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A Red Letter Day: A Mystery Solved

Posted on 03 February 2018

 Like many collectors we find Tunbridge Ware a fascinating subject, not least because of all the unanswered questions it can pose.  So as and when the occasion arises we like to ask questions in our blog, hoping that someone, somewhere will come up with a credible answer.

Sadly this rarely occurs but earlier this week we had a red-letter day, when we received an email about our Object of the Month for February and our last blog post, Cottages With No Name. Now thanks to Tunbridge Ware enthusiast, Kevin Mansfield, the mystery surrounding the location has been resolved.

Kevin has discovered that the view with the small, beamed cottage has an interesting story attached to it. In 1847 it was announced that Shakespeare’s Birthplace was to be auctioned. This focused considerable public attention on the provincial Midlands location of Stratford upon Avon, a fact that did not escape those running tourist locations in the metropolis.

In response to this, Royal Surrey Geological Gardens, which provided a 15-acre entertainment area for Londoners, decided to add a Shakespearian element to their attractions. Alongside exotic animals, balloon rides, boat trips, and even a dramatic re-enactment of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, London’s very own Shakespeare’s Birthplace was replicated.

In July 1847 The Times reported that a perfect facsimile of the cottage had been built, complete with borrowed period furnishings, and that this was now open to the public. This remained a popular tourist attraction for some time but was probably dismantled, when the gardens lost their appeal, with interest switching to The Great Exhibition in 1851.

One of the money raising schemes attached to the replica cottage was the sale of prints – which show a cottage identical to that appearing on the Tunbridge Ware view on our Object of the Month. It therefore suggests that there are indeed two views of Shakespeare’s Birthplace. One of the replica cottage, dating to circa 1847-50 and the other later known version, probably produced for Shakespeare’s tercentenary in 1864.

To read more about this fascinating discovery please go to https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/explore-shakespeare/blogs/victorian-replica-shakespeares-birthplace/