‘Boke of scraps’ – the story of the purchase of Shakespeare’s Birthplace (in pictures)

From looking after early printed books to rare breed pigs, it’s fair to say we’re a diverse organisation. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust cares for five Shakespearean properties, an extensive archive, library and museum, and offers educational and family fun events to an array of visitors.   It’s easy to forget that it all began with a single idea – the preservation of Shakespeare’s Birthplace for the nation.

This month it’s been 166 years since the Trust took on care of the Birthplace – in November 1847, following its purchase at auction in the September of that year. The story of the purchase is a tale of popular outcry, famous patronage and public charity. One wonderful source for this period is a contemporary scrapbook  – a ‘boke of scraps’ compiled by Dr Theodosius Purland, an important player in the campaign.

Front page from T. Purland’s ‘Boke of Scraps’ [ER1/129]

The volume is rich with press cuttings, event posters, fliers and correspondence, as well as copies of the sale posters and particulars for the Birthplace itself. It illustrates the excitement the proposed sale stirred in the national consciousness at the time, or at least in the national press. Rumours abounded, like the suggestion an American circus owner was considering buying the Birthplace and touring it on wheels around the States. The truth of such rumours aside, it does reflect a growing sense of the importance of built heritage, some 50 years before the National Trust was formed. The fundraising activities are also fascinating, including theatrical productions put on by (and starring) Charles Dickens, harmonicon rock concerts (in fashion at the time) and national appeals to the public pocket.

Press cutting showing Birthplace pre-purchase from T. Purland’s ‘Boke of Scraps’ [ER1/129]

Dr Purland’s scrapbook takes us through to the successful purchase of the Birthplace by public subscription (though some funds were still to be raised after the fact) for a hefty £3,000. Purland was one of those present at the public auction, which by all accounts was a thrilling event.

Press cutting showing Birthplace auction from T. Purland’s ‘Boke of Scraps’ [ER1/129]

The bold idea to preserve the Birthplace as a national monument paved the way for further built heritage conservation in Stratford and beyond. Thanks to Theodosius Purland for his contribution to the campaign and for taking the time to compile this wonderful ‘boke of scraps’.

This post from Amy Hurst, Collections Archivist


  • Liski

    I had no idea there was such difficult situaition with founding of your museum. “To be or not to be…”

A freely available online exhibition exploring keys aspects of the music in Shakespeare’s plays, as well as music inspired by Shakespeare.