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Happy 50th Birthday, Shakespeare Centre!

For William Shakespeare's 450th birthday celebration, we're looking back to the Bard's 400th birthday back in 1964. In this post, read about the origins of The Shakespeare Centre.

Helen Cook
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The Shakespeare Centre in Stratford upon Avon was planned as a ‘present’ to Shakespeare on his 400th birthday; it was to be a headquarters for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a place for Shakespearian study. It was also a reflection of the best in 1960s design and craftsmanship. Every detail was carefully planned, from the Gordon Russell furniture and Tibor Reich soft furnishings to the Shakespeare related art works that decorate it. There are sculptures of Shakespeare and his characters, curtains inspired by Shakespeare and Shakespearian figures engraved in glass. Traditional materials were used in modern ways, with handmade bricks for the build, wooden panelling (for example, on the curved ceiling of what is now our Treasures exhibition room), marble, bronze, and glass.

The Shakespeare Centre today
The Shakespeare Centre today, by Amy Murrell

However, the building was also controversial; it was so very different from the Tudor Birthplace House that stands next door and stood out (it still does) within central Stratford. Instead of a pastiche of the past that would have mirrored the Birthplace House, the then Trustees and Director bravely went for a modern contrast, and the Centre (excluding the 1981 extension to its side) is now Grade 2 listed in its own right and is an almost completely intact example of 1960s architecture and style.

In his Warwickshire volume of the Buildings of England Series, Sir Nikolaus Pevsner wrote of the Centre “a very handsome job and highly praiseworthy, because so entirely uncompromising in so hallowed a spot.”

The opening of the Centre was covered by Tatler Magazine, 6th May 1964, who photographed the architect Laurence Williams and Eugene Black, Chairman of the American Shakespeare Committee, at the opening ceremony, and the guests at the Birthday reception that followed.

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