MOTHER, OF THE CHILD
At first the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
( Jaques, As You Like It)
When her first son was born, Mary Shakespeare's town lay in the path of the worst plague since the Black Death. Yet the town's corporate council had been warned about the contagion, and for years the aldermen and chief burgesses had been trying to keep the streets clean. As early as April 1552 John Shakespeare had paid a small fine for keeping an unauthorized muck-heap (or sterquinarium) on Henley Street. At the town's northern end, this was an old, built-up street, traversed by horsemen riding through on the way up to Henley-in- Arden. Wagons drawn by oxen bumped over a cross-gutter in front of Gilbert Bradley's house, a few doors to the cast of his fellow glover John Shakespeare. Once, in 1560, nearly every tenant had to pay for pavings broken by the damaging wagons. 'All the tenauntes in Henley street from ye cros gutter befor bradleys doore', it was stated, were to blame, as many of 'the pavementes are broken befor ther doores & for not mendynge of them they stand amerced'. 1 A street also had to be kept clear, and Robert Rogers and others paid for leaving carts at their doors.
Wagons and pack-horses were less likely to use the parallel way known as the Gild Pits, or royal highway, since it was rutty. Crossing Clopton's bridge, a traveller would be led by a walled causeway into Bridge Street, and on past two inns showing the Bear and the Swan. This was a major market area, divided in the centre by a row of houses