Shakespeare’s Birthplace has a complex history of ownership from the first reference of it being in the possession of John Shakespeare on 29 April 1552 until its purchase by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust at auction in 1847.
It has been modified, extended and subdivided over the years and has gone from family home, to pub and inn to the tourist attraction you see today. The house’s ownership, use and appearance are well documented in our collection through documents, works of art, photographs, personal diaries, and artefacts.
Our collection charts the growth of the Birthplace as a site of Shakespearian tourism, with examples of early souvenirs made by 18th century entrepreneurs keen to cash in on the growing tourism in the town. The Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769 really established the Birthplace as a site of pilgrimage, and we have a vast collection of items relating to this event. The Birthplace has continued to be central to the annual celebration of Shakespeare’s birthday in Stratford.
We have a substantial collection of early photographs which show the Birthplace as central point in the town, with the changing outfits of visitors echoing the changes and developments to the town around them. When the Trust acquired the Birthplace it undertook a programme of conservation on the property, and this can be seen in details through our collection. Later in the 1800s we can see how the Birthplace was interpreted for visitors, the rooms crammed with art, books, furniture and documents that are still in our collection today.
Today this house is presented as it would have looked when William Shakespeare lived in it as a boy. The furnishings and decoration are in keeping with the status of the Shakespeare family. The Shakespeare’s were relatively prosperous and the artefacts on the display reflect this. The displays are informed by documentary evidence from this time, much of which is found in our collection, such as wills and inventories of local people.