There has been a new addition made recently to the ‘Famous Beyond Words’ exhibition at the Shakespeare Centre, although many visitors will recognise that the item in question is not actually new at all.
The ‘Cubborde of Boxes’, has lived in the Exhibition Centre at Shakespeare’s New Place for many a year, and with the changing of the season came a change of scenery for the 16th century piece of furniture.
Built in 1594 by two Stratford locals, the cubborde was constructed to house the records of the Stratford Cooperation; titles, deeds, and other legal documentation would have been stored in the ‘boxes’ within, that we might describe today as ‘drawers’. The craftspeople behind the cubborde, Lawrence Abell and Oliver Hickox, are recorded as taking a mere 16 and a half days to complete the piece, (roughly as long as it takes to set up one flat-packed bookcase).
Moving any large piece of furniture comes with its own set of trials and tribulations, but when the item in question is 423 years old, and over 6 foot tall, there are a whole host of extra considerations you need to think about.
The first being, do we really need to move this?
Ultimately, a large piece of furniture, such as the cubborde, needs a large area to display it with enough space for the item to sit comfortably, not pushed against a wall, and enough distance surrounding it to allow visitors to appreciate the cubborde without the risk of bumping or knocking into it, or catching on the wood. The ‘Famous Beyond Words’ exhibition allows extra room for the cubborde, with more space for visitors to view the piece. The cubborde in its new setting will also assist in telling the story of William’s father, John Shakespeare, a man who played his part in the civic life of Stratford-upon-Avon, serving as alderman, ale-taster, and even high bailiff.
Moving any object, be it large or small, any distance, from one display case to another, or even across the country, holds the risk of damage, dropping, or even destruction of the item in question. These risks must be weighed up appropriately, and mitigated completely wherever possible. The route of travel must be planned out, doorways measured, obstacles removed, and even the weather checked, if the item will be outside at any point. Finally, there will be lots of paperwork, recording the condition of the item, from the smallest scratch, to any evidence of pest nibbling.
So how did the move go?
Firstly, the cubborde was opened, a very rare occasion, and the boxes within were carefully removed and numbered, to ensure they each ended up back in their proper home at the end of the moving process. Once out, the boxes were wrapped in blankets, to ensure a safe journey free from any knocks or scrapes in the back of the removals van.
At the New Place Exhibition Centre, the cubborde sat upon a wooden plinth, and this could be slid forward to give access to the rear of the cubborde, again, a rare sight, allowing the professional movers to wrap more blankets around the cubborde itself, before wrapping straps around, to ensure the doors did not fly open unexpectedly during the moving process.
Lifting straps were then slid beneath the cubborde, to move it off the plinth, and a short distance to the first doorway that needing navigating. Blankets were laid on the floor, and the cubborde carefully slid along them through the narrow space. Narrow doors a common peril of historic houses!
Once through the door, and now in the New Place Shop, a second set of longer lifting straps were employed to allow safer lifting for the movers, to get the cubborde through two more doors, and on to the tail-lift of the van. Once in the back of the van, the cubborde was strapped into place for the short transit from the New Place site, to the Shakespeare Centre.
A rolling support was used to get the cubborde through the exhibition and into position, where it was carefully positioned, and lowered into place. Once the straps and blankets were removed, the boxes were brought in, unwrapped, and carefully slid back into place, ready to be seen by the first visitors of the day!