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The Secretaries of the SBT

In 1853 the first Secretary of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was appointed. This role became known as Director and is now Chief Executive.

Victoria Joynes
John Shapcote Leaver is appointed Secretary in the Trust Minutes
John Shapcote Leaver is appointed Secretary in the Trust Minutes

On 23 April 1853 the Minutes of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust recorded the following:

“That Mr. John S. Leaver be appd Sect.”

John Shapcote Leaver was the first Secretary of the Trust, a post which became known as Director and more recently CEO. His tenure lasted until his death in 1886 so he oversaw the setting up of many of the processes of the Trust such as the initial restoration works on the Birthplace building, the acquisition of the borough records and the Wheler papers (which included the Quiney Letter), the purchase and setting up of New Place and Nash's House and the establishment of the library and museum including the appointment of the first librarian and the production of the first catalogue. Leaver began his time in Stratford in an education role and became a prominent figure in the town: he was Secretary of the Hospital, the Savings Bank, Becher’s Benefit Society, and other institutions. He was also a local newspaper representative. 

In the Trust minutes for April 1886 it says:

"The Trustees at this their annual meeting desire to record their sense of the loss they have sustained by the death of Mr. John Shapcote Leaver who for so many years faithfully and well discharged the duties of Secretary to the Birthplace Trust, and that a copy of this Resolution be forwarded to the members of late Mr. Leaver’s family." 

According to the diary of Richard Savage, Leaver was at a Trust meeting two days before he died and had to go home ill.

Richard Savage's diary entry for 19 April 1886:

Attended funeral of our Secretary Mr John Shapcote Leaver (Ely St. SoA) at 1.45. buried him in the churchyard by the side of his wife by the river side. aged 71.

Richard Savage Secretary and Librarian
Richard Savage Secretary and Librarian

On 5 May 1886 Richard Savage recorded this in his diary:

"Got the appointment of Secretary to the Trustees at a salary of £30 per Ann, subject to the direction of the executive committee."

Savage was already working as the Librarian at the Trust, transcribing documents, seeking out new acquisitions, answering enquiries and often filling in for the house custodians when they were away. On top of this he took over the Secretary role. As well as his Trust roles Savage helped out at the theatre as an usher, attended various evening events round the town and somehow managed to have a very large family:

"January 29, 1887

...just in time to be at & to attend to the birth of a sweet baby girl  --  She was born at 17 minutes to 4.   I cannot but feel grateful that it has so happened in the past that at the birth of the last 5 children no doctor has been at hand with the nurse provided,  &  I have consequently been obliged to be with her and assist,  which of course has given me an insight into the management of women at such times.  If no such experience had been mine my babe and possibly my wife would have lost their lives this morn’g,  whereas they are comfortable and appear to be doing well. ...This makes my 7th child born to me in 13 years,  and 9 days,  & all are living and well.

Feeling too sleepy & tired to do much work so read a little."

Richard Savage was born in nearby Alcester in 1847 (coincidentally the year when the Birthplace was purchased for the nation). Before his roles at the Trust Savage worked as a teacher in Harbury where he developed a strong Warwickshire accent. He left the teaching profession for a higher paid commercial role at M. C. Ashwin Ltd. of Stratford, Corn Factors. It was here that he met Charles Edward Flower, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and when the librarian position became available in 1884 it was given to him. During Savage's time as Secretary the first Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Act of Parliament passed, Anne Hathaway's Cottage was acquired, the first permanent gardener was appointed and the first Royal visitor was welcomed: the Prince of Wales. Savage was responsible for the Trust properties and acted as a general manager for the administrative functions of the organisation until his retirement in 1910. He was mostly remembered for his work as a librarian and antiquarian as in his leisure time he scoured libraries, registers, records and archives completing his own research and genealogy. He published many of his own works and was also secretary at the Shakespeare Club

William Jaggard wrote a tribute to Savage when he passed away on Friday 29 August 1924:

"His fine figure, cheery presence, and ready joke, are greatly missed in the little town in which for fifty years he played an important official part."

We still enjoy welcoming researchers to the Reading Room and our collections are available to all. Please contact us or pay us a visit


TR2/1/1 Minute Book of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (1847-1890)

ER82/5/1-18 The Diaries of Richard Savage 1874 - 1896

Jaggard, William. Richard Savage of Stratford-on-Avon, 1924 (p.93.2 Savage/JAG)

Levi Fox, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: a personal memoir, 1997 (Reading Room 29.5/Fox)

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