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Day Three: The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769

By dawn on the third day of the Shakespeare Jubilee some of the guests had only just gone to bed. Here Rosalyn Sklar, Museum Collections Officer, details the events of the third and final day of David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee, 8th September 1769.

As the sun rose on the third and final day of the Shakespeare Jubilee the rain continued to pour down. The Public Breakfast at the Town Hall was a quiet affair. Garrick had been hoping to hold the pageant, which had been cancelled the day before, if the weather improved. Instead he was forced to cancel it again and the much called for repetition of the Ode to Shakespeare was also abandoned.

The diarist and biographer James Boswell summed up the mood, writing 'the true nature of human life began now to appear. After the joy of the Jubilee came the uneasy reflection that I was in a little village in wet weather and knew not how to get away, for all the post-chaises were bespoke, I don't know how many times over, by different companies. We were like a crowd at a theatre. It was impossible we could go all at a time'.

At midday the rain did eventually stop and a fairly large gathering assembled at Shottery to watch the horse race for the Jubilee cup. Five horses had been entered and all five raced. The winner was a horse called Whirligig, owned by Mr Pratt (who was also the Jockey).

The Jubilee Cup, 1769
The Jubilee Cup won by Mr Pratt on Whirligig

The communal dinner planned for the Rotunda at midday had to be abandoned because the temporary structure was surrounded by water and starting to fall apart. Instead Garrick presided over a smaller gathering at The White Lion Inn. At 9pm the pyrotechnist, Dominico Angelo, let off ten large fireworks that he had saved from the rain of the previous day. 

At 11pm there was yet another ball. This time held at the Town Hall. The highlight was Eva Maria Garrick, who had once been a professional dancer before her marriage, dancing a minuet. Garrick did not get to bed until 4am. He must have been exhausted and his spirits were undoubtedly low after the disappointing end to his Jubilee. He left Stratford on Friday 9 September, never to return. Some guests did not manage to get away until the weekend, such was the demand for coaches.

The White Lion on Henley Street
The White Lion on Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon

The town must have felt a damp and quiet place once all of the visitors had left. The events of the Jubilee had been widely reported in newspapers and magazines up and down the country. On his return to London Garrick soon began writing The Jubilee to be performed on the Drury Lane Stage. It ran for more than three months and was hugely popular, helping to recoup all of Garrick's financial losses. 

The newspaper reports and the performances of The Jubilee meant that it was widely known about and has been referred to as the society event of the year. Reports were mixed and Garrick received as much praise for his efforts as he did criticism. But there is no doubt that the Jubilee has had a lasting legacy in Stratford. It was the first organised celebration of Shakespeare and helped to propel Shakespeare into his position as national poet as well as to create the town we know today.

For more information on the Garrick Jubilee see Christian Deelman, The Great Shakespeare Jubilee (London, 1964).
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