several C18 rainwater heads.

INTERIOR: the north entrance leads into the late-C15 north porch which has a rib vaulted ceiling with angel corbels to the four corners and a central boss depicting Christ in Majesty (mutilated at the time of the Reformation). There are the mutilated remains of a holy water stoup to each of the four corners of the porch. To the east and the west wall is a stone bench and a single splayed window, set within otherwise blind arcading with ogee heads. The inner doors are late C15, with linenfold and traceried panels and a C13 sanctuary knocker. From the north aisle a newel stair leads to the first floor of the porch which has a fireplace and moulded beams.

The nave has a five-bay arcade of early-C14 hexagonal piers with moulded capitals and double-chamfered two-centred arches. The spandrels have blind arcading with cusped heads, with the late-C15 arcade of clerestory windows above. Cluster wall shafts run from the carved angel corbels above each pier to the brattished corbels that support the nave roof. The restored C15 roof comprises moulded principal rafters and ties beams with traceried arch braces, and the panelled ceiling is decorated with bosses. At the west end of the nave is the C19 font, a replica of the medieval font in the chancel, and at the east end is a dark green Italian marble pulpit with figures in white alabaster by Bodley and Garner (1900). Above the crossing arch is a Gothic organ case, also by Bodley and Garner, and installed in 1898. At the south-east corner of the nave is a stair turret to the belfry, with a Perpendicular door and the remnants of medieval wall painting.

The north aisle has a restored roof, an inserted shop at the west end, and a C19 screen to the Clopton Chapel at its east end with linenfold panels, arched heads, vine leaf cornice and brattishing. The Clopton Chapel contains many elaborate tombs and memorials, including Hugh Clopton’s chest tomb set within the arch between the chapel and the nave and comprising two four-centred, panelled arches; that to the west is narrower with concave-sided, octagonal piers, blind tracery, Tudor rose cornice and brattishing. The chest tomb on the east wall is to Hugh Clopton’s eldest daughter Joyce, and her husband Thomas Carew, who was King James I’s Master of Ordnance and comprises two recumbent effigies under a coffered round arch with flanking Corinthian columns supporting angels, and the coats of arms above. On the front panels is a bas-relief of powder barrels, cannon balls, guns and a flag. To the north wall, the chest tomb of William and Anne Clopton has two recumbent effigies and a panel above depicting their seven children and coats of arms. The north window of the chapel contains fragments of medieval glass.

The south aisle has a C14 roof of moulded beams supported on corbel heads. The chantry chapel at its east end was removed following the Reformation, and the sedilia to the south wall are late-C19 replicas.

The octagonal crossing is supported on four cluster piers with chamfered arches. It has a C19 rib vaulted ceiling with gilded Green Man corbels and a central boss of the Holy Trinity, from which hangs an early-C18 chandelier.

The medieval rood screen has been relocated to the north transept (to shield the choir vestry), and the carved heads that have been applied to it are the ceiling bosses from the original C13 chancel roof.

The screen to the south transept (St Peter’s Chapel and vestry) is an early-C20 First World War memorial.

The heavily restored C15 rood screen has tracery heads and vine-leaf cornice and brattishing. The chancel has a hammer beam roof with carved angels and shields, supported on corbel heads. Between the side windows are blind crocketted window heads. The east window is flanked by C15 niches with insect-form corbels and crocketted hoods; the statues (1893) are by Farmer and Brindley to the designs of Bodley and Garner. The choir stalls have C19 backs by Bodley and Garner, but the seats with carved angels on the ends of the armrests and richly-carved misericords with a range of domestic scenes, mythical beasts and foliate motifs are late C15. The north door, now blocked externally, has an elaborately carved hoodmould showing St Christopher with the infant Jesus on the left and the Resurrection on the right. To the left of the door is the mutilated medieval font. The priest’s door to the south wall has a crocketted hoodmould. The piscina and sedilia to the left have elaborately carved canopies with ogee arches and crocketted finials. Underneath the two canopies to the left are carved Tudor roses, whilst that to the right has a carved head of Christ or the vernicle. Beneath the sedilia and the piscina are carved busts of angels. The C19 altar has a traceried front and reredos and is surmounted with the mensa (altar top) from the medieval altar in the chantry chapel. The brass altar rail is C19. The five Shakespeare family ledger stones now form the second chancel step. That to William Shakespeare is inscribed:


The monument to Shakespeare is on the north wall of the chancel and is attributed to Gheerart Janssen of Southwark. It comprises a demi-figure of Shakespeare set within an aedicule with coffered round arch and Corinthian columns. Above is the coat of arms granted to the Shakespeare family in the late 1590s with a cherub to either side; one holding an inverted torch and the other a spade. The whole is topped by a skull. Other memorials in the chancel include the chest tomb of Dean Balshall (d.1491) with canopied relief scenes of the Passion and the Resurrection to the side panels; the chest tomb of John Coombe (d.1614) by Gheerart Janssen with a recumbent effigy under a round arch, a strapwork frame to the inscription panel and flanking Corinthian columns, cornice and obelisks to either side of an armorial panel; a memorial tablet to Judith and Richard Coombe (d.1649) by Thomas Stanton and similar to the memorial to Shakespeare, it has two busts holding hands, and three armorial cartouches over a segmental pediment; memorial to James Kendall (d.1751) and his wife, Jane (d.1769) by Rysbrack. There are many other good C16, C17, C18 and C19 wall tablets and ledger stones throughout, as well as a First World War memorial plaque in the south transept engraved with a poem by Rudyard Kipling.

Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that the early C21 single-storey addition attached to the south aisle is not of special architectural or historic interest and is not included in the listing.

This List entry has been amended to add sources for War Memorials Online and the War Memorials Register. These sources were not used in the compilation of this List entry but are added here as a guide for further reading, 21 August 2017.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
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Books and journals
Hall, Michael, George Frederick Bodley and the Later Gothic Revival in Britain and America, (2014), 330-3
Horsler, V, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon: A Visitor's Guide to Shakespeare's Church, (2010)
Page, W, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire, (1908), 123-4
Pevsner, N, Pickford, C, The Buildings of England: Warwickshire , (2016), 590-3
Styles, P, The Victoria History of the County of Warwickshire, (1945), 269-82
War Memorials Online, accessed 21 August 2017 from
War Memorials Register, accessed 21 August 2017 from
Bearman, R, The 'Shakespeare' Ledger Stones in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon. A documentary report prepared for the Parochial Church Council, Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon (2013)
MWA1022: Holy Trinity, Stratford-upon-Avon (Warwickshire Historic Environment Record)
Ossafreelance, 'Osteological Assessment of Human Remains from the South Side of Holy Trinity Church, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire: A Report for Worcestershire Archive and Archaeology Service' (September, 2014)
Worcestershire County Council, Archaeological Evaluation on the south side of Holy Trinity Church, Old Town, Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire (September 2014)


This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building is shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’), structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building (save those coloured blue on the map) are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act.

End of official listing

Images of England

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Date: 22 Feb 2005
Reference: IOE01/13921/03
Rights: Copyright IoE Helmut Schulenburg. Source Historic England Archive
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