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Conservation Programme Ensures That Untold Stories About the Women Who Made Shakespeare Are Shared in Special Exhibition

Amy Hurst, Collections Manager with the John and Mary document.
Amy Hurst, Collections Manager with the John and Mary document.

A centuries-old legal document signed by William Shakespeare’s granddaughter is now on display at Shakespeare’s New Place that helps to expand on the stories of the women who influenced Shakespeare during his lifetime. This is the first in a programme of rotations of the fragile letters that are featured in the Hidden Voices exhibition.

From Thursday 30 May, visitors to Shakespeare’s New Place will have the opportunity to see a new document on display in its exhibition, Hidden Voices: The Women Who Made Shakespeare. The signature of Elizabeth Bernard, Shakespeare’s first granddaughter, replaces a document showing the seal and mark of Shakespeare’s mother, Mary, which offered a small glimpse into the life of this remarkable woman.

This first rotation is part of a year-long programme where the Trust’s collections team will be changing the signatures on display every couple of months to preserve these delicate objects for future visitors.

"As handwritten documents are vulnerable to light damage, it was important for us to rotate the John and Mary document after a period of being on display. We’ll now be putting this item back into our stores, for at least a year, to preserve the historical document for generations to come.’’

Commented Emily White, Curator at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Other documents set to go on show include deeds and documents signed and sealed by Shakespeare’s daughters, Susanna and Judith.

These documents are significant because legal letters, including deeds to property, are one of the only ways we know about the lives of women in the Early Modern period. The rotation of documents lets the Trust tell these important stories and bring this side of history to life for visitors.

‘’These legal documents are special as they link us directly to the immediate women in Shakespeare’s life and highlight a financial role they played in Shakespeare’s, and their own personal lives.’’

Added Emily White.

Elizabeth Bernard document being put on display.
Elizabeth Bernard document being put on display.

Conserving Artefacts For Future Generations

The Trust’s collections conservation programme enables its team to maintain and preserve its extensive collection of over one million individual artefacts for future generations.

Throughout the year, the team maintains artefacts, which includes performing checks and collections care across all its properties, exhibitions and collection stores.

The rotation of documents on display coincides with the team preparing to move its collections from the Shakespeare Centre to a new, accessible storage facility in Stratford-upon-Avon.

‘’Even as we prepare to move the collection to Avenue Farm, we want to ensure that audiences have the opportunity to discover objects that help tell the Shakespeare story. The Hidden Voices exhibition gives us a great opportunity to give people access to a selection of remarkable artefacts that help to tell the stories of the Women Who Made Shakespeare.’’

Added Amy Hurst, Collections Manager at the Trust.

Emily White performing checks on the Medicine Chest on display.
Emily White performing checks on the Medicine Chest on display.

Hidden Voices: The Women Who Made Shakespeare is open until Sunday 3 November. Access to the exhibition is included in the admission price to Shakespeare’s New Place and the Shakespeare’s Story ticket, which gives visitors unlimited access to all three of Shakespeare’s family homes in a 12-month period. Residents with a CV37 postcode can visit Shakespeare’s New Place and the exhibition for free.

For more information about the exhibition and to pre-book the Shakespeare Story ticket, please visit