Resurrecting Shakespeare and memories of the First World War in London

A room from a First World War troop entertainment building and its opening ceremony is to be recreated this summer to celebrate the 100 years since it first opened on a site in Bloomsbury.

ymca-shakespeare-hut-keppel-gower

YMCA Shakespeare Hut, corner of Gower Street and Keppel Street in 1918. Photo: George P Lewis © IWM (Q 28740).

“Resurrecting the Shakespeare Hut” will commemorate the lives of the servicemen, and the women who worked at the YMCA Shakespeare Hut, which was built on the grounds of what is now the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on the corner of Gower Street and Keppel Street, in August 1916.

Building on corner of street.

London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine now stands on the corner of Gower Street and Keppel Street.

YMCA Huts were a regular sight in England, France and on all the fighting fronts during the First World War, providing a “home from home” for soldiers to rest, recover and be entertained.

However, the Keppel Street hut was one of the largest YMCA huts in London and was built with a special purpose. Originally the land was acquired to build a Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre to mark the playwright’s tercentenary, but when war broke out it was deemed unsuitable to be using funds for buildings not connected with the war effort. It was therefore decided that a YMCA Hut should be built, mainly for New Zealand servicemen, and named as a memorial to Shakespeare.

Now a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund will introduce the public to the Hut’s fascinating history for the very first time and preserve its heritage for future generations to enjoy.

In July a special installation will open, providing visitors with a chance to go back in time by stepping into a replica room designed from a photograph taken inside the original building. Rarely seen images showing the Hut in action will also be on display as well as audio and visual exhibits recounting local residents’ family memories of the First World War.

Digital Drama, a UK­based media production company, will work in partnership with the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and is looking for volunteers to get involved with the project and wants to hear from local people who may have memories of the First World War through family members.

Performance company The Mustard Club will also put on a dramatic re-enactment of the opening ceremony on the centenary day itself on Thursday 11 August.

After the installation closes, photographs and recordings will be on display at the Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre where they will be stored to cement the legacy of the Hut, ensuring the public can enjoy its fascinating history for many years to come.

Resurrecting the Shakespeare Hut: Wednesday 6 July to 18 September 2016. Open to the public from 9am to 5pm weekdays and for the Open House weekend — 17 and 18 September. An afternoon of performances by The Mustard Club on 11 August 2016. London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT.

Researching the Shakespeare Hut. Local residents are invited to find out more about the heritage project at a special preview event as part of Fitzrovia Festival from 5pm to 7pm on Wednesday 22 June 2016 at Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Centre, 39 Tottenham Street, London W1T 4RX.

If you have a First World War family story, photograph or artefact you would like to share with the project, please call Alison at Digital Drama on 07525 205148 or email
alison@digitaldrama.org to make contact.

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