Map collected by Captain James Saunders

Map collected by Captain James Saunders - Stratford antiquarian and military man

James Saunders was captain and adjutant of the 5th Warwickshire Militia, stationed in Stratford. One suspects, however, that James’s real interest lay not in the military but in antiquarianism. Saunders was to copy in meticulous detail drawings of local antiquities and copied out in identical hand thousands of local historic records. Much more of this material would surely have been published had Saunders not prematurely died in 1830. In 1849 James’s son presented the bulk of his father’s papers to the Royal Shakespearean Club, who placed them in Shakespeare’s Birthplace following its restoration in 1862. They are now part of the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive. James Orchard Halliwell said of Saunders that: “among the inhabitants of Stratford who worthily availed themselves of local advantages in collecting and preserving genuine memorials of the poet, none have performed more commendable services than the late Captain James Saunders”.

The main collection, which consists of 51 volumes, reveals a remarkably eclectic interest in churches, charnel houses, country houses, inns and the plague of 1645/46, among many other things. Saunders’ interest in William Shakespeare resulted in a fascinating collection of transcripts. All the more interesting, perhaps, given that this was a period when many documented details of his life were still to be discovered. Saunders’ interest in Shakespeare and the theatre itself led him to collecting material on David Garrick too.

This collection is part history, part works of art, part encyclopedia. Without the work of Captain James Saunders we would understand much less about Shakespeare and Stratford. His love of collecting and his ability to bring his subjects to life make his collections a real treasure of the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive.