The Shakespeare Press bookshop, in Sheep Street, was owned and run by Gerald Jaggard, a man born in Liverpool in 1904, with his family going back to the Jaggards who, in 1623, printed Shakespeare First Folio, which isn’t a bad link for a Stratford bookseller.
Gerald’s father, Captain William Jaggard, was born in Berkshire, with his love of books taking him, as a teenager to Leamington Spa, where he was apprenticed to a bookseller there. From Leamington he then moved to Liverpool, where he married, settling in Canning Street where, in the shadow of the great unfinished cathedral, he established a bookshop.
Apart from running his bookshop in Liverpool, William travelled to Stratford quite regularly to spend hours in the library of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, having been:
“… employed by the Earl of Warwick to catalogue and classify the great collection [of over 2,000 volumes] of Shakespeariana at Warwick Castle.
“I sometimes wonder if my father would have tackled his self-imposed labour of Hercules if he had realized that it would occupy his spare moments for over twenty years!
“He returned from these sojourns full of the charm and loveliness of the town, and undoubtedly the smoke and grime of Liverpool, the bustle of city life, seemed more oppressive after the glimpses of country quiet. As a youth he had dreamed of settling down one day in Shakespeare’s home town, and now, some twenty years later, those dreams were hardening into definite plans. Liverpool, suitable though it was for the book trade, and for the printing press from which my father issued his index to ‘Book Prices Current’ and a small study of ‘Printing — its Birth and Growth’, held little or no encouragement for the Shakespeare lover. Stratford, the very home of such study, was ready to welcome him, as he was already a governor of its theatre, a member of its Shakespeare Club, and a prolific and diligent correspondent of its weekly newspaper, The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald, whose editor, Mr. George Boyden was a personal friend.”
But then the position of Chief Librarian came up in Liverpool for which William applied. As is often the case, the position had already been filled before his interview even took place:
“This disappointment was the final impetus needed for my father to make the great move. His Shakespeare Bibliography was, I think, already in the printer’s hands when, in 1910, he tore up the roots of city life and, with his wife, family, books and furniture, travelled to Stratford, when it was still very much a sleepy market town that just happened to have a rather large theatre attached to it.”
Gerald Jaggard’s memoir, Stratford Mosaic, describes a Stratford-upon-Avon that is still recognizable in places, but in other ways long gone:
“The stream of new-fangled cars stirred up the dust that lay on unmacadamised roads and puffed it into pedestrians’ faces. The town’s solution was to send round the water cart, but it only needed a few hours sunshine for the trouble to start again. In wet weather, of course, mud was thrown up, and residents complained bitterly of motors going through the streets at the reckless pace of fifteen miles an hour.”
The dust may have gone, but on busy days the traffic often grinds to a halt.
A Stratford Mosaic is a gem of book that looks long and lovingly at The Shakespeare Club, which dates back to 1824:
“…when a group of enthusiasts in the Falcon Hotel decided to form this organized society. One sometimes wonders why 208 years elapsed before the poet was thought worthy of such an honour.
The idea was keenly supported, and in a few years membership had reached the 400 mark. Before the end of the [19th] century the club attracted Royal patronage, and was able to call itself ‘The Royal Shakespearean Club.’ ”
The club still exists, meeting on the second Tuesday of the month (September — April) at The Shakespeare Institute.
The Shakespeare Club were the instigators of the modern Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations, as Jaggard reminds us, when:
“1904 brought another innovation in the appearance of Morris Dancers invited from Bidford-on-Avon. Their performance must have been a great success, for at this point the Club began to plan ambitiously for the future. They began to see the celebrations as a spectacle that would attract many people to the town and thus make the annual tribute a Warwickshire rather than just a Stratford event. A special committee was formed to organize the Birthday programme on a proper footing, the sum of 5 being voted to them as sufficient financial backing!”
Jaggard’s wonderful little book gives us a tantalizing glimpse into a past that is not so distant, with chapters on the annual Mop Fair, with the account of 1860 describing the ‘yokels’:
“…attending the fair, dressed, not in the customary smocks, but in their best broadcloth. To divert them, there were rifle ranges, street pedlars (Shakespeare depicted one of these in Autolycus) and gingerbread stalls.”
With the Memorial Theatres “…an odd looking place! Hans Anderson would have admired it, for it was an enchanting medley of different architectural styles, with towers, spires, half-timbering, patterned brick work, striped chimneys and many other fancy touches.”
Another chapter is devoted to the temperance novelist Marie Corelli. Jaggard writes:
“… I often wonder what made her choose this town for her final home. Was she optimistic enough to think that her undying zeal for reform would meet with no opposition from the established authorities, or did she come with pen and bottle of vitriol at the ready, eager and prepared for battle? Looking back at the records, remembering the devastating feuds, the court actions, the squabbles, and the misunderstandings that punctuated her life in the town, I am bound to believe that she came into the fray with open eyes. All her adult life she had been a lone fighter, a crusader against ignorance, stupidity, hypocrisy and all the other sins of society.”
With the family move to Stratford Gerald was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School, where, following in his father’s footsteps, he became a Shakespearean scholar, and a keen actor too, playing in a school production of Julius Caesar at the Memorial Theatre.
After leaving school he took up banking, followed by auctioneering, and in his spare time, with his twin brother Aubrey, writing and performing for several local theatre groups.
With the death of his father in the 1940s Gerald took over the bookshop, with customers, apart from me, that included Sir John Gielgud, Charles Laughton and Vivien Leigh. Gerald Jaggard died in 2001 aged 97.