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Putting Stratford on the Map: The David Garrick Jubilee

The Garrick Jubilee of 1769 is widely credited as being a key moment in the development of Stratford-upon-Avon into a tourist destination.

The Garrick Jubilee of 1769, widely credited as being a key moment in Stratford’s history, was a festival which began Stratford-upon-Avon’s development into a tourist destination. The organiser was David Garrick, a renowned 18th century actor, theatre manager, playwright and producer. By 1769 Garrick was one of the most famous actors of his day, noted for his Shakespearian roles as, amongst others, Hamlet and Richard III. The Jubilee was primarily a celebration of the opening of Stratford’s new Town Hall. Garrick had donated a statue of William Shakespeare to be revealed at the same time as the opening, and began to plan accompanying entertainment.  

Ticket for Garrick Jubilee
A ticket for Garrick's spectacular Jubilee!

The three-day festival started well, despite the fact that Stratford struggled to cope with the influx of visitors to the town. At 6am on September 6th, a great volley could be heard rumbling from the 30 canons lined up on the banks of the river Avon. There was music and singing in the streets and a public breakfast at the Town Hall attended by Garrick and his wife, the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of Stratford and other members of the nobility and gentry. Later in the day there was an oratorio at Holy Trinity Church and in the evening a ball took place in a specially constructed rotunda by the river.

Painting of Garrick Jubilee
Bridge Street decorated for the Jubilee

On the second day, disaster struck. It began to rain heavily and continued to do so for the large part of the following 24 hours. The streets were flooded, the river rose high around the rotunda and the much-anticipated ‘grand pageant’ had to be cancelled. Garrick was able to perform his Ode to Shakespeare in the rotunda itself, but the evening’s firework display was a wash-out and the masked ball nearly called off because of the weather.

On the final day, many of the visitors were clamouring to leave town: their departure delayed only by the insufficient transport available to carry them back to London. Only a small crowd attended the final event: a horse chase for the Jubilee Cup. The diarist James Boswell wrote:

‘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.’

Many of Garrick’s contemporaries made fun of the Jubilee, which was seen by some as a vulgar, unsophisticated and flippant attempt to celebrate the nation’s great poet. Garrick himself saw it as a failure and never returned to the town again. Notwithstanding the Jubilee’s setbacks, the event irrevocably placed Stratford on the proverbial Shakespearian map, and brought the small market town to the attention of Bardolators in a way that, ultimately, allowed for the successful campaign to save Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

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