Not far from Hampton Court Palace can be found a small temple, created by the actor David Garrick to honour William Shakespeare, and is said to be the world’s only dedicated shrine to Shakespeare. It’s pretty small, there’s not a lot to see, it’s only open occasionally, and is a bit of a pain to get to — so naturally I had to visit it.
David Garrick was a hugely successful actor and theatre manager who pioneered modern acting, getting away from melodramatic and bombastic styles in favour of more naturalistic acting.
His success led to wealth, which led him to buying a large villa near Hampton Court Palace. A road separated it from the land he owned next to the riverside, so he initially built a tunnel linking the two, but later he decided to build his temple to Shakespere.
It’s thought that he wanted the temple, partly as a building to use on the riverside half of his estate, but also because of his role in popularising Shakespere’s plays at a time when they were somewhat overlooked.
The temple/summerhouse was built around 1755/56 as a single octagonal room with a large covered entrance standing within his riverside garden. Inside stood a large statue of William Shakespeare that he commissioned especially for the temple, which he filled with Shakespeare mementoes.
Unfortunately, none of it remains as it was sold off after the death of his widow in 1822.
The temple and grounds were sold off separately to the main house, and in 1932 was bought by the local council. The temple fell into disrepair, was restored a couple of times, most recently in 1999, and is now open on Sunday afternoons during the Spring to Autumn months.
A group of local volunteers open up the temple at 2pm, and as I was already there, it did mean getting the temple to myself, plus three very attentive volunteers who made a lot of fuss over my visit, which is either lovely, or not, depending on how fussed over you like to be.
A replacement for Garrick’s original Shakespeare is in the original niche, this one on loan from the British Museum, and the rest of the room is filled with paintings relating to Garrick’s family and career.
There are explanatory boards, but they’ve chosen to show them in a cursive text that’s very historically accurate for Garrick’s lifetime, but also quite hard to read for modern eyes. It takes a fair bit of concentration to read.
As a setting, in the spring afternoon with the flowers rampant over the lawn and the trees providing shade, it’s a delightful setting for the temple. In an odd way, I wish I had left it at that, as the visit inside the temple felt slightly like an anticlimax.
The Temple is open to the public on Sunday afternoons (2pm to 5pm) until Sunday 29th October 2023.
It’s free to visit, with donations appreciated.
For me, it was a modest walk through Bushy Park from Hampton Court Palace (and back again), but you can catch buses that ply the route. It may have been just that day, but the road was packed with traffic, so walking wasn’t much slower than the bus I almost kept up with along the route.
You can also get to it quicker from the nearby station at Hampton, but tends to only have one train an hour.