Using Birmingham’s forgotten past to inspire our future
Unlocking the world’s first great people’s Shakespeare Library for all

The Project

The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City Council are collaborating on a £1 million plan to revive the city’s almost-forgotten Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library, housed in the iconic Library of Birmingham - and the first, oldest and largest Shakespeare collection in any public library in the world as well as one of the UK’s most important cultural assets.

The ‘Everything to Everybody’ Project unites the Shakespeare archive with the revelatory George Dawson Collection, also held at LoB. This neglected treasure-trove of documents relates to the nonconformist preacher, lecturer and activist, who founded the Library as part of a pioneering ‘Civic Gospel’ which helped make 19th-century Birmingham the world’s most progressive modern city.

Project Funding

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has awarded the project £32,700 of development funding to help progress plans to apply for a full National Lottery grant. The full four-year project aims to revitalise Dawson’s dream of creating a culture actively involving everyone in Birmingham.

The project is also being generously supported by History West Midlands.


Through our website you can engage with the 'Everything to Everybody' Project by:

Or get in touch with us directly by emailing:

George Dawson

George Dawson was born in 1821, and came to Birmingham in 1844, where he quickly made a reputation for himself as a radical lecturer, preacher, and activist, and Shakespearean. He was known as 'Brummagem Dawson', so identified was he with his adopted home-town, which he helped to put on the map as ‘the most artistic town in England’ and ‘the best governed city in the world’. He has long been dead, and yet he remains ahead of us: the prophet of an ambitiously inclusive and creative culture we still haven’t truly attained.

What Are People Saying?

Ewan Fernie

"The vast majority of the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library’s publicly-owned treasures are unknown, their potential to excite new audiences untapped.

Using modern digital technologies will allow us to realise Dawson’s radically democratic programme for sharing the Library, and working with Birmingham’s diverse communities will breathe new life into traditional English heritage and culture.

We’re thrilled to have a chance to share the first great people’s Shakespeare Library with the people of the city it was founded for. And we’re delighted to have Adrian Lester as our Project Patron, as well as to enjoy enthusiastic further support from institutions across Birmingham and the UK, not to mention in Europe, America, and Australia.

Watch this space!"

Professor Ewan Fernie, 'Everything to Everybody' Project Leader

Ruth Millington

"This is such an exciting project for Birmingham. At a time of cultural regeneration in the city, ‘Everything to Everybody’ will bring to light this unknown, and hugely significant, Shakespeare collection for all. It has the power to instil a new sense of pride in Birmingham, and put the world’s first great people’s Shakespeare library back on the map."

Ruth Millington, 'Everything to Everybody' Project Manager

Adrian Lester

"Everything to Everybody is a great rallying cry for a more democratic culture and for Birmingham as the forgotten trailblazer of that important and inspiring dream.

I was so proud to learn that Birmingham – my home city – is the home of what is not just the first great Shakespeare library in the world, but remains a uniquely democratic Shakespeare collection intended for the use and development of everyone across the city."

Adrian Lester OBE, renowned classical actor and 'Everything to Everybody' Project Patron

Sir David Eastwood

"We are delighted to lead this landmark project since opening up the Birmingham Shakespeare Memorial Library will make a real contribution to world culture at the same time as restoring an important but forgotten historical association between Birmingham and the Bard.

George Dawson was a pioneering figure, an inspiration for our founder Joseph Chamberlain in establishing the University of Birmingham as England’s first civic university in 1900. Work on the George Dawson Collection will provide vital historical background to the establishment of his world-leading people’s Shakespeare library."

Professor Sir David Eastwood, University of Birmingham Vice-Chancellor

Ian Ward

“Thanks to this great opportunity from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we’re developing an extensive programme of community-led activities which will help people of all ages and backgrounds rediscover Birmingham’s Shakespeare Library and reinvent it for the future.”

Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council

Tobias Döring

“This library holds a hidden treasure. Especially with regard to 18th-century and 19th-century material, the German Shakespeare holdings are superb…Its outstanding holdings are a sleeping beauty waiting to be kissed awake.”

Professor Tobias Döring of Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, former President of the German Shakespeare Society