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The Shakespeare Centre

A Grade II Listed Building in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire

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Latitude: 52.1942 / 52°11'39"N

Longitude: -1.7082 / 1°42'29"W

OS Eastings: 420045

OS Northings: 255143

OS Grid: SP200551

Mapcode National: GBR 4LT.DYQ

Mapcode Global: VHBY0.B3TS

Plus Code: 9C4W57VR+MP

Entry Name: The Shakespeare Centre

Listing Date: 19 October 2010

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1395091

English Heritage Legacy ID: 507264

Location: Stratford-upon-Avon, Stratford-on-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37

County: Warwickshire

District: Stratford-on-Avon

Civil Parish: Stratford-upon-Avon

Built-Up Area: Stratford-upon-Avon

Traditional County: Warwickshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Warwickshire

Church of England Parish: Stratford on Avon Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Coventry

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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604-1/0/10008 HENLEY STREET

A multi-functional building used as a study centre and accommodation for the administrative functions of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, including a library, archive, reading room, exhibition space and conference and office suite. The building, erected in 1962-64, was designed by Laurence Williams of Wood Kendrick and Williams.

MATERIALS: The Centre is constructed of pre-cast and in situ reinforced concrete frames, with some sections of red, handmade sand-faced brickwork, with De Lank Cornish granite cladding panels. Exposed areas of concrete are manufactured using Cornish De Lank granite, bush-hammered to give a textured finish. Ground floor and basement windows are extruded bronze with a wax finish, whilst those above are black and gold extruded anodised aluminium. The interior finishes are largely constructed from cherrywood, with Derbydene marble skirtings; the floor surfaces are variously marble, hard wood block, terrazzo and carpet. The paving to the exterior is in brown and grey York stone.

PLAN: The plan is almost rectangular, orientated north east-south west, with the library forming a projection at the south-western end. The stair tower is placed roughly at the centre of the north-western side. The basement houses book stores, offices and photographic rooms, together with services. The ground floor houses the main public and study rooms, centred on The Room, the main entrance and exhibition space; to the south-west are the library and attendant services, the Stratford Room, for meeting and exhibitions, and off a corridor to the rear, are staff facilities. The second floor houses the Director's suite, with offices and the conference room, and part of the caretaker's flat to the north-east. The second floor has a small upward extension to provide a second storey of rooms for the flat.

EXTERIOR: The building is of two storeys and basement, with a small additional second floor section housing part of a caretaker's flat. The main entrance is from Henley Street, with a relatively narrow frontage. This is in two parts: to the right, a projecting porticoed entrance way with concrete piers formed from part of the main frame of the building, under which are shallow steps up to the main reception area; and to the left, the curved brick frontage of the Nuffield Library, adorned with Douglas-Wain Hobson's abstract bronze sculpture. Set back across both bays, the first floor has 12 single-light windows with granite cladding below, with concrete mullions between; a ring beam ties the uprights together at roof level, and is clad externally in hammered concrete panels. The main elevation is that to the south-east, facing the Shakespeare Birthplace garden. This is of nine bays, which are expressed on the ground floor by a glazed arcade of segmental-headed pre-cast concrete beams tying together pre-cast square-section columns, and carrying the cross beams which support the first floor. The glazed panels are engraved with life-sized figures of characters from Shakespeare. Roughly at the centre, a short set of steps gives access down into the garden. The first floor has similar fenestration and finishing to that on the entrance front. The rear of the building is partly in brick, and partly continues to express the concrete frame of the building. To the north-west, the building has been extended by the addition of an entirely new building, added in the 1980s, in brick, which adjoins the 1964 building at the stair tower. This later extension, which replaces an earlier structure on the site which was in situ when the Shakespeare Centre was constructed, is entirely separate apart from access doorways, and is not of special interest.

INTERIOR: The interior falls into two parts: those intended for the public, and those entirely for the use of the Trustees and administrative staff. The principal public space is the large entrance hall, known as The Room when the building was completed, accessed through a glazed lobby with engraved characters from Shakespeare via the steps from Henley Street. This has marble flooring in contrasting colours, exposed brick walling, and waffle tile ceiling. The space is dominated by an over-life-size sculpture of William Shakespeare by Douglas Wain-Hobson. The statue stands in front of a curved wall which hides cloakrooms, accessed from the side. Beyond, up a ramp over two steps, is the Stratford Room, now with temporary walling hiding the windows and bookcases, with a segmental barrel vaulted ceiling clad in timber. Beyond these two spaces, the building becomes more intimate: to the rear of The Room runs a corridor, in concrete and cherrywood, which gives access to the library suite, which is similarly constructed with exposed textured concrete and a mixture of cherrywood cladding and features. The library suite includes office accommodation for library staff, as well as a catalogue and periodical room and the Nuffield Library. This room is lit by a central, circular lantern, has a curved end with carved panel by Nicolete Grey, and has bespoke fitted furnishings by Gordon Russell, including low bookcases, reading desks, and circular table. Further along the corridor, the public spaces end, and staff facilities begin. These are finished in cherrywood and Derbydene marble, and retain their original floor coverings. The first floor is accessed via the main staircase, which opens into a vestibule clad in reeded cherrywood, with Derbydene marble skirtings. From this vestibule, doors give access to the office accommodation at the front of the building, and the Director's suite and conference room to the rear. The Director's suite includes offices for the Director and her secretary. The Director's office has furniture by Gordon Russell, including fixed, upholstered window seats, and bookcases. A doorway from the Director's office gives a private entrance to the conference room. This room, glazed on two sides with long rows of high aluminium windows between exposed concrete mullions, has a feature panelled wall of blue tahoe wood, reeded like that which clads the vestibule beyond. The conference table and other furnishings were designed by Gordon Russell. The small flat provided for the use of the caretaker is now in use for storage.

HISTORY: The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was founded in 1847, following the acquisition of the house in which William Shakespeare had been born and spent his early years ('The Birthplace'), by means of public subscription. The purpose of the Trust was to preserve the building as a national memorial to Shakespeare. The Trust was initially housed in the Birthplace building, and began to acquire a significant library and archive of Shakespeare-related books, manuscripts and other source material. By 1903, the collections had outgrown the building, and the Trust was given a house adjoining the site in Henley Street, into which the Trust and its collections, now including those of the Royal Shakespeare Company, were moved. As the library and archives continued to grow, along with the educational functions of the Trust, it became evident that the accommodation was no longer sufficient for the purposes of the Trust; it had been incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1961, with its primary objectives being to promote the appreciation and study of Shakespeare throughout the world, to preserve his Birthplace and the other, related properties associated with the poet which had been taken on by the Trust, and to maintain a museum and library of books, manuscripts and other items with particular reference to Shakespeare's life, work and times. Though the house was extended twice, by the late 1950s, it was clear that an entirely new building would be necessary.

The Executive Committee explored various possibilities with their architects, T Spender Wood and Laurence Williams, partners in the firm Wood Kendrick and Williams. From the earliest planning stage, a modern design was favoured by the committee, a bold decision given the proposed situation adjacent to the C16 Birthplace. Not all the trustees were immediately in agreement; a view was expressed that a neo-Georgian design would be more appropriate. However, it was recognised that the building would be judged as 'a product of its time' and the quality of its design and workmanship was paramount. The consensus was that the new building should be an outstanding example of the use of basic building materials, reflecting contemporary architectural taste, though its scale and massing should be designed to respect its neighbour. The designs were referred to the Royal Fine Art Society for approval, and after some minor modifications to the initial proposals, the revised plans were passed in October 1959. It was planned that, given that significant funds needed to be raised (the projected costs at the planning stage were £100,000, which would eventually rise to close to £200,000), the building should be completed in time for an official opening on the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, 23 April 1964.

During the ensuing year, detailed plans for the building were drawn up, refining the original outlines; the current building was largely planned by the then Director of The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Levi Fox, and designed by Laurence Williams. The emphasis was to be on simplicity, dignity and suitability for purpose, related to the function of each part of the building. The continued use of the building was a key consideration: provision was made for the expansion of the collections, and for the extension of the building to the north should this become necessary in the future. Materials and designs for the finishing of the interior were carefully considered and sourced, and some leading designers engaged to provide the furnishings and artistic embellishments.

At the same time, a massive fundraising campaign was launched in order to secure the necessary resources to realise the project. The entire town was working towards the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, and the completion of the new centre was to be the Trust's contribution. As part of the fundraising effort, which was led by the Trust's Director, Levi Fox with the help of a professional firm, Laurence Williams designed a small, temporary pavilion which was erected in the garden of the Birthplace; it housed plans and models of the proposed new building, and acted as a focal point for fundraising activities. Around the completed building, brass plaques were incorporated to indicate the country whose donations paid for particular parts. Donors were able to contribute relatively modest sums; a single brick could be sponsored for the cost of 2s 6d, or three for $1.00 for American donors; all the way up to £5 5s 0d, which would supply one unit of stone. Component parts of the building were sponsored by larger and corporate donors from around the world; by the end of 1962, 11,500 items had been purchased for the building. Significant contributions were secured from major donors. The Nuffield Foundation gave £77,000 to fund the entrance exhibition hall, and the library facilities. The town's community, businesses, schools, societies and clubs were invited to raise £25,000 to fund and equip The Stratford Room, to provide a meeting space for various groups and integrate the new centre into the community. International support came after overseas Ambassadors and High Commissioners in London were invited to sponsor various parts of the building.

The demolition of the existing building on the site began on 14 December 1961, and excavation for the basement of the new centre had begun by February 1962; in June of that year, HRH Princess Alexandra of Kent laid the foundation stone. The main structure of the building was complete by October 1963, at which time the finishing began. The building, duly completed, was officially opened on the planned day, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth, by Hon. Eugene Black, President of the World Bank and Chairman of the American 1964 Shakespeare Committee.

In the 1980s, the building was extended to the north-west, adjoining the original building at the stair tower, which had always been intended as the site for any junction with an extension. The new building incorporated a second reading room, offices and visitor centre for the properties owned and opened to the public by the Trust. The new building incorporated the cellars of the C19 inn formerly on the site, for use as further archive storage space. During the first years of the C21, the Stratford Room was slightly remodelled, with temporary walls hiding the windows and bookcases, which remain intact behind them; the space thus created was in use at the time of inspection (2009) as exhibition space for changing exhibitions.

SOURCES: 'The Shakespeare Centre' in The Builder, Volume 206 (24 April 1964), 853-8
L Fox, In Honour of Shakespeare (1982), 13-15
L Fox, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: a personal memoir (1997), 151-180
L Fox, The Shakespeare Centre, Stratford upon Avon (1982)
The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust: The 1964 Shakespeare Anniversary Fund (1963)
N Pevsner and A Wedgwood, The Buildings of England: Warwickshire (1966), 417
M Pringle, John Hutton, in Shakespeare at the Centre, Volume 2, No. 1 (2002), 6
M Pringle, Douglas Wain-Hobson, in Shakespeare at the Centre, Volume 2, No. 2 (2002), 7
M Pringle, Nicolete Gray, in Shakespeare at the Centre, Volume 2, No. 4 (2002), 6-7
M Pringle, John Hutton (Part 1), in Shakespeare at the Centre, Volume 3, No. 2 (2002), 14
M Pringle, John Hutton (Part 2), in Shakespeare at the Centre, Volume 3, No. 3 (2002), 12

REASONS FOR DESIGNATION: The Shakespeare Centre, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust's headquarters, library and archive in Henley Street, is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Cultural significance: it has an important cultural connection with the heritage of William Shakespeare, being the headquarters of the International Shakespeare Society and The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, which holds the Shakespeare archive and library as part of the Centre's collection
* Architectural interest: it is a deftly-handled concrete-framed building of 1962-4 by Laurence Williams of Wood Kendrick Williams, which is of particularly high quality in design and construction, forming a bold contrast to the C16 timber-framed building (Shakespeare's Birthplace) to which it stands adjacent and with which it forms a group, as the library, archive and study centre for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust
* Design interest: the detailing and finishing of the building is of a very high quality, with good materials, design and craftsmanship employed in every detail
* Artistic embellishment: the quality and extent of the artistic embellishment of the building, which includes life-sized engraved glass figures from Shakespeare by John Hutton, sculpture by Douglas Wain-Hobson, and carved timber work by Nicolete Gray and John Skelton, increases the building's special interest
* Fixtures and fittings: fitted furniture specifically designed by Gordon Russell remains in the Conference Room and throughout the building
* Intactness: the building remains almost completely unaltered since its completion, and continues to function in its original use; the extension added to the north in the 1980s has not compromised the original building, which was always designed to be extended at this point, and is sufficiently detached not to impact on its special architectural interest.

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