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Day One: The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769

David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee began on Wednesday 6 September 1769 with a crashing volley of cannon fire. Here Rosalyn Sklar, Museum Collections Officer, details the events of the opening day of the Jubilee.

On Wednesday 6 September 1769 the town of Stratford-upon-Avon was woken at 6am by a volley from 30 cannon on the banks of the river Avon. After four months of preparation and a great deal of hard work the Shakespeare Jubilee had started with a bang!


After the cannons had stopped firing, bells were rung by specially appointed bell ringers just to make sure everyone was awake.

A musical detachment from the Warwickshire Militia paraded through the streets and a group of singers and musicians, lead by  composer Charles Dibdin, serenaded the more fashionable guests at their windows. They delivered a dawn serenade to David Garrick and his wife, Eva Maria, staying at the house of the Town Clerk, William Hunt.

Handbills, printed in Stratford, were delivered door-to-door announcing the events of the day.

Jubilee Handbill Day One
Handbill announcing the events of the first day of the Jubilee, Wednesday 6th September 1769


The Mayor of Stratford, John Meacham, and his Aldermen and Burgesses assembled in the ancient Guildhall to elect the new Mayor of the coming year - Nathaniel Cooke. They then marched to the Town Hall.


A Public Breakfast was held at the Town Hall during which the Jubilee was officially opened. The breakfast was for Jubilee ticket-holders only. Here William Hunt presented Garrick with a wand and medallion made of mulberry wood and declared him the first Steward of the Jubilee. Thomas Davies, a biographer of David Garrick, wrote that 'many persons of the highest quality and rank' were there, 'some of the most celebrated beauties of the age, and men distinguished for their genius and love of the elegant arts'. Also on offer were the specially commissioned Jubilee ribbon and medals. 

The regimental band of the Warwickshire Militia played marches and martial music on fife and drum outside. They gave the first official performance of 'A Warwickshire Lad' which had been written especially for the occasion. It became wildly popular at the time and is still the regimental march of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Jubilee Medal 1769
The Jubilee medal by Westwood of Birmingham, 1769


The breakfast came to an end and those who had tickets made their way to Holy Trinity Church. They were accompanied by a large number of people who came to see the sights but didn't have tickets. On the meadows along the river several travelling side shows had set up their booths.

In the church the entire Drury Lane orchestra were assembled, conducted by Dr Thomas Arne. They performed Arne's Oratorio, Judith.


The guests began a procession through the town lead by the tenor, Joseph Vernon, and a band. They marched up through Old Town and on to Henley Street. Here they gathered in front of the Birthplace and delivered a specially prepared chorus. The procession then continued through the town and down to the Rotunda on the Bancroft. Some people made their way back to the church at this point to lay flowers on Shakespeare's grave. These two elements of the Jubilee are still part of the celebrations held in Stratford every year to mark Shakespeare's birthday. 

Shakespeare's Birthplace by John Richards 1769 1994-19/128
Shakespeare's Birthplace at the time of the Jubilee


Around 700 guests assembled inside the Rotunda for dinner which was eventually served at 4pm. The dinner is described on the handbill above as an ordinary. This was a meal given at a set time and with a fixed price. Reports from the time mention the claret and madeira as being particularly good!


The Drury Lane band appeared again, this time in the balustraded orchestra area within the Rotunda. The famous singers Joseph Vernon and Mrs Sophia Baddeley performed. The guests too were encouraged to join in the 'new songs, ballads, roundelays, catches and glees' that had been written especially for the occasion. The diarist and biographer James Boswell, who was present at the Jubilee, commented that Garrick 'was all life and spirit, joining in the chorus, and humouring every part with his expressive looks and gestures'.

Sweet Willy O from Shakespeare's Garland
'Sweet Willy O' originally performed at the Jubilee in 1769


The singing and music came to an end with the whole company singing 'God Save the King'. Tea and coffee were served and then the guests went back to their lodgings to prepare for the ball later in the evening. In the fading light bonfires were lit on the Bancroft and 'The Inhabitants of Stratford testified their Joy by lighting up every Window in every House' (Deelman, 1964). The huge painted screens that had been hung on buildings around the town, including the Town Hall and Shakespeare's Birthplace, would now come to life with lantern flame flickering behind them. Stratford was alive with people strolling the streets to look at the illuminations or visiting the various inns.


Ticket holders came to the Rotunda once again for the ball. They found all the chairs and tables had been cleared away for the dancing and the magnificent chandeliers and coloured lanterns had been lit. Soon after 9pm the music began with the band playing minuets which had been written for the occasion. At midnight there were cotillions and country dances. The music and dancing carried on until 3am when the Jubilites retired to their lodgings.

For further reading on David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee see Christian Deelman's The Great Shakespeare Jubilee (London, 1964)

Jubile Rotunda 1769
The Jubilee Rotunda
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