A BBC report on the 1882 Shakespeare Memorial Room, which is set to be restored and rebuilt inside Birmingham’s new Library.

The original 1864 Shakespeare Memorial Library was destroyed in a fire on the 11th of January 1879, along with Birmingham’s entire reference collection of 50,000 books and manuscripts…

“The destruction of this library was regarded as one of the most serious losses of modern times. The library consisted of several sections : the reference portion had over 50,000 volumes.” (Managing the Library Fire Risk)

“Within a quarter of an hour of its outbreak the heat was so great that it proved impossible to get into the Reference Library” (History of Birmingham: Borough and City, 1865-1938)

Many original manuscripts were burned, in a fire apparently started by workmen employed to extend the library, and…

“Of the whole collection only the illuminated Knowle Register for the years 1451-1535 and a few other volumes survived the fire” (City of Birmingham Official Handbook 1938)

“priceless treasures perished in the lamentable fire of January 1879” (Old and New Birmingham)

“The whole town suffers under a sense of severe, personal sorrow; the calamity is one that pervades every household” (Birmingham Post)

The Birmingham Fire Brigade was founded just a few months after the fire.

Shakespeare scholars and book collectors from around the world sent in fresh volumes to re-stock the library, and…

“The energy and promptitude with which Birmingham set to work to retrieve its loss are a memory which may be handed on with pride” (Public Libraries: a history of the movement)

The Shakespeare Collection had been restored to its original seven thousand volumes by 1884, just a few years after the fire. This new collection was shelved in the new Shakespeare Room, the same room that will now be rebuilt inside the new Library.