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FLICK through the pages of a second-hand book and you may discover a little bit of history – an item, once used as a bookmark, that gives a tiny glimpse into the life of a previous owner.

Volunteer Alison Willatts from Upper Brailes alongside some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson SS124/12/21/9704. (53886040)
Volunteer Alison Willatts from Upper Brailes alongside some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson SS124/12/21/9704. (53886040)

And if you head to the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop you can get a glimpse into the lives of the many people who have donated books to the charity.

Photographs, postcards, theatre receipts and even an envelope containing £200 in cash have all fallen from the pages of books. The items are proudly displayed (although not the cash) upstairs at the bookshop on Rother Street, Stratford.

The display, called Things Found in Books, is a collage of life. Some of the items are dated, like the note sent to Master Harris which reads: from Aunt Ellen with love Xmas 1912, or the 1983 ticket costing ten pence for a Grand Christmas Draw to support the Stratford High School Association where first prize was a portable television.

Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson SS124/12/21/7189. (53885985)
Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson SS124/12/21/7189. (53885985)

Photographs of people also regularly turn up. One image is of a woman sat in a railway carriage smiling to the camera. Another woman is pictured mulling over a menu by a fireside in a pub. One bookmark is a black and white image of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There’s a young couple cuddling while walking the dog and, stuck on the middle of the wall, the collage includes a photograph of a man next to a Christmas tree. The display has even managed to be at the centre of a moving family reunion for one customer, as Susan Barnes, hospice bookshop manager explains.

“A woman came in and she saw a photograph of herself as a toddler with her baby brother. She was originally from Stratford but moved away. She just happened to see the picture and asked if she could have it back and of course we gave it to her.”

A letter written by a university student when she was a young girl to a childhood friend also became a bookmark and that item has been added to the display. Years later the student brought a friend with her into the shop to show where the letter had ended up all those years later.

Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson S124/12/21/7190. (53885988)
Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson S124/12/21/7190. (53885988)

There are postcards from Helsinki, Milan and Singapore. A 1985 front cover of the Radio Times. A ticket costing £1 from the 1994 football match played between Birmingham City and Leyton Orient on 17th December, a Royal Shakespeare Company ticket for its 1999 production of Timon of Athens and an invoice or receipt for £6.50 dated June 1965 for Fred Payne Florist.

The most unusual item found in a book donated by the public was £200 in cash.

“A 1930s book about the Silk Road was left with us and it contained an envelope. When we opened the envelope, we saw it had £200 inside. We were able to trace the woman who gave us the book through Gift Aid and she was very grateful. She explained that her mother had dementia and couldn’t remember where she’d put the money,” Susan said.

Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson S124/12/21/7195. (53886033)
Some of the items found in donated books now on display at the Shakespeare Hospice Bookshop. Photo: Mark Williamson S124/12/21/7195. (53886033)

Long-term volunteer at the hospice bookshop is Alison Willatts who has been part of the team for 14 years.

She said some customers can find items a bit sad: “There’s a picture of a baby on its own and letters and postcards sent from one friend to another which some think are sad. The Americans love the bookshop and so do foreign students who can buy books in their own language.”

The display is something that Susan sees most days of her life and it makes her think about people.

“You can look at the elegant writing from the 1912 note and see how people write to each other today and both give us a date and era. But this artwork also shows us a way of life; it’s timeless, priceless and has no borders,” Susan said.

Behind a curtain leading to the storeroom at the back of the bookshop there's a hook on a wall from which two or three carrier bags hang. Each one is full to the brim with things found in books and it will be the job of the volunteer students to sort through each item so it can find its way on to the upstairs wall one day.



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