Mary Baker and the legacy of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Anne HathawayThis excerpt from a new book by Katherine West Scheil, Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife, explores the 19th-century transformation of the Anne Hathaway Cottage into a tourist destination that began to draw famous visitors such as Charles Dickens and Ulysses S. Grant.

Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway was published in June 2018 by Cambridge University Press.

Hear more from Katherine Scheil about the afterlife of Anne Hathaway in our Shakespeare Unlimited podcast interview.

The final evolution of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage from a wayward locale that visitors had to track down, to a deliberately coordinated tourist experience that nurtured a nostalgic courtship myth, is largely due to one extraordinary individual.  Mary Baker, a descendant of the Hathaway family, served as “a living link with the Stratford Bard,” and set the agenda for the Cottage that remains in place today.[i]  One notice of her death recounted that “in the minds of most visitors, Mrs. Baker’s personality was indissolubly associated with the cottage.  She was posed in it by photographers, painted in it by artists, snap-shotted in it by amateurs, described in it by writers, seen in it by everyone.  There can hardly be a town in the kingdom where hearts will not be touched by the news of her sad end.”[ii]  Baker was a central actor in the performance of Anne Hathaway’s Cottage as a set piece of tourism.  As Cecilia Morgan notes, “the discourses and practices of nineteenth-century tourism were dependent on local residents and workers in the tourist industry enacting particular categories and identities,” and Baker fit this bill.[iii]

Baker led tours of the Cottage for seventy years, until her death in 1899 as a result of slipping on the stone steps of the Cottage.[iv]  As part of her personal attention to each guest, Baker served tea, and until 1885 she admitted that “though she used to make a cup of tea for her visitors yet now there are so many, and she an old body, she couldn’t be bothered wi’ it.”[v]  She regularly handed out herbs and flowers from the Cottage’s gardens to visitors, including sprigs of rosemary and daisies.[vi]

Baker kept a visitor’s book, where she recorded the reactions of famous guests when she gave her tours.  Charles Dickens, for example, “took the visitor’s book out into the garden and sat down on the stone by the well with the book on his knees while he wrote his name.”  Other famous visitors included Mark Lemon, the founding editor of Punch; the American General Ulysses S. Grant, who “asked a lot of questions;” U.S. President James Garfield; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow; Mark Twain; Oliver Wendell Holmes; Edwin Booth; and actress Mary Anderson.[vii]

Baker had a reputation as “quite a Shakespearean celebrity;” according to accounts at the end of her life, she “made the acquaintance of most of the eminent literary men and distinguished personages of the time” and will be missed by “American visitors in particular.”[viii]  One American, critic Charles Warren Stoddard, remarked in 1874  that when he “stumble[d] upon the shrine for love,” he was greeted by Baker “whose face was a kind of welcome,” and he immediately felt “at once at home.”[ix]  Stoddard wrote in January of 1874 to his friends in San Francisco, boasting that he was “not three feet from the very chimney in which Will Shakspeare used to make love to his Anne.”  Stoddard reveled in the immersive experiences at the Cottage, including dinner “cooked in the very spot where Shakespeare has many a time toasted his toes,” with a “ham that was raised on the place and cured in this very chimney, and a pork-pie—a Shakspearean pork-pie you may call it—made in the house by a descendant of the Hathaways.” To top off his experience, he flaunted, “To-night I am to sleep in Anne Hathaway’s bed.”[x]

[i] Country Life Illustrated, 30 September 1899, 391.  Baker’s mother, Mary Taylor, was the daughter of William Taylor, son of John Hathaway Taylor, son of William Taylor and Susan Hathaway.

[ii] Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 29 September 1899.

[iii] Morgan, “A Happy Holiday,” 16.

[iv] The Brighton Herald 30 September 1899 reports that a week before her death, “the poor old lady, who had reached the great age of eighty-seven, slipped from a stone step in the cottage, and fractured one of her thighs.”

[v] Poingdestre, “A Summer Day,” 415.

[vi] William Winter, The Stage Life of Mary Anderson (New York: George J. Coombes, 1886), 79; Poingdestre, “A Summer Day,” 415; Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, 29 September 1899.  The resemblance to Ophelia handing out flowers in Hamlet is likely deliberate.

[vii] “Pilgrims to the Shrine of Shakespeare: A Chat with Mrs. Hathaway Baker,” The Woman’s Signal (24 January 1895), 50.

[viii] Christian Tearle, Rambles with an American (London: Mills & Boon, 1910), 85; The Brighton Herald 30 September 1899; Country Life Illustrated, 30 September 1899, 391.

[ix] Charles Warren Stoddard, “The Shottery Tryst,” The Overland Monthly 12.5 (May 1874), 406.  Stoddard’s essay was reprinted in his Exits and Entrances: A Book of Essays and Sketches (Boston: Lothrop Publishing, 1903) and excerpted in James Walter’s Shakespeare’s True Life (1890), though Walter attributes the piece to William Winter.  Part of Stoddard’s essay on Shottery (retitled “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage”) was included in The New Century Catholic Series: The Fifth Reader (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1905), designed for students and “drawn largely from the writings of Catholics of recognized standing in the world of letters” (5).  Thus, Stoddard’s piece reached a wide audience of all ages.

[x] Charles Warren Stoddard, “Anne Hathaway’s Cottage,” The Overland Monthly 13 (March 1874), 285.

© Katherine West Scheil 2018 (courtesy of Cambridge University Press)

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