28 July 2022

Cock and Bull stories about
Shakespeare and getting
lost in ‘the wrong Stratford’

The Cock Hotel, one half of the Cock and Bull stories … but was this ever the ‘wrong Stratford’? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The apocryphal story is told of the Victorian writer who took the coach to Stratford in search of Shakespeare.

The coach driver dropped him off at the Cock, a coaching inn on the High Street in Stony Stratford.

When the poor benighted writer realised the driver’s mistake – or his mistake – he exclaimed, ‘This isn’t Stratford!’

‘Yes it is,’ the coach driver retorted. ‘It’s just not Stratford-upon-Avon.’ And off he sped, heading off in a northerly direction.

It’s probably just another ‘Cock and Bull’ from the twinned coaching inns on the High Street in Stony Stratford.

But of course, Shakespeare knew of Stony Stratford, whether he ever enjoyed the confusion between the two Stratford: his birthplace in Warwickshire and the town on the old Watling Street in Buckinghamshire.

The former Rose and Crown Inn on High Street is associated with the stories and legends about the ‘Princes in the Tower’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Certainly, Shakespeare uses this town as the setting for one of the events in his telling of the story associated with the Princes in the Tower.

‘I hear they lay at Stony Stratford,’ it is said in Richard III, Act II, Scene IV, when the uncrowned Edward V is abducted in the Rose and Crown also on the High Street, at Nos 26-28, at the other end of the street from both the Cock and the Bull.

The Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, finds the location of the young, uncrowned Edward V and his brother, the Duke of York. These two stood in the way of Richard’s claims to the throne. Edward was abducted in Stony Stratford in 1483, taken to the Tower of London and was never seen or heard of again.

The link between the Princes in the Tower and the Rose and Crown is dismissed by most historians today.

There is another, tentative but even more dismissible link between Shakespeare and Stony Stratford. The Horseshoe or Lyon and Horseshoe Inn is mentioned in Sir John Oldcastle, a play first published in 1600 and attributed to Shakespeare in 1619.

The play was once linked to the Bard because when Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 was first staged in 1597-1598, the character Sir John Falstaff was called Sir John Oldcastle. There is even a suggestion that Falstaff was originally Oldcastle in The Merry Wives of Windsor too.

If Sir John Oldcastle is not Shakespeare’s play, there certainly was a pub in Stony Stratford known as the Horseshoe. Local historians Brian Dunleavy, Ken Daniels and Andy Powell, in their charming Inns of Stony Stratford, which I was referring to yesterday, identify the Horseshoe as a mediaeval pub that stood on High Street from at least the 16th century until it closed in 1797. They identfiy the site of the Horseshoe with the site later developed as Saint Paul’s School and Saint Paul’s Court.

Perhaps the one true link with Shakespeare on the High Street is the choice of name for the Talbot, a mediaeval pub that once stood at 81-83 High Street, across the street from both the Cock and Saint Paul’s Court. But that’s a story for another day … and it’s not another Cock and Bull story.

Saint Paul’s Court in Stony Stratford … was this the site of the Horseshoe or Lyon and Horseshoe Inn mentioned in ‘Sir John Oldcastle’, a play once attributed to Shakespeare? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Further reading:

Bryan Dunleavy, Ken Daniels, Andy Powell, Inns of Stony Stratford (Southampton: Magic Flute, 2014/2018)

Praying with the World Church in
Ordinary Time: Thursday, 28 July 2022

A fig tree coming into fruit in Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

The annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) took place in the High Leigh Conference Centre at Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire this week. The conference theme has been ‘Living Stones, Living Hope.’

I am continuing my prayer diary each morning this week in this way:

1,Reading the Gospel reading of the morning;

2,a short reflections on the reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Ripe figs on the ground in Queen Square Gardens in London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The Gospel reading for Morning Prayer in Common Worship this morning is:

Luke 21: 29-38 (NRSVA):

29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38 And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.

Today’s reflection:

The fig tree had more potential than just the figs and fruit it produced. Fig trees are planted in vineyards to shelter the weaker vines. An old and elegant fig tree is a common site in many Mediterranean vineyards and has its own intrinsic value. It may even have vines wrapped around, bearing their own fruit.

It takes much tender care and many years – at least three years – for a fig tree to bear fruit. And even then, in a vineyard, the figs, are not a profit – they are a bonus.

And anyway, even if a tree bears fruit, the Mosaic Law said it could not be harvested for three years, and the fruit gathered in the fourth year was going to offered as the first fruits. Only in the fifth year, then, could the fruit be eaten.

The observations by Jesus on the fruiting fig tree are in sharp contrast to the man who wanted to tear up a freshly-planted fig tree in the short parable in Luke 13:

Then he told this parable: ‘A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, “See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” He replied, “Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down”.’ (Luke 13: 6-9).

If this tree had been chopped down, and another put its place, it would take longer still to get fruit that could be eaten or sold. In his quest for the quick buck, the owner of the vineyard shows little knowledge about the reality of economics.

The gardener, who has nothing at stake, turns out to be the one not only has compassion, but has deep-seated wisdom too.

Three years, and three more years, and then the fruit.

The fruit is only going to be profitable in its seventh year. Now, between Chapter 13 and Chapter 21, the fig tree has become a sign ‘that the kingdom of God is near.’

What do we dismiss in life because it is too young and without fruit, or too old and gnarled, only to realise when it is too late that we are failing to see signs ‘that the kingdom of God is near’?

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) this week is ‘The Way Towards Healing,’ looking at the work for peace of the Churches in Korea. This theme was introduced on Sunday by Shin Seung-min, National Council of Churches in Korea.

Thursday 28 July 2022:

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us pray for the success of the Korea Peace Appeal. May the world take notice of this campaign and renew global efforts for peace.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Figs for breakfast in the Garden Taverna in Platanias near Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org