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Reinventing the House

After the purchase of Shakespeare's Birthplace, the property needed major renovations before it could be enjoyed by the public.

A Much Needed Renovation

When Shakespeare's Birthplace was purchased by the 'Birthplace Committee’ (later the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) with help from donors and others, it was in need of extensive restoration and conservation work. The renovation took nearly ten years, spanning from 1855 to 1862.

There were a number of measures proposed to preserve and restore the house. This included the removal of the brick façade that had been placed on the Swan and Maidenhead portion of the property earlier in the century, as well as replacing gables (the upper section of wall, shaped like a triangle) that had been removed from the front of the property. 

These renovations also included the removal of the properties on either side of Shakespeare's Birthplace. This was done partly for safety and preservation measures, but also informed by the success of the imitation Surrey Birthplace. The original proposal for this restoration suggested covering:

‘the Birthplace with a Glass Roof so as effectually to preserve it from the effects of the weather.’

Interestingly enough, this was the one proposal for preservation that was never executed.

The image shows the rear of the birthplace and a path running towards it, newly-planted with shrubs and some flowers on the borders; the rest of the garden is bare.
The Birthplace after the two adjoining buildings had been demolished

An Act of Parliament

In the late 19th century, the Birthplace Committee sought an act of Parliament, acknowledging the need for regulations and legal protection. This act was required not only for the renovations that were being carried out, but also with regards to the money that was being accrued from admission fees and other donations. The Act of Parliament 1891 is very significant in the history of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The Act stated the purposes of the Trust, including the requirement to form a collection of manuscripts, books, pictures and objects of art illustrative of the life, times, and works of William Shakespeare

A bust of Shakespeare stands on a pedestal. A doorway on the right leads to a room with showcases of relics, which can also be seen through missing wall-panels behind the bust. A staircase is on the left.
The Birthplace when the Trust first opened it as a museum

The original collections were stored in what was then known as the Birthplace Museum. The museum was in the Swan and Maidenhead portion of the property, with bookshelves and chests all around to hold important documents. Early displays in the Birthplace Museum contained Shakespeare related documents, various Shakespeare memorabilia (including many mulberry items from ‘Shakespeare’s Tree’), and a letter from Richard Quiney to William Shakespeare

However, practices changed over time and with the legal status placed on the Trust due to the Act of Parliament, this modest collection grew. The storage of the collections items expanded into the neighbouring Hornby’s Cottage, Thomas Nash’s home at New Place, and later into the Shakespeare Centre, developing in to the collection as we know it today. 

  • The Birthplace isn't the only place in Stratford that needed reinventing. Read more about the renovations made to Hall's Croft: Saving Hall's Croft

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