When Shakespeare's Birthplace was put up for auction in 1847, committees were formed in Stratford and London to raise the funds necessary to purchase the building for the nation. At a general meeting of persons interested in the preservation of Shakespeare’s House, held at the Thatched House Tavern, St. James’s Street, London on Thursday, 26th August it was set out that the Birthplace should be purchased by subscription to prevent its removal or demolition and to preserve it as a national monument. Key people were in attendance including the actor, Charles Kemble, as well as John Payne Collier and Charles Holte Bracebridge. Other resolutions that were agreed to are as follows:
1. That it appears that the Royal Shakespearean Club of Stratford have acted judiciously in employing a large amount of the funds already at their disposal to purchase the tenements which form an integral part of the house in which Shakespeare was born and that proceeding along the same principle, it is expedient to keep going and to raise the subscription to the utmost limits for the purchase of the rest in keeping with the reverence that those “who speak the tongue which Shakespeare spake” must especially feel towards his memory.
2. That to support the Royal Shakespearean Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, a Metropolitan Committee be formed, consisting of the members already mentioned.
3. The Lord Mayor of the city of London and other corporate authorities across cities and towns of the UK be earnestly solicited without delay to convene meetings of their fellow townsmen to raise subscriptions.
4. The Proprietors and Editors of Provincial Newspapers invited to lend assistance not only by strongly recommending it to their readers, but by allowing subscriptions to be paid in at their different offices.
5. That the best thanks of this meeting are due to the Royal Shakespearean Club of Stratford-upon-Avon, for the unwearied exertions it has made in originating and promoting the objects sought for by this Meeting.
But who were the people on these committees? Amongst them there were some prominent figures of the day but also lesser known names who were whole-heartedly committed to the cause.
One prominent name which is mentioned as one of the Vice Presidents of the Stratford Committee is Sir Robert Peel.
Sir Robert Peel (5 February 1788 – 2 July 1850) was British Prime Minister between 1834–1835 and 1841–1846. He also served twice as Home Secretary and is regarded as the father of modern British policing and as one of the founders of the modern Conservative Party.
Whilst he was Home Secretary Peel sent a letter to James Sharp of Leamington Spa (DR1136/2/4/2)
26 March 1830
I have laid before the King your letter of the 22nd March and I am to acquaint you that His Majesty has been graciously pleased to accede to the wish expressed by the Stratford Shakespeare Club and to be the Patron of the festivities about to take place on the Anniversary of the Birth of Shakespeare.
I am Sir your most obedient servant
A second letter in the same collection written on behalf of Sir Robert Peel says "I am to add that it is not usual for the King to be the Patron of a Club."
We will be exploring other members of the committees in future blog posts and it is now just a few weeks until we celebrate the 170th Anniversary of the purchase of the Birthplace, join us for the celebration on 16 September. You can also research documents such as those mentioned in our blog posts at our Reading Room, please get in touch.