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Saving Hall's Croft

In 1949 Hall's Croft was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and a restoration project began.

Buying Out Hall's Croft

In June 1949 there were rumours that the owner of Hall’s Croft, Elizabeth Montagu, was thinking of selling. At the time, John Slater (an actor at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre) was leasing the house with a 'menacing dog' (1). The building was neglected and needed major restoration. The inside of the house still had Victorian fittings, with many of the original timber-framed walls plastered and painted over. There were also few modern amenities.

The rumours were true, and the agents planned to sell Hall’s Croft at public auction in Stratford-upon-Avon’s Town Hall on 16th September 1949. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s director Levi Fox strongly recommended that the Trust purchase Hall’s Croft. The trustees unanimously agreed and authorised its acquisition. Once the agents knew that the trustees were interested, they cancelled the auction. An exchange of letters resulted in the purchase of Hall’s Croft on 3rd November 1949 for £11,000 (at a time when the average house price was around £1,900).

The front and side of Hall's Croft, with scaffolding at the front and across the roof. Much of the front wall has lost its panels and windows, and there is a pile of slabs in the foreground.
Hall's Croft with scaffolding during the initial restoration (© 1950 Coventry Evening Telegraph)

A Threat to Finance and A Need For Repair

The Trust’s finances had been badly damaged by World Wars because visitor numbers decreased during the period of austerity. The poor turnout meant that by 1949 the Trust only had £7000 available in their cash reserve. Luckily, London Midlands Bank granted them an overdraft, which could be extended to cover the costs of the restoration.

When the Trust acquired Hall’s Croft, it was badly in need of repairs. The Trustees decided the priority was to restore the house back to its seventeenth-century self. Only 12 days after it acquisition, Trust architect Spencer Wood arrived to survey and report what would need to be done to save Hall’s Croft. He advised that the house was sound, but there were some critical conservation matters that needed addressing. These included damp (which had already rotted the floorboards in the parlour) and the removal of later ‘improvements’, like the bay windows, that had weakened the architectural structure. 

Behind a man working at beams from which the panels have gone a tangle of wattle hangs down. Scaffolding is across the house, there are piles of bricks and rubble, and in the background two men are examining a beam on a workbench.
Photo by F. Daniels of workmen rebuilding the exterior wall during restoration

Restoration on the house began in 1950. A family-run building firm called William Sapcote and Sons promised to have Hall’s Croft completed in 9 months, in time for the Festival of Britain in spring 1951. Sapcotes had to construct a new oak cradle in the attic to carry the weight of the roof. The Trust insisted that the timber used was worked by hand using an adze (a tool that seventeenth century carpenters would have recognised). The bay windows were replaced with smaller window frames, and the interior was stripped of its Victorian additions of lathe, plaster and varnish. New heating and lights were installed, and the partitions between the bedrooms were removed. The Trust’s gardener, Harold Goodyear, also redesigned the grounds to resemble a Jacobean garden.

Once completed, it was decided that the main part of the house should be furnished as a middle-class Jacobean house (as Susanna and John Hall might have known) with as much authentic seventeenth-century furniture as possible. The south side was to be used as a hub for coordinating Stratford’s contributions to the Festival of Britain.

The Grand Opening

Despite a severe frost that slowed the restoration work, Hall’s Croft managed to open just in time for the Festival in April. The official opening ceremony was performed by Sir Ernest Pooley, a life trustee and chairman of the Art’s Council, along with the Chairman of the Trustees, the mayor, Spencer Wood, and Levi Fox. Although the Festival of Britain was widely publicized, news articles from the Stratford Herald report that is was a financial failure. However, Hall's Croft received positive feedback from the community despite the amount spent on reconstruction. 

'A labour saved!'

— Trolius and Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3
Hall's Croft Opening 1951. A moustached man in a check suit makes a speech, with a BBC microphone in front of him. On his left are three men in suits and a lady in a coat with a fur collar; on the speaker's right is anther lady in a formal skirt suit.
1951 Opening of Hall's Croft

Although the Festival of Britain was widely publicized, news articles in the Stratford Herald report that is was a financial failure. However, Hall's Croft received positive feedback from the community despite the amount spent on reconstruction. Saving Hall’s Croft ultimately cost £45,000, of which the Trust contributed a total of £12,000 (£5000 was raised via appeal over the following two years). Although financially problematic, Hall’s Croft redeemed itself when in the first year it attracted 33,000 visitors and remains, to this day, a treasured favourite amongst Stratford residents. 

 (1) Fox, Levi. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: A Personal Memoir. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and Jarrold Publishing of Norwich, 1997. 

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