Shakespeare‘s birthplace goes up for sale…but all is not as it seems

The childhood home of William Shakespeare is to go under the hammer at auction 170 years after it was first saved for the nation

It has attracted 32 millions visitors from across the world since opening to the public but the Grade I listed house of Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon is now being marketed for sale with a special public auction due to launch in a couple of weeks.

Watch this incredible Time Travel video of the history of Shakespeare’s Birthplace

But Shakespeare fans can relax – the house will not actually be sold. The auction is being held from 16 September to 29 December to highlight the pivotal moment in the property’s history when it was rescued for posterity.

In 1847 following the death of the resident butcher’s wife, the house was put up for auction. Rumours began circulating in the Victorian press that American circus founder, P T Barnum planned to buy it, dismantle it brick by brick and transport it over the Atlantic.

There began a race to save the historic house for the nation. Notable Victorian figures such as Charles Dickens and Sir Robert Peel set about mobilising the nation into action and committees were launched in both London and Stratford with Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, becoming patron.

Fundraising efforts included selling puzzles of the house, which people could replicate in their houses, performances of Shakespeare’s plays, and special newspaper editions. The sale even inspired two new plays: This House to be Sold and Shakespeare, His Life and Times.

Print of Shakespeare’s Birthplace circa 1847. Shakespeare’s Birthplace goes up for sale
A coloured print of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, published by F E Ward, c.1847. Credit: Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

The plan worked: at the auction on 16 September 1847, the London and Stratford committees managed to purchase Shakespeare’s Birthplace for the princely sum of £3,000.

And that should have been the end of the story, only it wasn’t. The plan had been to buy the house for the nation but this public ownership never happened, thus prompting the foundation of the UK’s first conservation society, the Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust was incorporated by an Act of Parliament in 1891 with an obligation to care for Shakespeare’s Birthplace as a “permanent and national memorial of William Shakespeare.” It later also became responsible for Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, New Place, Mary Arden’s Farm and Hall’s Croft.


This idea of preserving a writer’s house was a new one but it inspired the preservation of other properties, including John Milton’s house in Charlefont St Giles in 1887 and the Bronte Parsonage in 1928.

The Saving Shakespeare’s Birthplace exhibition runs from 16 September-29 December 2017 at Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Henley Street, Stratford-upon-Avon.