School continues Shakespeare tradition

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Bennett Carr, headteacher of Kind Edward VI School

One of Stratford’s greatest traditions still managed to take place last week as King Edward VI School paid tribute to Shakespeare.

During Stratford’s annual Shakespeare Celebrations pupils from KES usually lead the Birthday parade to Holy Trinity Church to place flowers on the Bard’s grave.

Started in 1893 by than headmaster Rev Robert de Courcy Laffan and pupils from the school, the ceremony has only previously been cancelled during the First and Second World Wars.

Rev de Laffan’s idea for a procession of children and ordinary people carrying offerings of wild flowers soon caught on and remains a central part of the celebrations to this day.

Like all churches, Holy Trinity Church is currently closed due to coronavirus, an action that had put the flower laying ceremony this year in jeopardy.

However, determined that the school should still honour their former pupil, current headmaster Bennet Carr came up with a way of celebrating Shakespeare’s life and observing social distancing regulations and ventured to the church on Thursday afternoon

With the permission of Rev Patrick Taylor, the headmaster placed a wreath on the outside wall of the church on 23rd April, closest to Shakespeare’s grave and directly behind the bust of Shakespeare, where Kes pupils place a quill each year.

Mr Carr said: “The floral procession, which has become a central part of the Shakespeare Celebrations, all started from that simple tribute made by the headmaster and the students at Kes back in 1893. School folklore is that the idea actually came from the headmaster’s wife, like all the best ideas do!

“The floral procession has only not taken place during the war years and in 1946, it’s only really been halted by war and we thought we should make an effort to continue the tradition, even though everyone is not able to join us this year.

“I had a discussion with Rev Patrick Taylor and the churchwarden and they suggested where might be the best place to put the wreath.

“Then as part of my daily allocated exercise, following social distancing guidelines, I walked there with members of my family to place the wreath. It was a very simple act and it was quite nice doing something that took the ceremony back to its roots.

“I tweeted a picture explaining that I’d laid the wreath on behalf of the school and I had some really positive responses from people, there were some who asked whether we were happy for the wreath to be on behalf of them too and I said of course it was.”

Rev Patrick Taylor of Holy Trinity Church, added: “One of the highlights of the year for us at Holy Trinity is welcoming the many hundreds of people who come to the church on the Saturday of the Birthday Weekend to lay flowers by the grave of William Shakespeare.

“It was very sad to have to keep the church locked shut this year, but I was delighted to see that Bennet Carr has kept going the tradition of King Edward VI School by coming to lay flowers, albeit this year placing them in the churchyard on the other side of the church wall to the grave.

“It was a gesture repeated by others whom I see have laid sprigs of rosemary and flowers at the doors of the church. The wreath from KES has now been joined by a beautiful bouquet of flowers left by the Shakespeare Club, who have also played a prominent role in the history of the Birthday celebrations in the town.”

Thank you to Sylvia Morris for providing additional material for this article.