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Reader Services Guides: Overview of Local Collections

This guide is intended to give a brief overview of our collections relating to Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding area. Use it to get a better idea of the collections in context and to understand our referencing system.

Madeleine Cox
Common Seal of the Borough of Stratford-upon-Avon c.1553

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT) holds wide-ranging collections relating to 800 years of the history of Stratford-upon-Avon. The SBT was founded in 1847, over eighty years before the county record office was established. We are privileged to have a wealth of material covering both Stratford-upon-Avon and the surrounding area in the 400 years before and after Shakespeare, and up to the present day.

The broad date and geographical range covered by our local history collections can initially be puzzling for new readers as it may include material relating to individuals, families and businesses far beyond the local, and far beyond Shakespeare's own time.

Find out more about our remit under the Act of Parliament here

Our local collections can searched on our online catalogue:

In this Reader Services Guide we are going to take a whistlestop tour of our local collections so that you can see what we have and get sense of what the different reference numbers mean. Along the way, we will point out useful links and sources of further information, as well as giving some tips, whether you are interested in family history, house history or local businesses or Shakespeare!

Corporation and Borough Archives

The collections of Stratford-upon-Avon Corporation (BR): these comprise not only the records of the Corporation itself, extending from the date of its first charter in 1553 to the abolition of the Borough Council in 1974, but also to those of bodies, like the medieval Guild of the Holy Cross or the 19th century Local Board of Health whose functions the Corporation took over. Together they cover most aspects of town life over a period of 800 years. The archive is one of the most comprehensive of any local authority in the country. They naturally include some of the documents that relate directly to the life of William Shakespeare, his family and their contemporaries and their life and times. They are divided into three divisions as follows:

BRU: Records of the Stratford-upon-Avon Corporation, 1553-1835.

Borough Charter 1553
Stratford-upon-Avon's Borough Charter of 1553 which established the Corporation and system of governance (BRU1/1)

These are further subdivided into 21 categories according to type, perhaps the most significant being:

BRU1: Letter patent (also known as Royal Charters, these letters patent record the rights and privileges granted to the Borough of Stratford-upon-Avon by various monarchs)

BRU2: Minute Books 1563-1835

BRU3: Orders and byelaws

BRU4: Chamberlain’s accounts – includes payment by Stratford Corporation to ‘Mr Shakespeare’ for a ‘load of stone’ (p.44).

BRU7-8: Surveys and leases of Corporation property

BRU9: Title deeds

BRU10: Maps and plans

BRU12: Proceedings of the Court of Record (civil court with jurisdiction of up to £30)

BRU15: a collection of miscellaneous papers of local interest bound up into 19 volumes. Includes BRU15/1/106 – ‘the noate of corne and malte’ recording William Shakespeare as possessor of 10 quarters: 4 February 1598 (BRU15/1/135)

BRU17: records (mainly orders) of the town’s trading companies.

Some of the others are cover things like 'bills and receipts'. You can search for a 'top level' description of a collection by typing a partial reference e.g. 'BRU14' into our online catalogue.

  • The minutes and accounts of the Corporation of Stratford 1553-1598 (5 volumes) have been handily transcribed and published by the Dugdale Society (volumes i, iii, v, x. xxxv of their transactions). These are on open access and can be found on the back wall of the Reading Room.
  • If you would like to learn more about the history of the Borough and the Corporation, take a look at the Victoria County History (VCH), available online and on the Quick Ref shelves in the Reading Room.
  • If you are interested to learn more about the Shakespeare documents, take a look at Shakespeare Documented, which includes images and transcripts of Shakespeare documents in collections around the world, as well as blogs that shed further light on what these tell us.
  • Take a look at this blog about BRU/15/1/21, one of the inventories in our collection.
  • If you are able to visit in person, there are paper summary catalogues that give a handy overview of our collections, as well as descriptive printed catalogue like that by James Orchard Halliwell (later Halliwell-Phillipps). Some of our paper lists in the Drayton Room also include transcripts.
Minutes of the Council, Oct 1563-Feb 1594 and Chamberlain's Accounts, 1564-1589 including account of John Taylor and John Shakespeare 10 Jan 1563/4 referring to 'Item payd for defaysyng ymages in ye chappell'.
Council Minute Book A (BRU2/1), which includes Minutes of the Council, Oct 1563-Feb 1594 and Chamberlain's Accounts, 1564-1589. This includes the famous account of John Taylor and Shakespeare's father, John Shakespeare 10 Jan 1563/4 referring to 'Item payd for defaysyng ymages in ye chappell'.(painting over the images in the Guild Chapel following the Reformation.

BRR: Records of Stratford-upon-Borough Council (brought about by 1835 Municipal Corporation Act, which established Stratford-upon-Avon’s first ‘openly’ elected ruling body) 1836-1974.

These records are broadly subdivided according to the department that generated them, including the following:

BRR1-15: Town Clerk - minute books, burgess rolls, leases, deeds, committee papers.

BRR16-48: Borough Treasurer’s records - detailed financial records, including Corporation property rentals.

BRR49-60: Borough Engineer’s department - includes plans for public works and, from 1880, for most building work in the town; files from the 1930s on housing, highways, Corporation property, sanitation, parks etc. BRR49 and 49a are plans for properties and are very popular with readers doing house history of town centre properties.

BRR61-66: Public Health Inspector – first appointed 1880. Includes annual reports (included in those of the Medical Officer of Health, from 1884); registers of canal boats (1879-1935) and lodging houses (1913-35)

BRR67: Borough Police - report books, charge books, constables’ journals, mainly 1863-89.


Our police charge books can be searched in our online database. The police description books can be a tantalising glimpse into what your ancestor looked like!

BRT: Records of institutions managed by members of the Corporation acting in another capacity or whose functions they took over.

Detail of angel illustration in the Register of the Guild of the Holy Cross BRT1/1
Detail of an angel illustration the Register of the Guild of the Holy Cross, BRT1/1 1406-1534

These include:

BRT 1: Guild of the Holy Cross 1250-1550

BRT2: Bridgewardens - officials charged with the upkeep of Clopton Bridge, built in the 1490s

BRT3: Peculiar Court – with jurisdiction (one year in three!) over ‘spiritual’ matters within Stratford-upon-Avon parish. This included the proving of wills and inventories, which are now the only records surviving in this class, extending from 1557-1698.

BRT4: Borough Quarter Sessions, held from 1602-1835 by the Bailiff and Chief Aldermen acting as Justices of the Peace. These include victualler’s licences.

BRT7: Board of Health, established in 1850 to implement the provisions of the 1848 Public Health Act. Surviving records include minutes and accounts, a series of rate books and a large scale map of Stratvord-upon-Avon (1851).

BRT8: Borough Vestry: minutes and churchwardens’ accounts from 1617 and records of Poor Law administration (settlement certificates, removal orders etc) from 1613. Rate books 1787-1928. Rate books are really helpful if you are looking for your ancestor and want to check the dates they lived at a particular address.


The Board of Health map has been digitized and images can be downloaded from our online catalogue here

There is a handling copy of this colourful map in the Drayton Room in the top drawer of the map cabinet. Don't forget to read the tiny key to see what the map shows!

One section of the Board of Health Map, 1851 (BRT7/9), showing the town centre
Map of Stratford on fourteen sheets, surveyed by the Ordnance Survey for the Local Board of Health Scale 1851, showing the top of Bridge Street (including Middle Row) and parts of Union Street, Henley Street, Wood Street and High Street

ER Documents

These are materials relating to Stratford-upon-Avon and south Warwickshire which were accessioned (officially entered the collection) before 1943: the ER series consists of deposits, gifts and purchases made mainly before 1939, with a few later items that arrived during the upheaval of the war years.

This unwieldy collection was subject to further arrangement by J. Harvey Bloom between 1940 and 1942, partly according to subject matter and partly topographically. He grouped sales particulars together as well as isolating papers relating to canals, railways and roads. ER10-15 were arranged according to county with further subdivisions according to the type of document or the parish involved. Some documents not included in these categories were listed in the series according to subject: apprenticeship indentures, enclosure papers, printed material and genealogical papers. As you can see at the end of the selected list, some are grouped by person or organisation.

Archives are no longer arranged in this way, but the main thing to remember is that ER are items received before World War Two and grouped thematically rather than chronologically in the order in which they were taken into the collection. The list below gives some examples.

ER1/85 Illustration from volume on races and theatre: James Saunders

ER1: includes the antiquarian collections of Captain James Saunders – the main collection, which consists of 51 volumes, reveals a remarkably eclectic interest in churches, charnel houses, country houses, inns and the plague of 1645/46, among many other things. Saunders’ interest in William Shakespeare resulted in a fascinating collection of transcripts. A number of the volumes contain beautiful watercolour illustrations.

ER1 catalogue list shows the structure and contents of this collection
Catalogue screenshot shows how you can view the structure and contents of a collection like ER1

ER2: Deeds 1300-1886

ER3: Deeds appendix 1254-1896

ER4: Abstracts of title 1593-1887

ER5: Wills and testamentary papers 1556-1893

ER6: Sale particulars 1780-1942

ER7: Papers relating to the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal

ER8: Railway papers 1820-1872

ER9: Warwickshire and Worcestershire roads and bridges 1694-1882

ER10: Miscellaneous legal and official papers relating to Warwickshire 1665-1887 - includes Coroners' Inquests

ER16: Apprenticeship papers, C.19

ER17: Enclosure papers 1743-1868

ER18: Miscellaneous lawsuits 1795-1882

ER19: Poor law and settlement papers 1732-1849

ER20: Genealogical collections 1635-1918

ER21: Collections of letters 1640-1880

ER24: Manorial records 1502-1876

ER 25: Printed material (e.g. posters and newscuttings) 1768-1950

ER27: Robert Bell Wheler Collection 1571-1831

ER34: James Orchard Halliwell -Phillipps 1799-1876

ER82: Papers of Richard Savage 1500-1920

ER85: Papers of Sir Sidney Lee 1886-1925

ER100: Golden Lion Shakespearean Club 1826-1858

ER123: Printed proclamation for the apprehension of the chief conspirators in the Gunpowder, Plot 7 Nov 1605

Star items in the ER Collection:

ER27/2: Assignment from Ralph Hubaud to William Shakespeare of a lease of part of the Stratford tithes, 24 July 1605.

ER115: Warrant, signed by Queen Elizabeth I, to John Fortescue, Master of the Wardrobe, for the delivery to Ralph Brooke, Esquire, of a tabard, on his appointment as York Herald, 24 January 1592.

ER27/4: Letter from Richard Quiney to William Shakespeare asking for help with a loan: 25 October 1598 - the famous 'Quiney Letter' - the only surviving letter written to Shakespeare. Read more about it in this blog!

DR Documents

Materials relating to Stratford-upon-Avon and south Warwickshire and deposited after 1939. These were arranged in 1971 and comprise primarily those deposited since April 1939, listed to some extent in chronological order of receipt. This is where new accessions are added to, now well past DR1200. As items have been catalogued based on accession order, this is an intriguing collection, covering everything from Gilbert Leigh's 19th century travel diary to ration books and leaflets about hotels and restaurants in the town from the 1970s and 1980s.

‘Highlights’ of the records include:

Parish Register of Holy Trinity Church. Baptism of Susanna Shakespeare

Parish Records

The parish records for Stratford upon Avon. These include, of course, the ‘vital records’ of William Shakespeare, his family and friends.

The Jolliboo - one of the childhood drawings of Agnes Leigh (1853-1942) to be found in DR762/124a, together with World War One postcards

Local Estate Collections, including:

Leigh Collection

The papers of the Leigh family of Stoneleigh Abbey: these form the largest single family collection held here. They relate not only to the family’s very extensive estates in Warwickshire but to others in Gloucestershire (mainly Adlestrop and Longborough), Bedfordshire (Leighton Buzzard), Cheshire (Little Leigh), Leicestershire (Claybrooke), Staffordshire (Hamstall Ridware and Yoxall), Surrey (Egham) and London. The papers range in date from the mid-12th century to the end of the 20th century.

Ferrers Collection

The Baddesley Clinton collection: this comprises mainly the estate and personal papers of the Ferrers family who acquired Baddesley Clinton by marriage in the early 16th century and who held it until 1939 when it was sold to Thomas Walker (later Ferrers). Included in these, however, are a substantial number of deeds acquired from the estate, which document its history from the 13th century. The estate centred on Baddesley Clinton, but included property in Kingswood, Packwood, Knowle, Rowington and Lapworth.

Archer Collection

The papers of the Archer family: later Barons Archer of Umberslade. This mainly relates to their estates in Warwickshire, principally around Tanworth and Solihull, where they settled from the 12th century. It also includes material relating to Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire, Essex, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, London, Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Shropshire, Surrey and Worcestershire. The collection also includes papers relating to families with whom the Archers were connected by marriage namely Cheke, Russell, Tipping, Puckering and Windsor. The Cheke and Russell papers (1672-1721) passed to the Archer family through the marriage in 1726 of Catherine Tipping and Thomas, later first Baron Archer.

Willoughby de Broke Collection

The Willoughby de Broke collection consists primarily of the Warwickshire papers of the combined families of Verney of Compton Verney and Peyto of Chesterton, brought together in the mid-18th century when Chesterton was inherited by John Verney, 14th Lord Willoughby de Broke, from his cousin Margaret Peyto.

F. Kendall and Son, brewing chemists of Stratford-upon-Avon DR197/239-242 c.1880-1925

Local Business Archives

See our upcoming Reader Services Guide on local businesses for more information.

Here are a few examples:

T. Beckett (saddlers), 1950-1979 DR 633

Flower’s Brewery, 1831 - 1993 DR 227, DR 325, DR 574,DR 608, DR 935, DR 1059, DR 1138

G.F. Kendall & Sons (brewing chemists),1813-1972 DR 197, DR 315/1,DR 337, DR 346

N.F.U. Mutual & Avon Insurance, 1911-1982 DR 546

Slatter, Son & More (solicitors), 1828-1949 DR 325

Tibor Reich (designer & fabric manufacturer), 1946-1977 DR 543

Winter & Dawe (later Fred Winter) (drapers), 1898-1970 DR 655, DR 925

Fred Winter, 1837-1978 DR 602, DR 1113

Clubs and local organisations

From Friends of the Earth, to the Avon Young Mothers' Club, sports to Shakespeare. Here are a few examples:

Shakespeare Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1826-1865; 1874-1948 DR289

Shakespeare Morris and Sword Men of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1959-1999 DR1042

Stratford-upon-Avon Bowling Club, 1933-1956 DR876

Union Club, Stratford-upon-Avon, 1886-1967

Collections created by/relating to local residents

For example:

Morgan of Stratford-upon-Avon, 1746-2000 DR 1067

Marie Corelli, 1860-1974 DR777

Photographs by Sir Benjamin Stone, 1899-1906 DR 321

Oral history projects

e.g. DR730 (1990-1996), DR794 (1992-1997)

Autograph Collection, DR1136/

Collection of volumes and papers assembled or maintained primarily for their autograph interest and presented by their various compilers/creators to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre between 1880 and 1930. /1: (formerly A1, A2, A3, A4) four volumes containing letters, envelopes, autographs, photographs, drawings, printed ephemera, newscuttings etc., 1779-1923, relating to, or written by, a wide range of late eighteenth- to early twentieth-century eminent persons, including royalty and scientific, theatrical, literary and political figures: known as the Davis Collection after its main compiler, Mrs Esther Davis (nee Lewis), 1831-1891, wife of Dr Maurice Davis (1822-1898), and apparently continued by her daughter, Ella Davis who married Professor Raphael Meldola in 1886. (10 vols/ 7 boxes)

Star item! This collection even includes a short (and rather sad) letter from Hans Christian Andersen

Workhouse records/Poor Law documents

See also our online databases for the Union and Borough Workhouses here

Local Images/SC Collection

Ox roast in High Street 1934, part of DR641 Arthur Locke Collection
Postcard showing the Red Horse Hotel and Golden Lion Hotel, Bridge Street. Antona Postcard 163. SC4/5/26
Postcard showing the Red Horse Hotel and Golden Lion Hotel, Bridge Street. SC4/5/26 c.1926 (The Red Horse Hotel is now Marks and Spencer)

In addition to photographs to be found in the DR sequence,we have a large collection of local images. These include the negatives from The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, the local photographs taken by Joe Cocks (who also worked for the SBT and took photographs of theatre productions) and a large collection of glass slides.

Many of our photos are available to download free of charge under Creative Commons.

We have handling copies of many of our local photographs in our Reading Room, filed topographically or by occasion.

Local Film Collection

Films 1-50 relate to the SBT, town and wider area, some being extracts from TV programmes filmed locally:

Film of Mummers Play, performed by Second Thoughts Drama Group at Shakespeare's Birthday Celebrations (Film 7, 1989)

Film about Stratford-upon-Avon, giving general survey of the town, with historical commentary about Stratford and Shakespeare's life (Film 16, 1995)

Film of the opening of the Shakespeare Centre, Henley Street. Video cassette copy of original 35mm film (Film 29, 1964)

Film about the re-presentation of Shakespeare's Birthplace, including survey of interior fabric of Birthplace, subsequent re-presentation work, and re-opening ceremony performed by Dame Judi Dench and Michael Williams. (Film 34, 1999-2000)

Film of the unveiling of sculptures in the gardens of New Place. Also includes the first meeting of the Board of Directors of the American Friends of the Birthplace Trust. (Film 36, 2000)

PR Documents

These are copies of documents held in other repositories or by private individuals that relate to our collections. In some cases these were acquired during the Second World War in case the originals were destroyed. Others have been given to us by local people and others over the years. We do not own the original documents and are therefore not at liberty to copy these items without permission.

They take the form of paper copies (mainly on open access in the Reading Room) and also microfilm rolls.

In some cases we may have contact details of the depositor (stored safely for data protection), so do ask if you would like to know more and we may be able to seek permission for copies to be made from the original owner.

Archives of the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald

Please see our upcoming guide on Local Newspapers.

The Herald started in 1860 and we have archive copies from then until the present day. Heralds up to 1919 must be consulted on microfilm as the original bound volumes are very fragile.

Apart from the most recent editions Heralds are bound in volumes covering 6 months -1 year. We have a card index for 1860-1919. This is arranged by topic and can be found in the Drayton Room, along with a guide to topics and edition numbers/dates. This can save a lot of time looking through microfilms!

Local books and pamphlets

The antiquities of Warwickshire illustrated. By William Dugdale.1656

Around 5400 of our books relate to the local area. These include some early printed books. Many popular books are kept upstairs on open access in the Reading Room, including those on buildings in the town, railways, and biographical works about local people. We have an extensive pamphlet collection and completed a project to repackage and list these a few years ago. They can be found in the open access book area by subject, with each pamphlet listed on a title sheet at the front of the box.

We also have books of general use to local and family historians such as Ancestral Trails and Cheney's dates, as well as dictionaries of place names, peerages etc.

Other local reference materials available in the Reading Room

These include:

Street directories

Maps (OS maps, Goad map, Board of Health map)

Quick Ref books - the most popular books on the local area, as well as guides to family and house history. Also Victoria County History volumes.

Card indexes - a useful way to search by surname

Prints and drawings index

Microfilm and fiche - including surrogates of early parish registers and Herald volumes

Printed copies of the census for Stratford and Old Stratford (including the 1831 census)

Peerages/Law Lists/Amy and Navy Lists

Monumental inscriptions

Copies of parish registers from local parishes

Various cards and files created by staff and volunteers.

See our upcoming Guide to Reading Room resources for more information.