Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations - a great time to visit Stratford, come and join us!
Imagine the scene. Non stop torrential rain, the Bancroft Gardens awash with sludge and water, the ladies' long dresses trailing in the mud and the fireworks nothing more than a damp squid! Sound familiar? It's the Shakespeare Celebrations 1769, the origin of our present Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
William Shakespeare died in April 1616. Devotees of the great man began to visit Stratford to experience the town of his birth. These visits gained momentum and the importance of Stratford as a visitor centre, with William Shakespeare as the catalyst, took increasing hold. By 1768 the new Town Hall had been completed and an empty alcove at the front of the building, had been included into the structure to accommodate a statue of William Shakespeare. Town dignitaries decided it would be a coup if David Garrick, a renowned Shakespearian actor of that time could be persuaded to formally present the required statue. A Stratford delegation was sent to seek Garrick's agreement and succeeded by offering him Freedom of the Town. Garrick, wishing to ensure that the presentation was afforded due status, initiated the organisation of a three day Stratford Jubilee to compliment the occasion and suitably honour Shakespeare. Some of this adulation might rub off on Garrick himself perhaps. The 6th - 8th September 1769 were set aside for the event. A wooden amphitheatre to accommodate 1000 people for the festivities was built close to where the present Royal Shakespeare Theatre now stands. Canons lined the river bank to sound the start of proceedings. A pageant, fireworks, food, drink and horse racing would surely make a fitting celebration. Things went well on the first day but then the rain started - and it rained and rained and rained - non stop. Good intentions turned into a washout - although towards the end of the third day the weather improved and those present made the best of a bad job.
The statue of William Shakespeare presented by David Garrick all those years ago still occupies its lofty Town Hall perch. Its stony, somewhat bemused stare will view silently those walking the ancient streets below its feet, honouring the birth of the Bard. Let's hope it doesn't rain.
The Birthday Celebrations continue and are held in April. They feature a 'myriad of exciting and vibrant spectacles' for adults and children alike. These include street theatre, Shakespeare Morris Men, Children's Country Dancing, Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers and the Coventry Corps of Drums. The procession of distinguished guests from all over the world make their way slowly through the streets, on to Holy Trinity Church where the Bard is buried and lay flowers and wreaths on his grave. Crowds line the route and point excitedly at famous faces they recognise. The atmosphere is electric.
Other unique events include the Birthday Lecture, the ceremony of unfurling the flags of nations, the Birthday Luncheon, annual Shakespeare service at Holy Trinity Church and much more.
Stratford Town Walk provide a guided walk every day during the Shakespeare Celebrations weekend. It is the ideal way to find out all about William Shakespeare, his life and family and the town he knew so well.
Exact details for the 2016 Birthday Celebrations will be released nearer the time.
For more information about the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations programme click here