The Influence of the Guilds
Although the relatively tranquil and prosperous existence of both communities was temporarily interrupted by the Black Death in the mid- 14th century, the new settlement continued to prosper as is evident from the growth of Guilds.
These Guilds had both religious and secular duties which included, among other things, supporting chaplains, maintaining altars in churches and seeing to the needs of the poor. They also financed a school and almshouses.
The most important of these Guilds was the Gild or fraternity of the Holy Cross which was made up of the more influential people of the town.
The new town also gained a degree of religious autonomy with the construction of the Gild Chapel on the corner of Chapel Lane and Church Street. The tourist often mistakes this for the parish church because of the distance of Holy Trinity Church from the town centre.
The Gild of the Holy Cross obtained a licence to construct a chapel in 1269 and work began in that year. However, nothing remains from this period and the Chapel mainly dates from 15th century.
The administration of the new town was effectively in the hands of the Guild operating from the Guildhall in Church Street. This was built around 1416-18 and was the administrative centre till mid-nineteenth century. The school was built a decade later in 1426-7 by the carpenter John Hessle.
During the 15th century Stratford benefited from a number of improvements financed by Sir Hugh Clopton, one of its main benefactors. Although he was born in Clopton House he nevertheless considered himself a native of the town of Stratford. He had made a fortune as a merchant in London and became Lord Mayor of the city. Among other things he financed the building of the nave in the Gild Chapel and was responsible for the construction of the stone bridge across the river Avon (c. 1490) to replace the old wooden one.
Stratford seemed to be strangely impervious to great upheavals in society. As the influence of the Norman Conquest was felt only to a limited degree so was that of the Reformation. Local government continued as usual with only a few persons in power being replaced. Once again this was more of an evolutionary rather than revolutionary process.
The Gild of the Holy Cross continued to administer the town undisturbed until the dissolution of religious institutions during the reign of Henry VIII. The Gild came to an end in 1547, although the school was allowed to continue.