What to do in a year of literary anniversaries

Posted on March 16, 2016 by Guest Writer
William Shakespeares birthplace, Stratford upon Avon

2016 is a momentous year for English literature as the country commemorates some of its most famous writers.

In the coming months, the lives and works of William Shakespeare, Charlotte Brontë, Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl will be celebrated in conjunction with the anniversaries of their year of birth, and in Shakespeare’s case, the year he passed away.

There’s plenty of special tours and notable destinations literary fans can visit in veneration of the great wordsmiths. From quiet country rambles to publicly screened performances by theatrical heavyweights along the Thames, we’ve put together a guide to some of the best upcoming events and places worth a visit in the coming months.

Shakespeare (400th anniversary of his death)

2016 is the 400th anniversary of the death of the England’s national poet, William Shakespeare, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language.

There’s plenty of renowned venues dedicated to Shakespeare including his Birthplace in Henley Street, Stratford and the Globe in London, but 2016 has something special in store for his fans.

Over the spring weekend (23rd and 24th April), Shakespeare’s Globe will be hosting the extraordinary ‘Complete Walk’ along the banks of the Thames. The free event will feature 37 short films, made especially for the event by some of the world’s finest actors, on screens erected on a 2.5 mile stretch between Westminster and Tower Bridge. Each short will feature famous scenes from Shakespeare’s plays, performed by the likes of Peter Capaldi and Jonathan Pryce.

Perhaps the most exciting literary event will be the opening of the reimagined New Place, Shakespeare’s home in Stratford from 1597 until his death at the house in 1616. The original building was demolished in the 18th century but its foundations remained upon which the new site is being developed. When opened you can follow Shakespeare’s footsteps around the site of his family home, view commissioned artworks and displays and examine rare artefacts, many on display for the first time, relating to the playwrights life in a new exhibition centre

The sunken Knot Garden will be restored to its original splendour and there are plans to do the same with the Great Garden, the largest surviving part of Shakespeare’s estate.

Charlotte Brontë (200th anniversary of her birth)

The Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire, is the main hub for everything Brontë. 2016 will kick-start the ‘Brontë 200‘ programme which celebrates the bicentenaries of the births of each of the Brontë siblings as well the anniversary of the invitation sent to Patrick Brontë’s to take up his post at Haworth Parsonage.

Events at the Parsonage include a birthday party and wreath laying ceremony on the 21st April, as well as a series of free talks about the writer and special tours of the museum. Perhaps the standout is the ‘Charlotte Great and Small’ exhibition curated by brilliant novelist Tracey Chavalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring). The exhibition, which runs until February 2017 features letters written by the great novelist alongside some of her clothes and contemporary art installations.

For those wanting to explore Brontë country, the surrounding village of Haworth is a pretty starting point before moving on to nearby Wycoller to see the ruined hall often cited as the inspiration for Ferndean in Jane Eyre. Thornton, the Brontës birthplace, is worth a visit as are The Red House in Gomersal and Oakwell Hall in Birstall which both feature in the novel Shirley.


Beatrix Potter's Hill Top

Beatrix Potter (150th anniversary of her birth)

Writer of children’s favourite The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, is being celebrated in typically understated style in the Lake District.

At her home, Hill Top, there’ll be a string of unique showcases with the house’s very own Mr McGregor (real name Pete) and a fantastic picnic, held on Potter’s birthday in July.

In the nearby Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, the new ‘Realism and Romance’ exhibition will feature original artwork, exploring Beatrix’s lifelong inspiration from the natural world. Highlights include original sketches and illustrations from favourites such as The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck. For fans wanting a little more there’s several curated after-hour tours with Potter experts on-hand throughout.

For anyone wanting to spend a little more time in the Lake District, there’s a few more notable Potter-related places to take in. The Gothic-style Wray Castle, on Lake Windermere’s west shore is worth exploring and is where Beatrix met Hardwicke Rawnsley, one of the founders of the National Trust, who encouraged her to write and helped her to publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

The secluded Moss Eccles Tarn, where Beatrix had her boat house and Tarn Hows are both popular for gentle walks and fantastic scenery.

Roald Dahl (100th anniversary of his birth)

The first port of call for many on a Dahl tour will be Great Missenden, Roald Dahl’s home town for thirty years where he wrote his much-loved books. The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre is a great day out for kids but for grown-up fans, Tatton Park, London and Cardiff are the places to be.

Tatton Park will host the Roald Dahl Big Picnic Day as well as an outdoor screening of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) starring Gene Wilder on 11th September.

The Southbank Centre in London, is providing group tours through The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl. Finishing on 3rd July, the interactive tour reveals the author’s secrets and the inspiration for some of his famous characters.

Cardiff is perhaps putting on the biggest show, with the ‘Inside Stories’ exhibition, running from 16th July to 20th November in the National Museum and the city-wide ‘City of the Unexpected’ event, which runs for two days beginning on the 17th September.

Co-curated by the illustrator of 18 of Dahl’s books, Quentin Blake, the ‘Inside Stories’ exhibition shows how illustrations evolve from an initial sketch to a finished piece of artwork and celebrates the creative partnership between Dahl and Blake.

The city-wide arts extravaganza will offer theatre performances, art commissions and a few well-known fans reading his best-loved stories in iconic locations.

Have you got a favourite piece of literature written by one of these authors, or perhaps you’ve been to one of the fantastic venues? Then why not let us know on Facebook or Twitter.