On 23 April 1824, Shakespeare’s Birthday, a dinner was held at the Falcon Inn. Those present were mostly local tradesmen full of enthusiasm for honouring the memory of their great fellow-townsman as well as promoting Stratford-upon-Avon itself. They formed the Shakespeare Club, deciding to hold celebrations for the Birthday as a way of achieving these aims and in 1827 successfully organised the first ever outdoor procession of Shakespeare’s characters as part of a three-day festival, repeated in 1830. By this time a rival club had been formed at the Golden Lion Inn, and the two clubs vied with each other. The original Falcon Club gained an advantage by receiving Royal approval and became, in March 1830, the Royal Shakspearean Club, soon reaching a membership of 400.
The Club did not limit its activities to the Birthday. Members of the Club bought most of the shares for the building of the town’s first purpose-built theatre, the Shakespearean Theatre, that opened in 1827. After 1830 the rival Club declined and the Falcon Club took on the more serious task of successfully restoring Shakespeare’s monument and grave in Holy Trinity Church, next declaring its willingness to take responsibility for Shakespeare’s Birthplace, then in private hands. When the house was auctioned in 1847 the Club took the lead by raising funds locally for its purchase and then by running and restoring the house itself for the next 18 years.
During this time the Club rarely met apart from holding a fine dinner in the Town Hall on the Birthday. Members played behind-the-scenes roles in the 1864 Tercentenary Celebrations and in the building of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1879. No longer the only Shakespeare organisation in the town, the Club reformed in 1874 with the main aim of providing entertainment and instruction for its members.
From about 1890 the Celebrations, still run by the Club, began to grow, with street decorations, flags, historical pageants, morris dancing and the floral procession. By 1911 it was an international event with guests coming from many countries, and, too much for the Club, the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations Committee took charge. Members of the Club’s committee still unfurl the Club’s flag and carry a traditional laurel wreath in the Birthday procession.
The Club’s meetings continued to prosper with external speakers, play readings and debates, and women were allowed to become members in 1901. In the past century the Club has had Presidents of the highest calibre including John Gielgud, Judi Dench and Michael Williams, and Sir Richard Eyre, while distinguished speakers have included the Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC Erica Whyman, Dr Tara Hamling, and TV historian Michael Wood. The Club is now the oldest Shakespeare organisation in the world.
New members are always welcome. For more information see the Find out More pages.