‘The room in which Shakespeare was born’: an illustrated ceramic

This week’s blog post was written by Museum Collections Assistant Emily Millward and it examines a pot lid displayed in the exhibition in Shakespeare’s Birthplace.

 

The exhibition room of Shakespeare’s Birthplace currently houses a display focusing on the property as a place of pilgrimage from the 17th Century onwards. This Staffordshire ware pot lid dates to the mid 19th Century and illustrates the Birthroom as it may have looked when pilgrims visited during this period.

Staffordshire ware pot lid

Staffordshire ware pot lid

 

Shakespeare’s Birthplace as a site of pilgrimage grew increasingly popular during the 19th Century and at this time the souvenir trade in Stratford-upon-Avon also increased to meet the demands of the visitors who wanted to take a memento of their pilgrimage home with them. Alongside the pot lid the 19th Century themed display case also contains a cider mug commemorating the founding of the Shakespeare Club, a seal bearing the bust of the bard, and a carved wooden box taken from the Birthplace. Together these items demonstrate the variety of ‘Shakespeariana’ available at the time and the pot lid specifically shows that such souvenirs were beginning to be manufactured outside of Stratford-upon-Avon.

The decoration on the lid depicts the room in which Shakespeare was born, the legend across the bottom of the scene stating so. In the centre of the scene three figures, two men and one lady, are shown in traditional 19th Century dress accompanied by a dog as they view the Birthroom. Those familiar with the Birthroom will be able to recognise the general layout with the fireplace in the centre of the room to the left of the single window. However, certain aspects of the Birthroom shown on the pot lid are very different to how it would have looked both in Shakespeare’s time and today. Most notably there is no bed and it appears that there is no doorway in the top left corner. After the Trust acquired to Birthplace in 1847 the property was greatly renovated having being left dilapidated from many years and much of the furniture currently on display in the property was acquired many years later. For those who have not yet visited the Birthplace you can view the pot lid before you enter the Birthroom and compare for yourselves the changes over the centuries.

The scene on this pot lid has been repeated many times on similar Staffordshire ware ceramics from the 19th Century onwards. Due to the changes that have occurred since then, both to the property itself and to how the room is dressed, this item is valuable in literally painting a picture of how pilgrims to the Birthplace may have seen the room in which Shakespeare was born during the 19th Century. It also highlights the growing trade for souvenirs in this period owing to the demand of visitors wanting a continued link with Shakespeare and their pilgrimage once they returned home. This item and others displayed in the Birthplace exhibition room encapsulate to desire for pilgrims to have an association with the bard and the place in which he was born.

  • Liski

    I had such sensation, that visitors interest to famous people has appeared recently, that memorable places have become attractive not long ago. But it turns out, I was wrong. Fans and museums have always existed!

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