To be sold or not to be sold, that is the question. This query could be answered when Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the childhood home of the world-famous bard, goes under the hammer once again, a full 170 years since it was saved for the nation at a public auction.
The globally-renowned Grade I listed house, which is being marketed by estate agents Sheldon Bosley Knight with a ‘special’ public auction this Saturday (16 September), has seen some 32 million visitors pass through it since its restoration.
Originally, the acquisition of the “tumbledown terraced house” – rescued in 1847 for £3,000 – led to the founding of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the UK’s oldest conservation charity. According to Sheldon Bosley Knight, the well-preserved Tudor abode is almost impossible to value.
Now a detached property, the house has a prime location in the heart of Shakespeare’s home town of Stratford-upon-Avon. It contains a number of original features, including six inglenook fireplaces and flagstone floors.
Back in 1847, the house was threatening to fall into disrepair when the resident butcher’s wife died and her heirs put the property up for auction. Rumours abounded that American showman P T Barnum, he of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, wanted to dismantle the home brick by brick and take it back with him to the States.
To protect the legacy of the home, several committees were set up to raise subscriptions. Notable figures of the time, including Charles Dickens, Sir Robert Peel and actor William Macready, joined the fight. The committees soon set about mobilising the population to purchase the house for the nation, with Prince Albert stepping in as patron of the Stratford Committee.
Plays, performances and souvenirs were just some of the fundraising methods employed, but when hopes for the government to take over the Birthplace as a national memorial were dashed, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was founded as the independent charity responsible for the care and preservation of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. This was even formalised as an Act of Parliament in 1891.
To this day, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust continues to be self-funded, with the job of safeguarding Shakespeare’s legacy and caring for his family homes.
A special theatrical re-enactment of the auction of 1847 will take place outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace between 12pm and 2pm on 16 September.