Remembering Garrick’s Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon

The statue of Shakespeare donated by David Garrick

Imagine the scene in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday 9 September 1769, the morning after the night before, indeed after the three days of David Garrick’s Jubilee. There was an undignified rush to leave the town, but there weren’t enough carriages. A writer for the St James’s Chronicle wrote “Every body wanted to quit Stratford, but few, unless those who were down with their own Carriages, could attempt it: Five Guineas… nay Fifty Guineas were unable to attain it.” The landlord of the White Lion Inn thought it might take three weeks for everybody to get away. He wasn’t complaining.

But what, after all the Jubilee-goers had managed to leave, when the town had dried out, and after the riverside amphitheatre had been taken down, was left to show it had all happened?  Shakespeare knew how easily any live event vanishes when it is over:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.

There was always going to be a sort of legacy. The Jubilee had only taken place at all because of the dedication of the new Town Hall, and Garrick’s statue of Shakespeare now stood in the niche near the entrance where it is to this day. It’s modest, but important. There were other legacies too, high quality works of art that were intended to hang forever inside the Town Hall.

David Garrick, a copy of Gainsborough’s portrait

As well as the statue, Garrick gave a portrait of Shakespeare by Benjamin Wilson. Robert Bell Wheler described it in his History and Antiquities of Stratford-upon-Avon. “Our inimitable poet is represented in the attitude of inspiration, and sitting in an antique chair; upon the ground lie several books… by some of the authors which Shakspeare consulted; and in the window are the armorial bearings of his family”. The other, bought by the Stratford Corporation to mark the Jubilee was a portrait of Garrick with Shakespeare by the great painter Thomas Gainsborough. This shows Garrick, in an outdoor parkland setting, leaning against a pedestal on which stands a bust of Shakespeare. Garrick’s arm embraces the bust. It’s an image that places Garrick and Shakespeare on a par, both men at home in the natural world. This image was so successful that it was reproduced as an engraving and widely copied. One copy is at Charlecote Park just a few miles from Stratford, while the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust owns one by Robert Edge Pine.

For nearly two centuries these two paintings hung facing each other in the ballroom, but both were lost in a fire at the Town Hall in 1946. While the Gainsborough is a famous image, Alan Young* notes that there is virtually no record of the Wilson portrait, not even a photograph, surprising given its prominent position. After the ballroom was rebuilt a painting of David Garrick in the role of Richard III, by Nathaniel Dance-Holland, was acquired by the Corporation and this contemporary picture of Garrick is still on display, even if it links him with his stage career rather than the Shakespeare-worship of the Jubilee.

There were other attempts to remember the Jubilee. The Greyhound Inn just opposite the Town Hall was renamed the Garrick Inn. Locals must have bought their own souvenirs like medals and ribbons, bringing them out on special occasions. Although some Stratfordians had been wary to begin with, when the Jubilee happened they embraced it.  Some made money letting out spare rooms, or by selling food and drink. But householders decorated their homes by placing candles or lamps in their windows every evening. They enjoyed the fireworks on the first and third evenings, and would have been impressed by the spectacle of the costumed procession had it not been rained off.

The site of the Amphitheatre shown on the 1814 map of Stratford

For several years afterwards a modest procession was held on 6 September, and twenty-five years later in 1794 a bigger celebration was planned but eventually had to be abandoned. The Jubilee was a source of pride, and visitors asked to be shown where it had all taken place. In his 1814 Guide to Stratford Robert Bell Wheler includes a map of the town, and there, at number 11, on the Bancroft, is the Site of the Amphitheatre, roughly where the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is now.

* Art and English Commemorations of Shakespeare 1769-1964. In Christa Jansohn and Dieter Mehl’s book Shakespeare Jubilees: 1769-2014.

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One Response to Remembering Garrick’s Jubilee in Stratford-upon-Avon

  1. Paul Kreider says:

    Thank you for another interesting post. I have yet to visit Stratford but when I do, information such as you’ve provided here will enrich my background for it.

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