In August 2021 I wrote a post about the project to restore the 1769 statue of Shakespeare that has stood in its niche on Stratford’s Town Hall ever since David Garrick gave it to the people of Stratford. It’s the only object that directly relates to David Garrick’s Jubilee that effectively turned Stratford-upon-Avon into a destination for visitors from all around the UK and indeed around the world.
It can’t be said to have had a happy time in the intervening 250 or so years during which weather, pollution, and even a fire have had terrible effects on its appearance. I didn’t expect much of an improvement, but conservator Rupert Harris has done a spectacular job of returning the statue to its original state. I spent much of Wednesday 20th April 2022 watching a team of workers, under Mr Harris’s supervision, carefully and delicately replacing it ready for its official unveiling by Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh. This will take place at 1pm on Friday 22 April as part of the Birthday Celebrations. Watching this process take place was a real treat.
While waiting around I was lucky enough to be able to meet the conservator himself who showed me the date, September 1769, inscribed on the statue, hidden ever since it was hoisted into place. It’s the only lead statue he’s ever seen with a date on it – but then this was an important object, and a significant date. It was fantastic to see the statue up close: wrinkles on the breeches, embroidery on the stockings, details on the costumes of the monarchs, and even needle-holes on the shoes. Who would have guessed from its former appearance that the head of Shakespeare himself would be so full of life?
The most striking difference is the statue’s colour. Lead statues imitated carved stone, so were always painted. Apparently there were still traces of paint on the back of the statue though that at the front had long since disappeared. I think you’ll agree the statue now looks magnificent and is a fitting memorial to both our Shakespeare and to David Garrick’s Jubilee. This corner in Stratford, with the newly-cleaned Town Hall and the restored statue is now how it was intended to be, an imposing site worthy of Shakespeare’s town.
Special thanks to Richard Morris for taking the photographs.