The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust traces its history back to 1847, when Shakespeare’s Birthplace was purchased as a national memorial. It later acquired four other properties with Shakespeare associations, New Place, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, Mary Arden’s House and Hall’s Croft. In 1891 the Trust was formally incorporated by an Act of Parliament. It was intended from the start that Shakespeare’s Birthplace should accommodate a collection of books, archives and museum objects relating to Shakespeare and his native town. Over the years many thousands of such items have been acquired. Some of these treasures are displayed in the five Shakespeare Houses, including examples of Elizabethan and early Stuart furniture, ceramics, metalwork, textiles and paintings, together with many Elizabethan books which were used as sources for the writing of his plays and poems.
Our collection contains a wealth of material relating the history of Stratford, its people and its borough, illustrating the social and economic life within the town. The SBT holds records of local government, churches, manors, private estates and businesses, dating from the 1100s to present day. Such records provide a rich documentary heritage for Stratford and illustrate its development into the Elizabethan market town, which William Shakespeare knew as man and boy, as well as documenting his lasting impact on the town.
The SBT’s collection demonstrates William Shakespeare’s legacy on our world. It includes some of the most famous books in the world such as the First Folio of 1623 and early quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays published during his lifetime, as well as later editions, periodicals and complete works. Our collection demonstrates the growth of Stratford as a centre for Shakespeare tourism and pilgrimage, including material relating to the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee and early souvenirs.
We hold material relating to the establishment of local cultural institutions, such as the SBT itself and the Royal Shakespeare Company which were established to perform and promote Shakespeare’s works.
Shakespeare the Man
Our collection includes material relating to the William Shakespeare’s life, family and friends, and the world in which he lived.
We hold thirty-one ‘Shakespeare Documents’ – hand-written documents from Shakespeare’s lifetime that mention him by name. These are central to understanding Shakespeare’s life and provide a vivid picture of him as an Elizabethan gentleman and businessman. They document the ups and downs of his family life and his rise in wealth and status. The archive includes a range of papers which detail the lives of his relatives and contemporaries providing a unique picture of Shakespeare as a son, husband, father and neighbour.
Shakespeare in the World
There are translations of Shakespeare’s plays into over 80 languages in our collection, as well as biographies, critical studies and other works which explore the impact of Shakespeare on arts, language, culture, philosophy and religion.
We also hold objects relating to the global legacy of Shakespeare such as artistic and cultural responses to his work and souvenirs and commemorative items from all over the world including a wreath of oak leaves from Germany to celebrate the Tercentenary of Shakespeare’s death in 1864, and a series of medals minted in 1964 from countries around the world.