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Time Travel in the Reading Room: Back to the Future Day

For Back to the Future Day, take a look at what Stratford-upon-Avon looked like in 1985, 1955, and 1885!

Madeleine Cox

It's Back to the Future Day... the day that Marty McFly and Doc Brown travelled to in the DeLorean in the second film of the franchise. Watch this iconic film moment on The Telegraph site.

So here we are in the future! There are a wealth of websites looking at which forms of technology the film accurately predicted and whilst we may not be enjoying self-lacing shoes, as I sit here typing a blog post, taking pictures on my smartphone and dealing with email enquiries from readers around the world, maybe the future has actually proved pretty amazing.

Here in the Reading Room we often feel like time travellers as we help our readers explore the past through books, archives, and museum documents. In some cases, these are people trying to get the next best thing to travelling back in time to meet their ancestors; piecing together their parents', grandparents', or many times great-grandparents' lives through the collections we care for.

We thought we'd take a quick look at the dates that feature in the films to see what life was like in Stratford-upon-Avon in these eras. If you took a DeLorean back to 2nd September 1885 (BTTF III), 12th November 1955 (BTTF), or 26th October 1985 (BTTF II), what would you find? We've found news articles and photos as close as possible to these dates without even leaving the Reading Room.

Let's start in 1985...

High Street 1985
High Street, 1985
Bridge Street 1985
Bridge Street, 1985

Saturday 26 October 1985 saw "Opportunity Saturday" at Rackham's in the nearby town of Leamington Spa, with jumpsuits in royal blue or black at just £12.99, brushed nylon nighties for £6.99, VHS videos for £299.99, and bacon for 95p per lb (back in the days when the basement contained a butcher's). 

Safeway advert
Safeway advert

There was still a Safeway's in Stratford where you could get Black Magic chocs for £2.39. 

If you went to the theatre you could catch Merry Wives of Windsor, As You Like It, or Troilus and Cressida at the main house; or Philistines and Mary, After the Queen at The Other Place; or you might have bought your tickets in anticipation of Nicholas Nickleby, opening in December. At the cinema you could go and see Cocoon in Dolby Stereo. The Herald also included TV listings in 1985, so you might be looking forward to seeing What-A Mess, the children's programme based on the books of the same name about the terribly messy afghan hound. Other TV favourites you might be tuning into included comedy shows Hi-De-Hi and Terry and June, The Tripods. Of course before the programmes started, you might want to look at Ceefax!

TV listings 1985
TV listings

In other news, it was around this time that the Monroe Devis Maternity home shut its doors after the birth of 17,000 Stratford babies over forty years. Builders also enjoyed a spot of time travel in that the team working on the renovations of the Lamp Lighter pub found copies of the Sunday Times from August 1841 in the walls. Houses in central Stratford could be found for less than £50,000 and you might be keen to buy a nice new Montego. On a personal note, I remember going apple picking with my dad at Snitterfield Fruit Farm!

In the first BTTF film, the DeLorean is used to ensure that Marty's parents marry back in 1955, so that will be our next stop...

high street 1955
High Street, 1955
Bridge Street, 1955
Bridge Street, 1955

On November 12th 1955 in Stratford, you could go to the rummage sale at The Old Red Lion, or attend a dance. All's Well That Ends Well was on at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, or later in the week you might get tickets to see Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in Titus Andronicus, Twelfth Night, or Macbeth.

bttf dance 1955
Rummage Sale
Rummage Sale
Cinema listings, 1955
Cinema listings, 1955

Or perhaps you’d like to go and see Clark Gable at the cinema and drink a “Special Orange”!

special orange advert 1955
Special Orange advert, 1955

Stratford's news of the week was the discovery of two early 16th century paintings of St. Medwena and St. Edmund by workmen removing panelling in the Guild Chapel. Chinese visitors came to the theatre and met director Glen Byam Shaw (whose notebooks are in our collections).

Chinese visitors with Glen Byam Shaw
Chinese visitors with Glen Byam Shaw

Meanwhile the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust announced that nearly 200,000 visitors had visited the Birthplace by the Trustees and Guardians half annual meeting and discussed the encouragement given to educational visits by schools, colleges, and enquirers by the Director and his staff.

Fasten your seat-belts now for a trip back to 1885...

high street 1885
High Street, 1885
Bridge Street, 1885
Bridge Street, 1885

In 1885 you could have enjoyed Miss Mary Anderson's debut performance as Rosalind in As You Like It at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre. Prices were trebled and many people had their applications for tickets declined. The audience included well-known actors, singers, and authors, 'leading families of Warwickshire and the adjoining counties', as well as press from as far afield as New York. The paper also explains that the 'victualling resources' of the town were very severely tried, such was the popularity of this production. If you were staying in town, you might have enjoyed some potash water (!) purchased in High Street.

aerated waters advert 1885
Aerated waters advert, 1885