Posted on 10th September 2012 by Ruth Webb
Thanks to Heritage Open Days and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust I saw the most important book in the English language - Shakespeare’s famous first folio, the autograph of Queen Elizabeth I and the Klingon version of Hamlet!
Living nearby, I’ve been to the Shakespeare Houses a number of times before but I never knew the treasures that are held in the strong rooms are located underground beneath the feet of the many thousands of tourists who flock to the town each year. I joined a group of ten people on the first day of Heritage Open Days for an hour-long tour that was led by the Trust's librarian and their access officer. Both had extensive knowledge of the collection and bestowed on us some of the most valuable and renowned, as well as the lesser-thought of, items held in the stores.
It was quite astonishing to find out how much is held in the stores seeing as we have little original material from Shakespeare himself. The collection includes worldly books that would have been known to Shakespeare as well as modern day writings about the bard. This collection contains 50,000 books (2,500 of which are early printed and rare books) and translations of Shakespeare's plays in 80 different languages - including Klingon.
I found that I was particularly drawn to archive material from the Royal Shakespeare Company – stage prompts, playbills, production photographs and videos. I was also surprised to learn that Peter Pan and Dracula have links with Shakespeare and documents and letters from their authors are held in the archive too!
So Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s all about Shakespeare, right? Not quite. The archives may contain more than a million documents on William Shakespeare’s life and times but it also holds some other wonderful local treasures! Material from local archaeological digs – including some prehistoric artefacts, every copy of the Stratford Herald newspaper, the 1765 Small Pox census and county maps can all be found here.
Although I visited as part of this special Heritage Open Days event, the archive can be visited through the year. The collection held is of national importance and scholars and groups from all over the globe arrange special visits to the collection. Perhaps this is something us locals can start to make more use of?
If you’re not a Warwickshire local however and you are interested in finding out more about the collection, have a look at the Finding Shakespeare blog, which is kept up to date with videos, articles and picture galleries. A very hand app has been developed too. The free mobile app, Eye Shakespeare, allows you to view hundreds of treasures from the collection. And you can also create unique walking tours of ten key sites and five centuries of local history in Stratford-upon-Avon!
My apologies for the lack of photos from the stores, but my camera was left in my bag in a locker. No coats or bags are allowed in the archive. If you’re intrigued to have a look in the stores, why not book yourself on to a Heritage Open Days tour next year? I’d certainly recommend it!
View more: Personal HODs experience