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13 November 2014

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You are in: Lancashire > History > Local landmarks > Shakespeare at Rufford?

Rufford Old Hall

Shakespeare at Rufford?

Did William Shakespeare perform and stay at Rufford Old Hall near Ormskirk? The National Trust's Charles Singleton looks at the evidence.

Set in a secluded garden directly off the now busy A59 near Ormskirk stands Rufford Hall, arguably one of the region's finest 16th Century Tudor buildings.

Most famous for its spectacular Great Hall, with carved 'moveable' wooden screen and
dramatic hammer beam roof, it is also rumoured that a young William Shakespeare performed here for the owner Sir Thomas Hesketh.

It is believed that the playwright stayed at the hall for six months in the 1580s and is said to be mentioned in the will of Alexander Hoghton of Lea Hall, near Preston in 1581 which reads:

"Item. It is my mind and will that the said Thomas Hoghton of Brynescoules my brother shall have all my instruments belonging to music, and all manner of play clothes if he be minded to keep and do keep players.

The giant carved wooden screen

The giant carved wooden screen

"And if he will not keep and maintain players then it is my mind and will that Sir Thomas Hesketh knight shall have the same instruments and play clothes.

"And I most heartly require the said Sir Thomas to be friendly unto Fluke Gyllome and William Shakeshafte now dwelling with me and either to take them into his service or else to help them to some good master as my trust is he will."

Although William Shakeshaft was a common name in the early 19th century, the Hesketh family always maintained that the playwright had stayed and performed at the hall, but the theory wasn't taken seriously until the publication of Honigmann's publication "Shakespeare: the Lost Years" in 1985.

Honigmann stated that there was good evidence that it was the real William Shakespeare at Rufford.

He said that to be part of the Houghton or Hesketh household he would have had to have been Roman Catholic.

There is lots of evidence to suggest that the William Shakespeare family were Roman Catholic.

Charles Singleton from The National Trust

Charles Singleton from The National Trust

William Shakespeare's school in Stratford-upon-Avon had four or five Jesuit teachers from West Lancashire, including his own teacher John Cottam whose family were tenants of the Hoghtons.

Also after William Shakespeare move to London a resident of Rufford acted as a trustee when he purchased the land on which the Globe Theatre was built in 1599.

The idea that William Shakespeare may have spent some time at Rufford Old Hall gives further insight into the development of theatres in Tudor times.

Shakespeare would have performed in the Great Hall at Rufford which contains collections of sixteenth and seventeenth century oak furniture, weapons, armour and tapestries.

The hall reopens to the public on Friday 27th February 2009 with the 'Rise and Shine' event which looks at the conservation techniques used to prepare the house for the open season.


last updated: 27/02/2009 at 12:12
created: 25/02/2009

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