Knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven

As the UK celebrates the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth today,, Birmingham can celebrate it's own link to the Bard with the Shakespeare Memorial Library now sitting atop the new Library of Birmingham as a golden beacon of the Bard's influence on literature both locally and internationally.  

But you shall shine more bright in these contentsThan unswept stone besmear'd with sluttish time.
(Excerpt from Sonnet 55, Shakespeare) 
It seems fitting that the Shakespeare Memorial Library now sits in full display at the pinnacle of the building in time for the celebration as it also shares a birthday with the bard being 150 years since the Mayor of Birmingham, William Holliday, gave a public breakfast on 23 April 1864 where a number of volumes were presented and an address and deed of gift received to start the ambition of George Dawson, to see a Shakespeare Library founded in the city.

I want to see founded in Birmingham a Shakespeare Library which should contain (as far as practicable) every edition and every translation of Shakespeare; all the commentators, good, bad, and indifferent; in short, every book connected with the life or works of our great poet. I would add portraits of Shakespeare, and all the pictures, &c., illustrative of his works.

Dawson wrote in the Birmingham Gazette in 1861 in his capacity as President of the local Shakespeare Club and 1863 saw the formation of a committee to pursue and fundraise the project which following the presentation of the deed in 1864 gave way to room being set apart in the Central Public Library that opened as the Shakespeare Memorial Library to the public in 1868.

The current Memorial Library was created and designed by John Henry Chamberlain in 1882 who rebuilt the old Central Library after it had been gutted by fire in 1879.  With plans for a new library again the room was eventually saved although to be dismantled and stored away in 1974 until it was re-built in the School of Music complex in 1986.

In January 1879 the Central Library was devastated by fire.  Large numbers rushed to save the books, the Lord Mayor among those who tried to save the Shakespeare Library.  500 of 7,000 volumes survived.  There was determination in the city to rebuild the library.  Within a few years the Shakespeare collection was better than before.

With the city planning it's fourth central library,, and planning application submitted in August 2009,, the memorial room featured as a key focal point of the new library and to be celebrated and not hidden away.  Andy Foster's 2005 Pevsner guide to Birmingham notes it as a 'casket in a refined Elizabethan Revival, to evoke Shakespeare's time' and the ambition to see it atop the new library reflected the importance of the room and it's historical link to the original central library and it's successors.

Despite the Shakespeare collection outgrowing the room in the early part of the 20th Century,, the room now provides a historic link to the past in the new library and a space for study and meeting.  The collection which exceeds the room's capacity contains more than 44,000 books together with magazines, DVDs, theatre programmes and a copy of the First Folio printed in 1623 and copies of the four earliest Folio editions. 

Richard Coyne sums up in his article on his visit to the new library perhaps the curious nature of the memorial room at the top of the open space that spirals below capturing Nicholas of Cusa's (1401-1464) paradoxical aphorism of the machine of the world that has "it's center (sic) everywhere and it's circumference nowhere",  The memorial room acts as the top of the 'wedding cake' as some have described the library and yet it is the lid onto which you can explore the rich Shakespeare collections within, it's centre and it's circumference.

For those near to Stratford, the birthplace of the Bard, the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will be celebrating the anniversary tonight following the evening performance of Henry IV, Part I with a firework spectacular,

A few photos of the Memorial Room I have taken are shown below:


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