In a previous blog post we discovered how the monument in New Place Garden started life as part of the facade of Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery in Pall Mall, London. But how did it come to be positioned where it is now?
Many sites were looked at as possible locations for the monument but it was New Place Gardens which was recommended because of the obvious Shakespeare connections and because it would sit well within the gardens. The theatre which was located in New Place gardens at that time would soon be taken down so this space was available.
W O Hunt and C H Bracebridge, both heavily involved in work on the Birthplace, wrote in support of the New Place site for a monument. They both suggested a statue or bust on a plinth within a larger open structure which would be smaller than the Shakespearean Theatre. Hunt wanted something like a Grecian temple and Bracebridge wanted something in the classical Roman style because he had been influenced on his visit to Italy.
It is not clear how C. H. Bracebridge found out that the Pall Mall alto-relievo was available. No Bracebridges or Mills (his wife’s family) had subscribed to the British Institution, which had become the new occupier of the building after the gallery closed. He knew Pall Mall but it could be just a co-incidence that he read about the demolition of the Institution which was in many newspapers and asked the right questions. In 1870 Bracebridge was a widower and not well and he realised he could be near the end of his life. At the same time as the Felton portrait of Shakespeare became available Bracebridge offered to put £25 towards the portrait and £50 or £75 towards the monument which he said he would go and look at on 24 May. In a letter of 13 May he says they “would be an object for the garden – by end wall they stand about 25’ I think from the ground”. This is the same sort of height as in Pall Mall.
Bracebridge wrote to James Orchard Halliwell to sound him out about a monument in New Place. Halliwell also wrote to W O Hunt to try to get him to persuade Bracebridge the monument was not wanted:
“I write only a hasty line in reply to your kind letter to beg of you not to let Mr Bracebridge waste his money on either the Felton portrait or the Pall Mall. I would not have either myself as a gift, I should be horrified at the Boydell rubbish from Pall Mall being put up in New Place – no value as a work of art or any real interest in a Shakespearian point of view, merely perpetuating a gallery of now acknowledged failures in art. I know you can say something without offending so dear a good man – I should not of course be so plain-spoken to him, but it wd surely be a waste of money.”
Hunt replied with a lecture on the alto-relievo taken from an encyclopaedia and Cunningham’s Life of Sculptors and said he could remember it from when he was in London “fifty or sixty years “ previously. He would “go with Mr Bracebridge”. Bracebridge expected these to be the last of several gifts he had given over the years to what became the Birthplace Trust (he had also donated vital money to complete the work on the restoration of the Birthplace). The influence of Mr Halliwell was on the wane and he had to back down.
In a letter of 29 May, Bracebridge estimated the cost including carriage from London to Stratford to not exceed £120. This originally involved bringing the statuary by canal to the basin in Stratford which is only a short distance from the New Place Gardens but this proved too expensive. Halliwell suggested carriage by road but if there was a problem with loading and unloading by canal there was certainly a problem with the state of Victorian roads from London to Stratford. On 24 June Bracebridge wrote saying he had bought the statuary and it was decided that the Great Western Railway would deliver from Paddington to their goods depot in the Bimingham Road from where Mr Flower (whose brewery was only next door) would arrange delivery to New Place.
On 15 July 1870 W O Hunt wrote to C H Bracebridge to say that “the Shakespeare group had arrived and are safely deposited in New Place Garden. Shakespeare came on a truck, covered with a tarpaulin and the female figures came in a covered van. We had to take a part of the wall down to admit the carriages into the Garden & the sculpture was not touched from the time it left London till unpacked in the Garden.” On the same date W O Hunt wrote to Messrs Trollope saying that although the figures had arrived without damage, there were a few small parts of the figures and also the “tablet which bore an inscription” missing and also that their conveyances had been sent back. But Messrs Trollope replied on 25 July that they had nothing other than what had been sent. This may have been lost before it arrived at their premises.
It was originally intended to have an open vista with the monument at the eastern end of the garden. The position of the monument was as it is at present within New Place Gardens as directed by Bracebridge.
The supervision of works was down to Edward Gibbs who was a partner in a firm of Stratford architects and became the next Mayor of Stratford. He had also supervised the excavations of New Place and the demolition of the cottages in Chapel Lane in 1862 as well as playing a key role in the restoration of Shakespeare's Birthplace. He designed the original pediment which has to carry a substantial weight and remain stable.
The Elisha Court bill for labour and materials submitted in September includes 5,500 bricks and “Beer as per account”. Thos Taylor, monumental mason had his premises in Payton Street. His bill submitted on 27 October 1870 starts with 3 of his men assisting with unloading the statues on July 15. W O Hunt says in his letter there were about a dozen men in all. Two pieces of Portland stone which formed part of the backing came with the statues and were attached with dowels. Another three pieces of stone from Thos Taylor were attached as it had been in Pall Mall and this brought it to the condition as reported by W O Hunt to Charles Holte Bracebridge at the end of August. The plinth with the Shakespearian inscription was cut and pieces of stone made to repair defects to the lyre etc. which had not been sent from London. This was put in place and completion was on 17 October 1870. This brought the construction to the state and condition shown above.
The gardens were declared open for the inspection of the monument by the public in November 1870. In 1883 it became obvious that work was needed to protect the monument in the garden. Work was required to add to the Portland stonework attached to the statuary and also to the pediment which was made of brick with cement rendering. The original cement finish was very plain.
From the 1920s the layout of the gardens started to change. The path in front of the pediment was removed. The path is now further from the pediment and a short paved area was put in with hedging either side to separate the gardens maintenance area to the left and a raised “wild bank” to the right. The effect is to set the structure away from the lawn in what is now a less prominent position for the Grade II* monument to Shakespeare.
This post was adapted from a larger piece of research Robert has completed using documents from our collections. To view documents like these or undertake any research of your own please browse our catalogue and visit our Reading Room.