It’s Heritage Open Weekend again and that means free or special access to some of our precious cultural history. In some places the weekend started as early as Thursday 10 September, but most events will be taking place over Saturday and Sunday 12 and 13 September 2015.
There are events to enjoy all over the country, but I’m sorry to report that the offerings this year seem a bit thin for the avid Shakespeare fan. In Stratford-upon-Avon itself, rather than the rich pickings we have had in past years, this time there is no competition: the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Collections Department are showing off some of their most interesting items, many of which are not on public display. Instead of bookable stack tours, they are putting on an informal drop-in exhibition in the Wolfson Hall of the Shakespeare Centre. Items on display will include early printed books, Shakespeare documents, early modern museum objects, theatre ephemera and items relating to the history of Stratford-upon-Avon and the Shakespeare properties. You’ll also be able to meet some of the staff who care for the collections and who make them available week in, week out, for study through the Reading Room. I worked with these world-class collections myself for many years and have never ceased to find them wide-ranging, fascinating and unexpected, so I recommend a visit. This blog post tells you more.
In Stratford itself, you might also like to take a look at the Old Slaughterhouse, a newly-opened community arts venue tucked away at the back of Sheep Street. They will be open from 11-5 on Saturday and Sunday. The building gets its name from its original function at the back of Henson’s, a butcher’s shop that used to stand in Bridge Street before gentrification took place.
Elsewhere, Shakespeare events are few and far between on Heritage Open Weekend, but some of the stately homes near Stratford, like Compton Verney and Coughton Court, are throwing their doors open, and at Westbury Arts Centre in Milton Keynes a series of Shakespeare playlets are being performed on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Here’s hoping that next year, 2016, the Quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, will be more enthusiastically celebrated: for now, enjoy the opportunity to enjoy the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s Collections.