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Anniversaries and Celebrations

Our programme of events and exhibitions includes celebrating significant events and commemorating anniversaries. These may be significant milestones marking events in the life or works of Laurence Sterne or the history of Shandy Hall, or national commemorations that are in some way relevant to these.

250th anniversary of Sterne’s Death, and of the first publication of A Sentimental Journey 2018

On 5th November 2018, in the 250th anniversary year of Laurence Sterne’s death, in collaboration with the York Civic Trust, the first plaque to Laurence Sterne was erected in York at the Stonegate premises of the bookshop which first sold The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy.  We timed the unveiling for the 300th birthday of Tristram Shandy. “On the fifth day of November, 1718 . . . was I Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, brought forth into this scurvy and disasterous world of ours.” Tristram Shandy (Volume I chap. 5)

The plaque was designed and made by Helen Whittaker of Barley Studios. The first stained glass plaque we believe, appropriately for the building which was was the former premises of stained glass artist J.W. Knowles.

Press coverage

This year was also the anniversary of the publication of A Sentimental Journey

Many more events were held in 2018 to commemorate this double anniversary:

300th anniversary of Sterne’s birth 2013

Laurence Sterne Tercentenary 1713 – 2013

300th anniversary of the birth of Laurence Sterne

2013 was a significant anniversary for Shandy Hall and all admirers of Laurence Sterne’s work. He was born on 24 November in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, Ireland in the year 1713. One day earlier and he would have been born a Frenchman as his parents had just embarked for Ireland from Dunkirk.

Find out more about Sterne’s life

To celebrate and commemorate this tercentenary the Laurence Sterne Trust was involved in a series of exhibitions and events throughout the year, and into 2014.

Voice from the Pulpit

Voice from the Pulpit was a special performance in the Quire of York Minster to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of Laurence Sterne.

Voice from the Pulpit is a concert inspired by Sterne’s final sermon, ‘The Case of Hezekiah and the Messengers’ from 1764. The event featured the premiere performance of David Owen Norris’s beautiful new composition, ‘STERNE was the MAN’, a setting of the words of Sterne’s London memorial stone and  written especially for Sterne’s tercentenary. The concert included period instruments, voice and four school choirs.

The four schools choirs were: Riverside Community Primary School, Tadcaster; Tadcaster Grammar School, Carlton Miniott Community Primary School, St Peter’s Brafferton. The choirs were coached by Choir Master Jonathan Brigg from the University of York. Some of the children had never sung in choirs before, but by the end of the project they sang in York Minster, along with professional musicians and someone they knew well from the Harry Potter films.

For Voice from the Pulpit also included a reading of ‘The Case of Hezekiah and the Messengers’ by Sterne himself in the guise of Yorkshire-born actor David Bradley. Bradley is well-known for his roles in television and film including Harry Potter and starred as William Hartnell, the first Doctor Who actor in the BBC Two drama ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’.

Tenor : Mark Wilde
Square Piano : David Owen Norris
The York String Quartet
Viola da Gamba : Susanna Pell
Natural Trumpet : Michael O’Farrell
Conductor : Jonathan Brigg

The Good Humour Club

The Good Humour Club project was part of the 300th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Laurence Sterne.

The discovery of a minute book from 1743 in the collection at Shandy Hall of a hitherto unknown society became the inspiration for The Good Humour Club project, which ran throughout Sterne’s tercentenary to May 2014. A further minute book of the Club, dated 1781 was located in the Minster Library collection shortly afterwards. Both books contain the minutes from the weekly meetings of an eighteenth-century society called The Good Humour Club, which met in Sunton’s Coffee House in the city of York.

The Good Humour Club (c.1725-1800) was a society which celebrated the twin virtues of companionship and conviviality.

The members were men who belonged to polite, though not elite, trades and professions; clergymen and doctors rubbed elbows with masons, mercers, and drapers at weekly meetings where a good supper and copious amounts of punch were consumed. The society was also known as ‘The Doctor’s Club’ as each member was given the honorary title of ‘Dr.’. Our research suggests that there were four volumes of minutes for the Club in total: the minute book at Shandy Hall being the second, and the Minster volume being the fourth. The Club’s minute books are important artefacts of a forgotten piece of Yorkshire history. The search continues for minute books I and III.

Later in the year, a period dramatisation (via a podcast) brought to life a meeting of the Good Humour Club on the night of the publication of Tristram Shandy in 1759.

See much more on the Good Humour Club website




18th Century Clubs and Toasting: or, How to Get Drunk Eighteenth-Century Style 

Professor Judith Hawley York Medical Society 2013

The eighteenth century was an eminently clubbable age. The derivation of the term ‘club’ is curiously pertinent. We might think of it as something you join, but it is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning split. The origin of the sociable club is in the practice of splitting the cost of an entertainment – ‘clubbing together’ – to share the costs of drinks or dinner. Though often assembling in coffee-houses to pool their resources both mental and financial, clubs were not always sober affairs. At club meetings, alcoholic beverages usually took the place of caffeinated ones. With a focus on one of Sterne’s sources of inspiration, the Scriblerus Club, this paper will explore what was drunk, when and how. Although drinking was often copious, it was not indiscriminate. Through the practice of toasting or drinking healths, getting plastered was a way of forging bonds and affirming hierarchies. Toasts, like clubs themselves, signal exclusion as well as inclusion, subordination as well as fellowship.

This event was part of the Good Humour Club project supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Professor Hawley is an intellectual historian as well as a literary critic. She is a frequent contributor to BBC radio programmes. From her early research on Laurence Sterne to her editing of the rich and unusual Literature and Science volumes for Pickering & Chatto (2003), she has been drawn to the learned wit and the parodies of leading that were distinctive of the 18th century. Professor Hawley has further published important essays on the learned tradition in satire, on Bluestockings, Siamese twins and on the encyclopaedic principle in the novel. She has produced a new Norton Critical Edition of Tristram Shandy.

Money at the time of the Good Humour Club: Coins and tokens of the Eighteenth Century

‘This Night it was agreed by the members present to accept of half a guinea for Mr Chandler’s absences which is to be spent in a Turkey feast on this night fortnight.’

–Minutes of the Good Humour Club meeting dated 8 December 1742

It was one of the founding rules of the Good Humour Club that each member would pay a fine of sixpence for each meeting they missed. But just how much would sixpence have bought you in the eighteenth century? And as business owners and tradesmen, would any of the members have tried to pay in their own coin – trade tokens issued by shopkeepers in lieu of national currency?

The audience joined  the Coxwold History Society at the Good Humour Club exhibition, Shandy Hall Gallery to learn more about money and coinage in the eighteenth century from expert Andrew Woods of the York Museums Trust. Exploring the exhibition and experiencing a rare opportunity to handle coins from the York Museum Trust’s collection.

Andrew Woods is curator of Numismatics at York Museums Trust. He curates the Trust’s collection of coins, medals, tokens and banknotes in addition to providing Numismatic advice and support to other regional Museums.

The Good Humour Club - Exhibition Tour

The Good Humour Club Exhibition tour

Staff from The Laurence Sterne Trust at Shandy Hall toured local libraries to share their discoveries about this eighteenth-century gentlemen’s club, inviting all to come along to explore eighteenth-century York through the lives of The Good Humour Club’s members and enjoy a rare opportunity to view the minute book from 1743 and handle other interesting artefacts from the Trust’s collection.

These drop-in sessions were free to attend with no booking necessary.

Good Humour Club Library display
Good Humour Club Library display

iShandy - York Theatre Royal

iShandy –  A dramatic performance at York Theatre Royal.

Text by York Theatre Royal:

“Very loosely based on the novel by Laurence Sterne with footnotes, gratitude, savoury snacks and pregnant pauses.

Members of a teachers’ Book Club meet to discuss the latest ambitious read in their season of Yorkshire classics, the insurmountable Tristram Shandy.

It’s fun loving English teacher Susan’s turn to host and as always, she insists on an elaborate fancy dress theme. As the friends gather dressed as characters from the novel, excitement builds about meeting the group’s newest member. After all, he was the one who suggested Tristram Shandy in the first place!

However, this is no ordinary cosy night in with a good book as the evening takes some extraordinary twists and turns. As confusion mounts and hilarity ensues, the meeting descends into debauched absurdity and this cunning comedy becomes as saucy, surreal and dangerous as Sterne himself.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is a novel by Coxwold based writer Laurence Sterne, released in nine volumes over seven years from 1759. There will be several associated events linked to this new production to help celebrate the 300th anniversary of Laurence Sterne’s birth.

Warning. This product may contain unavoidable nuts and other adult themes, including at least 17 verbal references to *******’s and a visual *! ”


Tristram Shandy Book Group – York Theatre Royal

For everyone who ever wanted to read this Yorkshire classic but never got past the first page. Led by Patrick Wildgust, Curator of the Laurence Sterne Trust, it began with an illustrated introduction to the novel and then offered the opportunity to re-group and discuss progress over the following months.

Shandy Hall Visit and Theatre Trip – in collaboration with York Theatre Royal

Thu 25 Apr & Sat 27 Apr 2013

An exclusive opportunity for a private tour of Shandy Hall in the village of Coxwold, 15 miles north of York. Led by Patrick Wildgust, Curator of the Laurence Sterne Trust, the morning will include a tour of Shandy Hall, Laurence Sterne’s home in the late 18th C. Also included is lunch at York Theatre Royal and a ticket to see the matinee of iShandy. Meet at York Theatre Royal at 9.30am and return for the matinee.

Tickets: £40 includes all transport from York to Coxwold, ticket for Shandy Hall and matinee of iShandy and lunch.

York Theatre Royal Studio Talk – Martin Rowson
29th April 2013 7.00pm

“York Theatre Royal and York St John University present a series of engaging talks and discussions with leading artists and thinkers

Martin Rowson is the political cartoonist of The Guardian.

This was a unique opportunity to hear about Martin’s graphic novel of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Made up of over 100 drawings, all now in the collection at Shandy Hall, he took the spirit of the book and gave it a new interpretation.

Presented in association with The Laurence Sterne Trust.


Tercentenary screening of 'A Cock and Bull Story' with Introduction  - collaboration with York City Screen

Text by City Screen Picturehouse, York

“To celebrate 300 years since the birth of Laurence Sterne, we have an introduction from Patrick Wildgust, curator of Shandy Hall.

Featuring a roll call of the great and the good of British comedy talent, Winterbottom’s (24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE) adaptation of the essentially unfilmable novel, ‘The Life And Opinions Of Tristram Shandy’, is a pure joy.

It brings to mind Charlie Kaufman’s ADAPTATION in that it is really about the making of the film you are watching.

Coogan plays both Shandy and his father Walter, with Brydon cast as Shandy’s unfortunate uncle.

They move in and out of the film-within-the-film, preening and bickering on screen and off in a hugely enjoyable clash of egos.

True to the spirit of the original, Winterbottom holds a candle to the creative process and lifts the curtain on the movie-making business in all its self-important glory.”

Tercentenary Conference on Laurence Sterne

National Portrait Gallery Lecture – The Life and Opinions of Laurence Sterne – talk by Patrick Wildgust


Ondaatje Wing Theatre, National Portrait Gallery, London

Curator of Shandy Hall, Patrick Wildgust, takes a closer look at the life of Laurence Sterne and discusses his reputation 300 years after his birth. Most famous for Tristram Shandy, Sterne was a writer of international importance and Wildgust reappraises his impact and character.


The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman – a one-man performance by Stephen Oxley
7.30pm St Helen Church, Stonegate, York, YO1 8QN

Stephen Oxley as Tristram Shandy
Stephen Oxley as Tristram Shandy


A multimedia celebration to mark the tercentenary of Sterne’s birth at Goldsmiths, University of London
2013 – 25th November 13

The Emblem of my Work – the Marbled Page Anniversary 2011

169 artists celebrated the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s marbled page.

In 1761 Laurence Sterne published the 3rd and 4th volumes of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, the first two volumes of which had been a runaway success and brought him the fame he desired.

In Volume 3, on page 169, Sterne included one of his most remarkable strokes of genius: a marbled page.  This page is handmade not printed and makes each copy of this edition of the book unique.

In the text opposite the marbling (page 168), Sterne tells the reader that the marbled page is the ‘motly emblem of my work’ – the page displaying a visual confirmation that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance, like the chaos of life itself.

To celebrate its 250th anniversary, The Laurence Sterne Trust invited 169 artists and writers to use a blank facsimile of page 169 to design the emblem of their work, and each contributor to this exhibition made their emblem in their own way.

Each work was generously donated to the Laurence Sterne Trust to raise funds.

The pages were exhibited and a list of all contributors was on display but the identity of each maker was hidden. The visitor was invited to match the work to the maker, and bid for their chosen work.

See more on our Auction Exhibitions page here

The exhibition was part of Art in Yorkshire — supported by Tate —  a year long celebration of the visual arts in 19 galleries throughout Yorkshire.

250th anniversary of Tristram Shandy 2009

In 2009 the Laurence Sterne Trust held an exhibition (and auction) in recognition of the 250th anniversary of the publication of the black page.

The black page in Tristram Shandy commemorates the death of Parson Yorick. In the first edition, published in York and overseen by Sterne, the ‘blackness’ is printed on both sides of the leaf with what appears to be a solid woodblock.

Based on the Black Page, an auction exhibition was held to raise funds for the Trust. Because the black page falls on page 73 of the first edition, 73 artists and writers were invited to create their own interpretation of Sterne’s most famous experimental device.  Read more about this on our Auction Exhibitions page.

Abolition of the Slave Trade Bicentenary 2006/7

A Bitter Draught: Sterne, the Starling, and Slavery

This exhibition in the gallery at Shandy Hall heralded the forthcoming 200th anniversary of Parliaments’ abolition of the slave trade in 2007.

Museum specimens, DVD, stained glass, text, sculpture and installations by contemporary artists who explored the themes of social justice, citzenship and slavery.

The exhibition was inspired by a section of A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne, where the narrator, Yorick, hears a voice in an alleyway in Paris repeating the phrase ‘I can’t get out’ and discovers the cry for help is coming from a caged starling. A caged bird is perhaps the most powerful emblem of loss of freedom, and this encounter causes the narrator to reflect upon liberty, imprisonment and slavery. He declares to the reader that he considers slavery to be ‘a bitter draught’.

The starling is also the crest on the Sterne family arms, and the similarity of the starling’s Latin name, Sturnus vulgaris, reinforces the association.

The humanity in Sterne’s sermons was seized upon by Ignatius Sancho, a gifted man who, after being born on a slave ship and put into service, eventually attained independence and wrote poetry, plays and music. He was the first African writer whose letters were published in England as well as the first African to vote in a British election.  He was also painted by Gainsborough. Sancho wrote in praise of Sterne’s opposition to slavery and beseeched him to write further in support of the cause.

“Of all my favourite authors, not one has drawn a tear in favour of my miserable black brethren – excepting yourself, and the humane author of Sir George Ellison. I think you will forgive me; I am sure you will applaud me for beseeching you to give one half-hour’s attention to slavery, as it is practised in our West Indies. That subject, handled in your striking manner, would ease the yoke (perhaps) of many – but if only of one! . . . ”

Sterne responded with an account of the episode of the black girl in Tristram Shandy, and went on to write other sympathetic passages.

The starling episode in A Sentimental Journey became one of Sterne’s most well known extracts, and was referred to by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and Amy Lowell amongst other writers.

Sterne the eccentric and entertaining wit, the sudden celebrity who became a sought-after guest at fashionable dinner parties, is well known. The other equally important side of Sterne is as a man of feeling and sentiment, whose writings did much to influence and change the sensibility of his age.

The eighteenth century begins as the Age of Reason and ends with the Romantic Movement, when feeling and emotion, rather than intellect, were the dominant responses to the world.

Sterne prefigures the romantic age in many episodes of his work – benevolent Uncle Toby and the fly; the portrait of Maria; the stories of the death of le Fever and of the caged starling all captured the hearts of the 18th century reader through their expression of feeling, and were retold in such popular anthologies as The Beauties of Sterne.  Sterne’s empathy for his fellow creatures makes his writings, as Thomas Jefferson claimed, ‘the best course of morality that ever was written.’

‘ in an age that had tended to cultivate the reason somewhat exclusively, he did much to restore emotion to its place, and by quickening the power of sympathy, helped to make possible the great humanitarian movements which culminated in such achievements as the abolition of slavery.’ William Allan Neilson.

This exhibition in the gallery at Shandy Hall heralded the forthcoming 200th anniversary of Parliaments’ abolition of the slave trade in 2007. Focusing on the starling it included information on the bird’s natural history, and with museum specimens, DVD, stained-glass, text, poetry, screenprints and installations by contemporary artists, it explored literary and artistic references and the themes of social justice, citizenship and slavery.

Alison Wilding, Tom Phillips, Helen Whittaker, Peter Coates, Patrick Hughes, Thomas Newton, Carolyn Thompson and Carry Akroyd were among the artists exhibiting.

Featured work is Paper and Patience, by Carolyn Thompson 2006
Woven book leaves (from 3 copies of A Sentimental Journey, Laurence Sterne)

Bird-ringing (supervised by the British Trust for Ornithology) took place in the gardens at Shandy Hall during October and November.  Children from Husthwaite Primary school were involved.

A concert ‘Songs of Liberty and Oppression’ was performed in Coxwold church by traditional singers Coope, Boyes and Simpson on October 5th 2006.

The Laurence Sterne Trust thanks The Carstairs Countryside Trust and The Pidem Trust for financial assistance with this project.