Dedication of Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk
On Saturday 2 July 2017, De Montfort Lodge was represented by John Walsh and me at the Dedication of Shakespeare’s Chair and Desk in Shakespeare’s New Place in Stratford-upon-Avon. These two sculptures are not replicas, but are representative of his life as a working writer. They arebeautifully crafted, carved from wood and then cast in bronze. The idea is for visitors to sit on the chair and pause for breath as they look around the garden and courtyard.
Shakespeare’s New Place was his family home from 1597 until he died in the house in 1616. The house was demolished in 1759, and a garden has been designed to commemorate the importance of the site. When Shakespeare bought New Place he was an established playwright and it is believed that he wrote his later plays there, including The Tempest.
The Provincial Grand Lodge of Warwickshire commissioned the sculptures as part of the 300-year celebrations and each sculpture has a plaque acknowledging this.
The plan for the afternoon was to parade through Stratford, from Shakespeare’s Birthplace to Shakespeare’s New Place, escorting the Lady Mayor, Victoria Alcock. My role for the afternoon was to be Provincial Sword bearer. The ceremonial sword is four feet long and needs to be carried upright, with the sword’s cross-guard at eye-level. It is always kept scabbarded, which further increases the weight of it. It is probably around 6 kilograms (six bags of sugar) in weight, which isn’t normally a problem as it usually isn’t carried very far. This procession was going to be more challenging as it was estimated that the walk to Shakespeare’s New Place would be about eight minutes.
We met up at 12.40 for a preliminary walkthrough of the route. The weather was sweltering with brilliant sunshine and the mercury having broken through the thirty degree mark. Most other people were sensibly wearing their shorts and tee-shirts, but we would not only be wearing three piece suits and ties, we would be in our full regalia as well.
We headed back to Shakespeare’s Birthplace and got changed and robed. There was no air-conditioning and we cowered in the entrance porch of the Marble Hall to keep as cool as we could. As always putting a procession together took time as it was important that a large number of people were all in their rightful places in the two columns. Having formed up in the street, we then had to wait a further twelve minutes for the road closures to be put in place. Those were twelve of the hottest minutes I have endured for some time. I was close to the back of the procession close to the two standard bearers. A number of Japanese tourists stated standing close by for photos, so we entered into the spirit of the day by me posing with the sword and the standard bearers unfurling their standards to allow tourists to pose with us for a formal souvenir photograph. We joked with the Provincial Grand Master (PGM) that we were charging and already had £20 in the beer fund.
As we formed up again, I raised my sword. I was directly behind the Deputy PGM and the Lady Mayor. She introduced herself to me, and the Deputy PGM joked with her that it was my job to protect her during the procession. Seeing the size of me and (more importantly) the size of my sword, she seemed re-assured!
We set off and processed down Henley Street. The crowds parted like the Red Sea and we were continually filmed and photographed is we made our way through Stratford. By the time we crossed the roundabout (where the traffic was being held up), I’ll be honest, I was struggling. The weight of the sword seemed to have increased and half an hour in suit, tie and regalia in the sunshine was starting to take its toll. I adjusted my grip slightly but just about managed to keep the sword fully erect at eye level for the remainder of the procession.
After thirteen minutes, we arrived at Shakespeare’s New Place. We were instructed to lower our swords and standards – which was a relief (certainly for me).
We were welcomed by Dr Diana Owen the Chief Executive of Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust. She thanked us very much for the sculpture and for the work that we do throughout Stratford and Warwickshire. The Right Worshipful PGM responded and pointed out that the last time Freemasons had paraded through Stratford in full regalia was almost 100 years ago.
The Provincial Grand Chaplain, John Cowan, dedicated the sculpture and delivered an oration, suitably a passage from Hamlet. The sculpture was then formally delivered into the safekeeping of the Trust by the PGM and a number of formal and informal photographs were taken.
We then made our way back to Shakespeare’s Birthplace for light refreshments. Along the way I tried as hard as is possible to conceal my four foot long sword. I kept thinking that the newspaper headlines “Man carrying sword in street” normally precedes “tasered by police”. Thankfully I made it back to Shakespeare’s Birthplace without troubling law enforcement and I was glad to get a cold drink inside me and to take off my jacket.
This was an interesting ceremony and I had not seen anything like it before. Processing in full regalia is not permitted very often and it was good to let the public see us, rather than just hear about us. Shakespeare’s New Place is well worth a visit. As well as the sculptures, there are some beautiful gardens to explore – all right in the middle of Stratford. For further information, follow the link below:-