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What’s Been Happening at Shakespeare’s Birthplace?

There has been a slow and subtle transformation underway at Shakespeare’s Birthplace…

Katie Morrison

On Tuesday nights, under the cover of darkness, lights can be seen through the windows of Shakespeare's Birthplace, and strange figures moving around.

However! You need not be alarmed; it is just the Conservation Team busying away applying a fresh lick of paint to the walls.

Over recent years a hand-print and backpack ‘tidemark’ has formed, wearing away previous layers of paint, and leaving the walls looking grubby and scuffed. So the Team set themselves the challenge to fill these worn areas, and give the Birthplace a renewed look ready for the warmer months.

Previously, traditional whitewash has been used; a mixture of lime and chalk painted in thin layers over both walls and beams. In the 16th century, this was common practice to make smaller rooms appear bigger and lighter, with the added bonus that the lime would deter wood boring insects from eating the timbers of the house.

Whitewash like this can still be seen across the ceilings of the Birthplace. However, due to the large number of wonderful visitors we receive every day, something a bit more hard-wearing was needed, to handle the day-to-day rough and tumble of school parties, families, and tour groups.

What we have settled on is a custom blended heritage paint, with a base of chalk, china clay, and titanium dioxide. The colour was carefully mixed to match the appearance of the surviving whitewash, and the light formula allows the wood to breathe, which is important to stave off damp.

Before and after cross passage
A before and after of the cross-passage and workshop doorways

We are now coming to the end of the previously white-washed rooms, and will soon be moving on to the later extension to the Birthplace; the Swan and Maidenhead Inn. The Swan and Maidenhead has brought some unique colour-matching quandaries, as the majority of the rooms are painted in a variety of yellows and creams. We are aiming to keep this part of the house distinct in colour, but to try and unify the palette a little!

This project is still underway, and will be for a foreseeable few months yet, but the change in the house is already noticeable, and visitors have commented on how bright the rooms have been looking (when the sun decides to come out!).

Watch this space for an update when the project is completed!

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