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Shakespeare’s Birthplace goes under the hammer

‘And when we see the figure of the house, Then must we rate the cost of the erection’ Henry IV Part Two, 1.3

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the childhood home of William Shakespeare is to go under the hammer once again, 170 years since it was saved for the nation at public auction.  The world-famous Grade 1 listed house is being marketed by estate agents Sheldon Bosley Knight with a ‘special’ public auction on 16th September*. 

Rescued in 1847 for a princely sum of £3000, the purchase of the tumbledown terraced house prompted the foundation of the UK’s oldest conservation charity, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Sheldon Bosley Knight say it is almost impossible to value the beautifully preserved Tudor house which has been a magnet for 32 million visitors since its restoration.  Now detached, the house occupies a prime location in Shakespeare’s home town and boasts magnificent original features including six inglenook fireplace es and flagstone floors.  Interested parties may inspect the property at their convenience, subject to usual entry fees. 

170 years ago the house was threatened with dissolution and decay when the resident butcher’s wife died and her heirs put it up for auction. It was up to the people to save it. In what may have been a Victorian version of fake news, rumours were reported in the press that American showman P T Barnum, founder of Barnum and Bailey Circus, intended to dismantle the property brick by brick and transport it over the Atlantic. 

The race was on and several committees were immediately formed to raise subscriptions, featuring some notable figures including Charles Dickens, Sir Robert Peel and ‘A-list’ actor of the day William Macready.  They set about mobilising the population to purchase the house for the nation. Prince Albert was patron of the Stratford Committee. 

Fundraising efforts were varied and included plays, performances and souvenirs. Quick’s New Puzzle of Shakespeare’s House (sample enclosed) enabled purchasers to assemble their own mantelpiece version of the property, and a replica of the Birthplace was erected in Surrey’s Zoological Gardens (now known as Pasley Park) and became a popular visitor attraction in its own right (though later attempts to save it failed). 

Long-held hopes for the government to take over the running of the Birthplace as a national memorial were never realised, and so the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was formed as the independent charity responsible for the care and preservation of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, an arrangement formalised by Act of Parliament in 1891. Presenting the birthplace of a writer was unusual, and the saving of Shakespeare’s house inspired a trend of other writers’ homes to be preserved including John Milton’s house in Charlefont St Giles in 1887 and the Bronte Parsonage in 1928.  

Today, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust continues to be self-funded with an obligation to care for Shakespeare’s family homes and safeguard his legacy.  Its responsibilities have expanded to include the care of the UK’s largest Shakespeare museum and archive collection and delivery of educational programmes, to promote the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare’s works, life and times. 

Discover the fascinating story behind the saving of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in a new exhibition: Saving Shakespeare’s Birthplace runs from 16 September – 29 December at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon. Don’t miss a special theatrical re-enactment of the auction outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace on 16 September at 12pm and 2pm.  No booking required.  Access to this street performance is free.  For more information see www.shakespeare.org.uk/events.  

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