The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is known for its collections relating to Shakespeare, his life, times and legacy. We talk a lot about Shakespeare’s Stratford, but the town has existed as a settlement since the Iron Age and has had a rich and vibrant history before the birth of its most famous son. Nash’s House was once the town’s museum and showcased objects which spanned from fossils dating from the Jurassic period to early human settlements of Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon peoples.
I am working at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for 6 months on a cultural internship which is a partnership between the University of Birmingham and SBT. My role is to conduct a review of the archaeological collections. I hope to share some of the interesting finds I come across which reveal more about Stratford-upon-Avon before, during, and after Shakespeare’s life.
The major archaeological excavations which have taken place have been at the Anglo-Saxon cemeteries at Bidford-on-Avon (excavated in 1922 & 23) and at Alveston Manor (1935 & 1980); Tiddington has also revealed various Roman artefacts (with excavations taking place mainly in the 1920-30s and 1980-3). There are also the more recent finds from the Dig for Shakespeare excavations at New Place which again spanned from Iron Age storage pits to Victorian clay pipes and modern coins. These finds not only demonstrate the continuity of settlement in Stratford but also reveal the legacy that Shakespeare has had in the town.
So far I have come across a breadth of objects, from over 100 Roman iron nails and bags of slag found in kilns at Tiddington to some fantastic Anglo-Saxon jewellery. This review project has kept me gripped as each box has revealed a new surprise. One of the star items has to be a great square headed brooch found at Alveston Manor. I think that it is fascinating, not just because of the garnets which decorate it but because of the reuse of a carnelian from a Roman seal ring which has an image of Cupid milking a goat. It must have belonged to someone important.
The extent of archaeological finds from the area is astounding. It gives us a glimpse at the creation of the communities around the river Avon which shaped what we call ‘Shakespeare’s Stratford’.
I’ll keep you posted on what treasures I rediscover during the project.