Share this page

Reinventing the House

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

After the purchase of Shakespeare's Birthplace, with help from donors and others, the 'Birthplace Committee’ (later the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) undertook the renovation of the property. The renovation took nearly ten years, spanning from 1855 to 1862. By the time the committee came into ownership of the building, it was in need of extensive restoration and conservation work. 

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 that had been removed from the front of the property. These renovations also included the removal of the properties on either side of the 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.

Birthplace garden
The Birthplace after the two adjoining buildings had been demolished

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

Birthplace Museum
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 with time and with the legal status placed on the Trust due to the Act of Parliament, this modest collection grew, expanding into Hornby’s Cottage, Nash’s home at New Place, and later into the Shakespeare Centre, developing in to the collections as we know it today. 

A timeline of the collections’ development can be found here.

Visit Shakespeare's family homes

Find out more

More like this

Shakespedia Index

Go behind the scenes

Read our blogs
This is where the story began Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of a working Tudor Farm Relive Shakespeare’s love story Walk in Shakespeare's footsteps The home of Shakespeare’s daughter, Susanna