A MAJOR project to restore an historic Shakespeare Monument in the Great Garden of New Place has been launched by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.
The Grade II* listed piece, which has been in the gardens since 1870, depicts The Bard with the Dramatic Muse and the Genius of Painting.
It has an interesting history, originally created by Thomas Banks, a founding father of the British School of Art, in 1789 and placed on the front of John Boydell’s new Shakespeare Gallery at 52 Pall Mall in London.
After Boydell’s death, the gallery ran out of money and the building and its contents were sold off in the 1860s.
It was later acquired by Charles Bracebridge, who decided to offer it as a monument in the New Place gardens.
It was not entirely welcomed at the time with one commentator noting that they would be horrified at the Boydell ‘rubbish’ from Pall Mall being put up in New Place.
But it’s gone on to become a key feature of the garden, with its listed status an indication of its historical importance.
Over the years the elements have taken their toll though while certain features, such as fingers and bronze lute strings have been lost.
It is anticipated that the work on the monument will cost in the region of £30,000 and the Birthplace Trust is currently seeking support from the public to raise money for the project.
SBT projects manager Nic Fulcher, said: “It’s a hugely significant piece, it’s one of the first monuments to the works of Shakespeare. It has quite a complicated history, we have pictures of it in our archive dating back to 1871 and at the time it was created it was described as the most perfect piece of sculpture produced by a native of Great Britain.
“It was quite a task to originally get it up to Stratford, they did consider bringing it up on the canal, but eventually it arrived by rail as the roads at the time were not suitable.
“Structurally the monument is okay, it is absolutely safe, but there are parts we need to look at in order to preserve it. There is always a debate around conservation and we are not looking to reshape weathered parts for example, but where parts are completely missing, such as the fingers on one of the figures and the brass lute strings, we will reinstate them.
“There is also some re-pointing to do, joints to look at and metal straps to the rear to check, we’re anticipating that work will start next spring. The project is all about making sure the sculpture is available for people to enjoy for another hundred years.”
The Great Garden used to be freely open to all from two gates in Chapel Lane, separately from the paid entrance to New Place.
That access was controversially stopped but the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust is taking the launch of the fundraising to remind CV37 residents they can still access the entire New Place estate, including the Great Garden, free-of-charge but accessed through the front ticket office.
Residents of CV37 or Stratforward BID members can gain free access to the estate for a year, by bringing proof of address.
Mr Fulcher added: “I don’t think people realise how accessible New Place is.”
People can donate money to support the restoration project by visiting https://www.shakespeare.org.uk/support-us/