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An American in Stratford-upon-Avon revisited

More information about our first visitors' book

Paul Taylor
Painted Portrait of Thomas Handasyd Perkins, by Spiridione Gambardella
Thomas Handasyd Perkins by Spiridione Gambardella from the collection of

Regular readers may remember a blog about the first recorded visitor in our first visitors’ book – Thomas Handasyd Perkins. Well last year the subject of Mr Perkins came up again in response to a talk given by our CEO, Dr Diana Owen at the Cosmos Club in Washington DC. We were contacted by one of the attendees at the talk, Drew Oliver with a little more information about Thomas Perkins and Joseph Curwen of Philadelphia, the second name in the book. Both were merchants involved in international trade.

Following this up my research took me to the Massachusetts Historical Society who hold TH Perkins’ papers, including his “Journal of reminiscences of England and Wales, 1 July 1812” which is the date of the first entry in our visitors’ book. Imagine my delight when Dan Hinchen responded to my enquiry with the news that not only was Thomas Perkins the first person to sign the book, but he actually bought the book and delivered it to the Birthplace for visitors to use. His journal recalls:

“Altho’ I had before visited Stratford, yet it gave me great pleasure to have an opportunity of passing a few more hours here…

 “When here before, I went to the house, and into the room where the Poet was born, but as Mr. Curwen had not visited this place before, I passed thro’ the town with him and visited, both the house and church with him…"

 This passage is interesting in that it talks about who the then-residents of the house were:

 “It is now occupied by a Butcher, who hangs up his mutton at the windows of the front room, and whose wife who is a very loquacious sort of a woman, shows you all the Relics which are said to have been the property of the bard…

Journal of reminiscences of England and Wales, 1 July 1812
Entry in Perkins' journal describing his purchase of the visitors' book

After describing how visitors before him took to writing their names on the walls, Perkins continues:

 “When I was here before, I asked the woman why she did not keep a Book, in which persons who came to visit the house might subscribe their names, as the walls were full. She said she had frequently thought of getting one, and had been often asked if she had one, but that she had no one to prepare it for her; at that time I was much hurried, but determined that if I ever again passed thro’ Stratford I would purchase one and give it to the woman__I now put my resolution into execution by buying a quarto blank Book containing about four quires of paper, and giving to be applied to this purpose__ I ruled it, making a column for the date, another for the name and a third for the Residence __ and having written in the beginning of it “Tribute of Respect to the Memory of the Bard of Avon” and furnished the woman with an ink stand and some pens, I subscribed my name, and wished her to deliver the Book when filled to the Librarian of the Town, who is to deposit it in the Library, and furnish another blank Book in its stead.”

Quotations taken from Thomas Handasyd Perkins Journal of reminiscences of England and Wales, 1 July 1812, Thomas Handasyd Perkins papers, microfilm edition, 17 reels, Massachusetts Historical Society

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