JOHN SHAKESPEARES F0RTUNES
Paid for the foote stoole that Mr bayliff standeth on ijd [2d.] (Borough accounts of Stratford-upon-Avon)
In the late 1560s Stratford had only about a dozen streets, fewer than 240 households, and a populace (lately reduced by epidemic) of 1,200 people at most; yet relatively speaking the market town was not small. A day's ride to the north, Birmingham with its lorimers (makers of metal parts for bridles and saddles), nailers, and other metal craftsmen was about the same size, and the red-walled, cloth-manufacturing city of Coventry less than twenty miles from Stratford had only 7,000 or 8,000 people -- though it was one of the largest English towns. The largest city outside London was Norwich, with fewer than 15,000 inhabitants. Liverpool had 900 or 1,000, Gloucester about 5,000, Worcester no more than 7,000. A majority of the Queen's subjects lived in tiny, scattered villages and hamlets of fifty or sixty people or less.
Certainly, a borough town of some size and diversity of crafts gave one a chance to observe the nation's practical life -- the real life of politics, trade, petty crime, religion, passion, and fate. Among those who best understood society and human aspirations in this age were Marlowe and Shakespeare, both products of market towns and sons of craftsmen. Christopher Marlowe grew up in a shoemaker's house in Canterbury, a town of about 700 families. Shakespeare had advantages in belonging to a mercantile governing class -- he was, after all, the eldest son in a respectable bourgeois family which was one of the handful of families that ran Stratford.