Shakespeare Hirst (1841-1907)

Shakespeare Hirst was an actor, elocutionist, author, art collector and innkeeper who took over the licence of the Shakespeare on Northgate from his father.

He inherited his father's love of the Bard and became an noted expert on the life and works of William Shakespeare.


He was born on 26 February 1841 in Lockwood, the son of Henry Hirst and his wife Mary (née Shaw), and was baptised at Huddersfield Parish Church on 11 April 1841.

He married Mary Ann Smethurst on 6 January 1876 and they had five known children, all of whom were given suitably Shakespearean names:

  • Cordelia Hirst (1876-?)[1]
  • Henry Hirst (c.1878-?)
  • Ophelia Hirst (c.1881-?)[2]
  • Shakespeare Elsheimer Hirst (1882-1955)[3]
  • Miranda Hirst (c.1885-?)[4]
Huddersfield Chronicle (16/Apr/1864)

According to correspondent writing to the Yorkshire Post in 1951:[5]

Shakespeare Hirst [...] gave Sunday evening Shakespearean recitals which became highly popular. In the murder scene from "Othello" Mr. Hirst would grasp the beer pump handles and go through the actions of strangling. For many years the anniversary of Shakeseare's birth was celebrated there by a banquet.

Hirst also claimed to have the only genuine portrait ever made of William Shakespeare, supposedly painted by Adam Elsheimer during Shakespeare's visit to Rome in 1608.

Huddersfield Daily Chronicle (13/Jun/1896)

Hirst exhibited the portrait at Leeds in 1898, charging 6d. per person, and advertised it with handbill:[6][7]

Hart this, positively and instinctively the last, though not the least intrinsically, the only life portraits in the world of the immortal William Shakespeare, our soul's joy, 'the beauty of the world, the soul's paragon,' and his favourite daughter Susanna, who resembles her worthy sire by her high forehead and Cupid lips, and by her confirmed, noble, and intelligent aspect, limned in the nursery of arts in Rome, 1608, by the artist par excellence, Adam Elsheimer.

By 1901, he had retired to "Shakespeare House" in Almondbury (83 and 85 Town End).

He died suddenly on the evening of 20 May 1907 — reportedly he had just settled down to read the newspaper and was in the process of "adjusting his spectacles when he expired without a word."[8] He left an estate worth £3,950 5s. 1d. The burial took place at Edgerton Cemetery on the afternoon of 23 May.

A subsequent inquest recorded a verdict of "death from alcoholic excess" after his daughter Ophelia stated that he "had recently been in the habit of drinking a quart of brandy per day."[9] His death was reported as follows in the London John Bull:[10]

Mr. Shakespeare Hirst has just died at Huddersfield. For some time he had indulged in a quart of brandy every day. The result is that we now see Mr. Shakespeare hearsed.

An auction of Hirst's belongings was held on 3 July 1907 and included a "valuable collection of oil paintings by the best old masters", "rare books and manuscripts including 1st. fol. Shakespeare 1623" and "25 old violins, violoncellos and double basses, by Maggini, Stradivarius, and others."[11]

Sales by Eddison, Taylor, & Booth.




By instructions of the Exor. of the late Mr. Shakespeare Hirst.

EDDISON, TAYLOR, and BOOTH are instructed by the Exor. herein to remove to their Gallery, as above, for better convenience of Sale, and SELL by AUCTION, on, WEDNESDAY NEXT, JULY 3rd. 1907, commencing at 11 o’clock, an Important and VALUABLE COLLECTION of 225 OIL PAINTINGS, including works by and ascribed to the following old masters:— Phillip Wouvermans, Adrian Brouwer, Adam Elsheimer, Rubens, Sir David Wilkie, J. M. W. Turner, R.A., Titian, Valesquez de Silva, Rembrandt, Frank Hals, David Teniers, senr., David Teniers, junr., Sir Joshua Reynolds, Geo. Morland, George Armfield, Sir Anthony Vandyck, Fransico Mola, Hans Holbein, and others of note.

There will be ON EXHIBITION at this Sale TWO IMPORTANT and VALUABLE OIL PAINTINGS, by Adam Elseheimer, the portraits of William Shakespeare and his favourite daughter, Susanna.

RARE BOOKS AND MANUSCRIPTS, including Ingoldsby Legends, illustrated by Cruickshank and Leech, 3 vols., uncut, 1855; Naumann’s History of Music, 5 vols.: MANY EDITIONS OF SHAKESPEARE, including the 1807 reprint of the 1623 folio; an ORIGINAL FOURTH FOLIO SHAKESPEARE, 1685; the first 8vo. edition, 6 vols., 1703; Pope’s quarto edition, 6 vols., 1723-5. Sir Thomas Hamper’s quarto edition, 6 vols., 1744; Milton’s Works, with Hayman’s fine plates, 5 vols,. 4to., 1749-53; POPE’S HOMER, first edition, 11 vols, 1715-25: DRYDEN’S PLAYS. - large paper, 1701; BEN JOHNSON’S WORKS, first edition, folio, 1616-41: BEAUMONT and FLETCHER’S WORKS, first edition, folio, 1647.

90 OLD ENGLISH, GERMAN, and FRENCH VIOLINS, 11 VIOLONCELLOS and 3 DOUBLE BASSES, by Duke, Steiner, Grandjon, Buthod, Maggini, etc.

Capital BURR WALNUT PIANOFORTE, in iron frame, full compass, ivory keys, etc., by Samuel Butterworth and Son.

OLD OAK, consisting of Long cased Clocks, Chests, Gate-legged Tables, Corner Cupboards, Card Table, Longsettle, Chests of Drawers, and other effects.

The Collection will be on view on Monday and Tuesday next, from 10 to 5 o’clock.

Reportedly concerns over the authenticity of many of the items led the auction only realising around £1,000.[12] Shakespeare House and the Poets Corner Inn were also sold at auction.[13]


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Further Reading

Notes and References

  1. Married 4 June 1902 to fruit and potato merchant George Baxter and moved to Wales.
  2. Married 29 October 1910 to widower Aquila Brant.
  3. Born 8 November 1882. Married 28 August 1907 to Martha Ann Kilner.
  4. Did not marry and lived with her married sister Cordelia in Wales.
  5. "The Tavern Shakespeare" in Yorkshire Post (09/May/1951).
  6. The Literary Collection (1903).
  7. A photograph of the portrait is kept by the National Archives:
  8. "A Shakespeare Expert" in Yorkshire Evening Post (22/May/1907).
  9. "Sudden Death of Mr. Shakespeare Hirst" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (23/May/1907).
  10. "Bull's Eyes" in John Bull (13/Jul.1907).
  11. Advertisement in Yorkshire Post (15/Jun/1907).
  12. "Sale of Oil Paintings, Violins, Violoncellos, and Books" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (04/Jul/1907).
  13. "Property in the Market" in Huddersfield Daily Examiner (10/Jul/1907).