The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust trusts Geotechnics

Posted on November 15, 2017
Archive : November 2017
Category : Case Studies

To celebrate #LoveTheatreDay, we're looking back at some of our favourite theatrical projects. When we conducted a site investigation at the Grade 1 listed Nash's House for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, we got the work done - with no drama! 

In August of 2015 Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust engaged Geotechnics Limited to investigate an area to the rear of the Grade 1 listed Nash’s House in Stratford-upon-Avon. This building belonged to Shakespeare’s granddaughter and is adjacent to New Place, the site of the house he bought at the age of 33 for his family, and where he died 19 years later. It lies to the south of the better known house in which he was born and to the north west of the theatre. Nash’s house was undergoing significant restoration to conserve and enlarge the visitor space to tell the story of New Place. The site itself, which is a registered Park and Garden, was reopened to the public in summer 2016, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. 

The purpose of the investigation was to determine the depth, characteristics and content of the Made Ground and the nature of the soils underlying it so that foundations for the new extension could be designed and the builders and archaeologists informed of the possible presence of significant artifacts. 

Windowless sampling was used at 10 locations chosen by the on-site archaeologist, who also directed, supervised and recorded the works together with Geotechnics’ Chris Swainston. Hand-held equipment rather than a tracked or modular rig was used to minimise ground disturbance of this historic site. The work confirmed that sands and gravels of the underlying Terrace Gravels were present at most locations at shallow depth. 12th century foundations and possible pre-17th century brick floors were encountered in at least 2 of the locations close to the rear of the house and an example of early brick, possibly from Shakespeare’s own house, was also found. 

Geotechnics has been involved in the investigation of Shakespeare-related sites over many years, most notably with our work within the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Shakespeare’s awareness of what is involved in site development is demonstrated by this quotation from Henry IV Part 2: “When we mean to build we first survey the plot ...” This play was being written at the time of his acquisition of New Place in 1597 and it is interesting to see how he may have drawn on his experience of site development to create a metaphor for the importance of planning in any campaign. The plot develops!

It’s good to see that heed is being taken of his advice over 400 years later. 

This article first appeared in the 2015/16 edition of Geotopics. You can find out about our more recent work in the current edition.