The Life of a Bard’s Biggin’

Posted on Updated on

In celebration of his birthday this week, we have decided to focus on another great bard: William Shakespeare. The works of Shakespeare were a significant influence on Robert Burns, for he is known to have owned and read Shakespeare’s works, and often quoted the writer in his letters. However, today, we have decided to go down another avenue, and instead of looking at the writings of the two bards, we are going to look at how their fame impacted the life of their birthplaces.

The two birthplaces in this story began life very differently. Shakespeare’s house was a large 3 storey Tudor building, suitable for the wealthy Shakespeare family who were successful local traders. Burns Cottage, on the other hand, despite being more modern, is the more humble of the two. Built by William Burnes, it is a simple farmer’s cot with 2 out of the 4 rooms used for farm purposes. Thus, taken at face value, our houses seem utterly different. Yet what unites them is the fact that they have become places of international veneration. Without that lasting heritage, the ages no doubt would have seen the demolition of these houses along with so many others from ages past. But how did these houses survive before their bards were so widely admired?

Burns Cottage is the only building of its type in Alloway
Burns Cottage survived the years probably due to its connection with Burns.

Although Shakespeare was to ultimately live in another house in Stratford, his birth home was handed to him on his father’s death and the house ultimately passed down through the family over many years. Burns Cottage on the other hand, was sold to the Shoemakers Incorporation several years after the Burnes family had left the premises. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the houses remained in family ownership, both were let out to tenants. In both cases certain tenants made the decision to run a pub, with Shakespeare’s house becoming The Maidenhead, while Burns Cottage became the Burns Heid Inn. Consequently, by changing hands and changing uses, each house underwent transformations. For example, as sight seers increased at the houses, visitors would scratch their names and messages onto wooden beams, doors, and glass windows, in order to leave a memento of their visit. Thankfully, to protect the heritage and history of these sites, the Victorian age saw both properties bought by trusts. In 1846 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust bought Shakespeare’s house when it went on the market, while the Burns Monument Trustees bought Burns Cottage in 1880.

Tourist graffiti at Burns Cottage
Tourist graffiti at Burns Cottage

However, for Shakespeare and Burns lovers across the world, sometimes they have wanted something a little closer to home and, consequently, both houses have copies! In America, the Atlanta Burns Club made a club house based on Burns Cottage, while in Maruyama Machi, South Chiba, you can visit full size replicas of Shakespeare’s birthplace and Mary Arden’s farm!

I visited Shakespeare's Birthplace in Japan!
From my visit to Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Japan!

So looking at the history of our famous houses, it is surprising to see their similarities! They have been homes to many people, been pubs, changed hands, been bought to protect their heritage, and lastly they have been copied and recreated on the other side of the world, all due to the famous people who were born there!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s