Curious London Memorials – 10. The Bard or not The Bard?

March 16, 2011

For the last in our series of curious London memorials, we’re looking at one which isn’t quite what it seems.

At first glance, the granite plinth topped by a bronze bust of William Shakespeare which stands in gardens at the junction of Love Lane and Aldermanbury in the City, looks like yet another tribute to the Bard.

But take a closer look and you’ll read that the inscriptions in fact refer to John Heminge and Henry Condell, two actors and friends of the Bard, who were responsible for collecting his works and giving them “to the world”.

The two men were partners with Shakespeare at the Globe and it was they who were behind the publication of his First Folio in 1623. They were both buried here in what was formerly the churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury (first destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and then again in the Blitz although the surviving walls were later rebuilt in the US – more on that another time), Heminge on 12th October, 1630, and Condell on 29th December, 1627.

It’s worth quoting the inscription on the memorial – and there is a lot of it – at greater length. “The fame of Shakespeare,” it reads, “rests on his incomparable dramas. There is no evidence that he ever intended to publish them and his premature death in 1616 made this the interest of no-one else. Heminge and Condell had been co-partners with him in the Globe Theatre Southwark and from the accumulated plays there of thirty-five years with great labour selected them. No men living were so competent having acted with him in them for many years and well knowing his manuscripts. They were published in 1623 in folio, thus giving away their private rights therein. What they did was priceless, for the whole of his manuscripts with almost all those of the dramas of the period have perished.”

The memorial was erected by Charles Clement Walker, of Shropshire, in 1896. Walker, who has his own memorial in Northampton Square in Clerkenwell, was a Justice of the Peace for the counties of Salop and Stafford and a native of the parish of Clerkenwell.

The bronze bust of Shakespeare was by Charles Allen.

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