As one reader quickly guessed, the photograph featured in last week’s crocodile post is part of an admission ticket to the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s burial place. This ticket is one window onto the growth of tourism in 19th-century Stratford-upon-Avon, and also highlights the importance of ephemera (printed materials such as tickets, programs, greeting cards, or souvenir stickers that are meant for very temporary use) in the study of history.
Stratford-upon-Avon has been a tourist destination for as long as Shakespeare has been “The Bard of Avon,” of course. The first documentary evidence of “Shakespeare tourism” was in 1634, when a Lieutenant Hammond visited Stratford on September 9th as part of a longer journey. 1 But the town’s allure rose even higher in the second half of the 19th century, as David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee and the 1864 Shakespeare Tercentenary combined with the spreading railroad lines (the Great Western Railway was authorized to run lines to Stratford-upon-Avon by 1866, and the East and West Junction Railway joined them soon after) to make the small town seem more fascinating—and accessible—than ever.
Stratford-upon-Avon’s residents met this increased interest with mixed reactions at first. Many struggled to reconcile an interest in the tourist trade with a desire to maintain the area’s unsullied spiritual ties to Shakespeare. Some residents immediately saw the potential for profit, while others grew tired of the whole thing: the story of Reverend Francis Gastrell, owner of New Place, whose frustration with avid visitors led him in 1756 to cut down the mulberry tree said to have been planted by Shakespeare himself, is frequently repeated in travel guides. (The Folger has a small selection of mulberry wood souvenir artifacts, supposedly created from wood from the tree saved by enterprising local artist Thomas Sharp, although it is understandably difficult to confirm their provenances.)
By the mid-19th century, though, most properties in the town were fully committed to the tourist experience. Leading the way was Shakespeare’s birthplace, which became the first property in Stratford to “fully exploit the commercial potential of Shakespeare as an individual.” 2 Jointly purchased by a group known as the National Shakesperian Fund, 3 spearheaded by J.O. Halliwell-Phillipps, the birthplace was restored and presented to the public for the tercentenary celebration in 1864.
The Holy Trinity Church, too, had been aware of its role in the Shakespeare-verse since the mid 18th-century. There is evidence of efforts to preserve Shakespeare’s monument and grave within the church as early as 1746. 4 Vicar James Davenport, who led the church from 1787 until 1841, recognized the church’s national importance, and began promoting it, supporting annual celebrations of Shakespeare’s birthday and corresponding with frequently Shakespearians throughout the country. 5 By the 1840s, it had begun to position itself as central to the “Shakespeare industry.” Initially, it was far more successful than Shakespeare’s birthplace, as the latter was privately owned, while the church was publicly open. However, the auction of the birthplace following the owner’s death, and its subsequent ownership and restoration by a public trust, drew the public’s interest, and the Birthplace quickly rose to prominence, eclipsing the church.
However, the church continued to be one of the main Stratfordian attractions, and its centrality also put the church in an excellent place to raise money for restoration and preservation. The Illustrated London News reported “a placard in large letters, stating that a gratuity would be expected for the clerk” in 1857. 6 In 1877 a formal admission charge was introduced by vicar John Day Collis; visitors would need to pay sixpence to enter the church and gaze upon Shakespeare’s bones. The charge was controversial: the Stratford Herald proclaimed that it savored of Barnum 7 by turning the church into a “common show-place.” 8 Despite the complaints, a sixpence charge was a fairly standard price for admission to historical sites, including Westminster Abbey. An 1899 edition of the Saturday Evening Post featured an article tallying up the revenue generated by Stratford-upon-Avon attractions each year, and noted that most sites in the town charged sixpence to enter; it estimated that 26,500 visitors to the Birthplace produced roughly $5,200 annually, and 23,000 visitors generated about $2,800 for Holy Trinity Church. 9
The ticket featured in the crocodile mystery is likely from the early years between 1877 and 1887, as it specifies that “There is no other fee” beyond the 6d. This ticket would have originally allowed a visitor to see the entire church, but during the 1880s, Collis’ successor Vicar George Arbuthnot decided that fee should allow visitors into the chancel area only (where Shakespeare’s grave was located), and in 1887, a second 6d. admission charge was introduced at the main church door as well. 10
This additional ticket, shown above, featured a map of the chancel detailing the locations of each gravestone to “enable Visitors to find the Grave in the Chancel without difficulty.” This map also appeared in Arbuthnot’s guide to Holy Trinity Church (there called by its older name of the Collegiate Church). The vicar was well-known for his profit-generating ventures, including the aforementioned guide and a souvenir stamp, which he channeled into a fund for the maintenance of the church (as noted on the ticket).
Vicar Arbuthnot’s guide was one of many produced for travelers to Stratford-upon-Avon in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some, such as Arbuthnot’s, focused on a particular site of interest, while others provided an overview of all of “Shakespeare’s country.” 11 Some were produced by corporate entities, such as the Great Western Railway’s guide to “Shakespeare-land,” while others were written as personal travel diaries or compilations of friendly advice, such as Washington Irving’s Sketch Book or Marie Corelli’s Avon Star magazine. These guides are far from a thing of the past, either—though they may take a different shape today, the popular travel company Frommer’s now offers a web-based guide to Stratford-upon-Avon—and they are unlikely to be any time soon.
- Mairi MacDonald. “Not a memorial to Shakespeare, but a place for divine worship.” Warwickshire history, no. 11, pages 207-8
- Julia Thomas, “Shakespeare and commercialism,” in Gail Marshall, Shakespeare in the nineteenth century, page 253.
- Predecessor of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
- Mairi MacDonald. “Not a memorial to Shakespeare, but a place for divine worship.” Warwickshire history, no. 11, page 208.
- Regrettably, Davenport is most remembered for his decision to allow Edward Malone to whitewash the church’s colorfully-painted bust of Shakespeare to make it look more authentic. The paint job was widely reviled – almost every Stratford-upon-Avon travel diary and guide in the first part of the nineteenth century included a dig at it – and was reversed in 1861 during the preparations for the 1864 tercentenary.
- Mairi MacDonald. “Not a memorial to Shakespeare, but a place for divine worship.” Warwickshire history, no. 11, page 217.
- Several decades earlier, American circus man P.T. Barnum had announced plans to buy Shakespeare’s birthplace and transport it to the United States, a threat that helped spur the efforts of the National Shakesperian Fund to purchase the birthplace instead.
- Mairi MacDonald. “Not a memorial to Shakespeare, but a place for divine worship.” Warwickshire history, no. 11, page 218.
- Golding, Harry. “The dividends of fame: literary shrines that are money-makers.” Saturday Evening Post, vol.171 no.2 (1899). Today, the respective yearly profits for the birthplace and church would be about $146,800 and $79,000.
- Mairi MacDonald. “Not a memorial to Shakespeare, but a place for divine worship.” Warwickshire history, no. 11, pages 218-219
- The Folger has almost two dozen travel guides whose titles are a variation on “Shakespeare’s country” or “Shakespeare’s land”.