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Date updated: 11/03/2024

The UNESCO International Memory of the World programme has recognised the immense significance to world culture of the ‘Shakespeare Documents’ - the key archival sources for William Shakespeare’s biography. This material now has equivalent status in the documentary sphere as the pyramids have for the world’s built heritage.

Portrait of William Shakespeare
Portrait of William Shakespeare

The successful nomination was led by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in partnership with The National Archives, Worcestershire Archives and Archaeology Service, the College of Arms, the British Library and London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) in the UK, and the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C, USA. Together these specialist archive and library repositories care for the precious ‘Shakespeare Documents’. The documents, held at these seven different repositories in the UK and US, can be viewed online on the Shakespeare Documented website.

Their inclusion on the UNESCO International Memory of the World register recognises the universal cultural and historical value of 90 documents relating to Shakespeare’s baptism, burial, family matters, property records, legal actions and business dealings.

The International Memory of the World initiative works specifically with documentary heritage - manuscripts, oral traditions, audio-visual materials and publications - that have “universal value” which transcends geographical and cultural boundaries. The internationally recognised status opens up funding opportunities for conservation, digitisation, and use of innovative technologies to widen access. 

"We are very pleased to be part of this listing of Shakespeare documents. Our deed contains one of only six authenticated examples of Shakespeare's signature worldwide and is significant because it relates to the only property he is known to have owned in London. It was conveniently situated on the north bank of the Thames not far from the Blackfriars Theatre and just across the river from the Globe Theatre. The exact location of the property is uncertain, although it is known to have been close to Puddle Wharf and was in an area completely devastated by the Great Fire in 1666. The deed was purchased by the City of London Corporation in 1841 for £145 (Shakespeare paid £140 for the property itself in 1613), and has remained in its archives ever since."

Geoff Pick, Director of London Metropolitan Archives

Full details of the deed, including a transcription can be found on our collections catalogue. 

Visit the LMA collections catalogue to find out more