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The Early Librarians at SBT

In 1873 the first librarian was appointed to look after the library collection in Shakespeare's Birthplace. The library has gone through many changes since then.

Victoria Joynes
DR1069/12/5/11 Richard Savage with library collections in Shakespeare's Birthplace, c.1895
DR1069/12/5/11 Richard Savage with library collections in Shakespeare's Birthplace, c.1895

In 1873 the Trustees decided to appoint a librarian to supervise and catalogue the books and articles in the museum. It was also considered necessary in order to provide public access to the fast growing collections. Mr. Charles Jackman was appointed librarian on 24 June 1873 at a salary of £15 per annum for the first year plus the free occupation of the new house in Henley Street next to the old White Lion premises. Within less than a year Trustees were informed that he had made an inventory of books and exhibits ready for checking by Mr. Halliwell. In October 1877 the Executive Committee considered a memorandum on the use of the library. They were concerned that if books were freely available for use by the curious, the inevitable wear and tear was likely to lead to damage. A set of rules was agreed so that access could still be provided to scholars but the books were protected. No book was to be taken out of the museum and the librarian should be present while the book was being consulted. Charles Jackman died suddenly in June 1879 and a replacement had to be found, Halliwell-Phillipps recommended Bruce Tyndall who was appointed on 5 July 1880 at a salary of £100 per annum. Halliwell-Phillipps wanted someone who was familiar with "the biographical treasures in our custody" as well as having palaeographical ability and topographical knowledge. Tyndall ticked these boxes. 

Library in the Birthplace
The library in Shakespeare's Birthplace, c.1892

A problem arose with Mr. Tyndall- he rather liked going on holiday without notice! It was the intention of the Committee that he should take leave at the times when there were fewest visitors. But Dr Halliwell-Phillipps said no time for the vacation was stipulated when Tyndall was appointed. The matter came to a head on 23 June 1882 when Tyndall left a note saying he would be absent for three weeks from 24 June. Charles Flower, a Committee member, went to audit the cash accounts some time afterwards and was told by the Secretary, a man called Leaver, that the Librarian had just returned after an absence of three weeks. Flower declined to sign Tyndall’s monthly salary cheque, deciding to leave it to the Committee to decide what should happen. In the event Tyndall went unpaid for about three weeks.

The Committee members’ statement and letters from Halliwell-Phillips to the Trustees of the Birthplace Trust in 1884 reveal the bitterness of the dispute (documents at ER25/3/26/3-5).

At first all had gone well. For instance, the Committee stated that on 1 December 1880 he was granted a holiday of a fortnight or three weeks.

...but he afterwards thought more lightly of his duties, and at length ignored the authority of the Committee altogether, absenting himself without any notice in the busiest part of the summer.

At a Committee meeting on 8 May 1882, at which Halliwell-Phillips was said to have been present, they passed a resolution: That the Librarian report to the Executive Committee his intention to have his holidays, to avoid his absence at a busy time.

Despite this, Tyndall took the leave without notice noted above, and his salary was then withheld. Mr Flower did not tell Mr Tyndall in writing he was not being paid, but the Committee felt Tyndall could have approached the Committee at any time to discuss the matter. Instead one month later Tyndall resigned. Mr Nason, a Committee member and a friend of Tyndall’s, apparently urged him to withdraw his resignation, but he declined.

Letters from Halliwell-Phillips (ER25/3/26/4-5):

He wrote from his address in Brighton on 16 and 22 February 1884 to the Trustees in defence of Tyndall. On the question of holiday notice he writes:

The real question is, not whether the resolution was passed, but whether it was communicated to the Librarian. The Librarian emphatically asserts that it was not, and, with equal emphasis, that he never on any single occasion intentionally disobeyed the orders of the Committee.

Halliwell-Phillips stuck up for Tyndall who he of course had recommended for the job, he felt that he had been unfairly treated and underpaid and there was quite a diplomatic incident between him and the committee on the topic! It is probably just as well that there was no social media at that time, but Halliwell-Phillips did the next best thing and published the details of the dispute in a pamphlet!

Richard Savage, librarian 1884 - 1910
Richard Savage, librarian 1884 - 1910

1884-1910 Richard Savage

Richard Savage was appointed to succeed Bruce Tyndall and took up his post on 1 June 1884. His salary was £100 a year and he worked from 9 am to 6 pm excluding Sundays, and from 9.30 to dusk in the winter. He was given three weeks’ annual leave to be taken with the permission of the Committee. When the Secretary, Mr Leaver, died in 1886, Savage became Secretary as well. He was the Chief Executive in all but name. Savage's role couldn't have been more varied; he was sorting out the Trust's buildings and sites as well as running the library. As well as caring for the physical condition of the collection, and cataloguing, he did a lot of research, compiling copies of parish registers and transcribing other original documents.

Throughout his period in office he built up the library and archive records through gifts and purchases, as well as expanding the museum collection. 

We hold his diaries in the collection now so since looking after the collections himself he has become part of the collections. This entry particularly shows the variety of his working day:

Friday,  MAY 27,  1887.

 Upon Parish Registers from 6.30 to 8 A.M.

Wrote friend Hill.

Letter from Henderson in morn’g.

Copied specifications of renovation work at N. Place & left them with White & Sargeson.

Copied a bit of List of old Leases for Herald next week.

Upon Parish Registers from 6.30 to 8.  --  Very dull dark & cold evening.


He was also responsible for greeting and helping groups of visitors:

Saturday,  JUNE 4,  1887. 

About 40 members of the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society visited the B’place, Museum & Record Room which morn’g. Went with them to Town Hall, New Place, Guild Chapel, & Grammar School.

Several of the Members taking a great interest in the Indulgence in the Town Hall I made [sic] of a copy of the Translation in aft’n to send them.

He seems to have prepared something for the local paper most weeks:

Prepared some more of Palmers Diary Ext’ts for Herald of next week.

No doubt this was the nineteenth century equivalent of a blog.

In 1910 the Trustees decided on a major reorganisation of the collections. Recognising that it would be hard on the 64 year-old Savage to undertake this, they invited him to retire, awarding him a pension of £150 a year.

When he died in 1924 he gave the Trust the chance to buy his collection of books and papers, pictures and relics of Shakespeare, representing his life’s work (ER82/6).

Plaque to Richard Savage in the Reading Room
Plaque to Richard Savage in the Reading Room
F. C. Wellstood, c.1935
Frederick Christian Wellstood, c.1935

1910-1942 Frederick Christian Wellstood

For the first time the post of Secretary and Librarian was advertised. There were 182 replies and Frederick Wellstood, who came from the Bodleian Library, was appointed, starting on 1 November 1910. His annual salary was £200, rising by £10 increments to £300, and with a free residence – 19 Henley Street -as well. He served through both World Wars until his death in 1942.

War affected the Trust’s income, but generally during the period of Wellstood’s stewardship the properties became a world tourist attraction.

He worked on classifying and indexing the library and records, a task which emphasised that the existing space was no longer adequate. At a special meeting on 11 March 1911, the Trustees agreed to the conversion of the custodian’s house next to Hornby Cottage. Work was carried out during 1912-13 to provide a reading room and library linked directly to the Secretary’s room at the front of Hornby Cottage. Once shelving was installed, books were moved in from the Birthplace. There was also a strong room for records. The classification and reorganisation of the books was completed by June 1915.

During Wellstood’s tenure there were many acquisitions, particularly of early books which Shakespeare might have known and used as source material, and books which mention Shakespeare, such as The Scourge of Folly by John Davies 1610 which includes an epigram to ‘Mr Will. Shake-Speare’.  In 1923 the Trust was given a copy of the 1603 edition of Plutarch’s Lives translated by North. Shakespeare based his Roman plays of Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus

Plaque to F. C. Wellstood in the Reading Room
Plaque to F. C. Wellstood in the Reading Room
Rutgers University using the Reading Room
Rutgers University using the Reading Room

The library and collections have gone through many more changes since these early days, in 1964 the Royal Shakespeare Company's library and archive came to be held here and the collections grew with appropriate strong rooms to keep them in. Much of our work remains similar to the early principles of the library, providing access whilst looking after the books, documents and objects. We still welcome groups as Richard Savage did and one such group has come from Rutgers University this week to do their own research on materials that we selected based on their research topics. Take a look at the video below to see Professor Thomas Fulton from the group and Madeleine Cox (who runs our Reader services) exploring materials such as John Poole's Hamlet Travestie from 1811 and Montaigne's Essays from 1603 one of the key source books Shakespeare used. They were also preparing to see the current production of Titus Andronicus at the RSC.

This post has been put together using research undertaken by Helen Williams and using work completed by Mary Wells on a transcript of Richard Savage's diary. 

Another source was: Levi Fox, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: a personal memoir, 1997

We still enjoy welcoming researchers to the Reading Room and our collections are available to all. Please contact us or pay us a visit. We also have details of Residential Courses for University groups on our website. We are getting ever closer to celebrating 170 years since the purchase of the Birthplace, join us in September.

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