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Friday, 7 April, 2000, 17:00 GMT 18:00 UK
Shakespeare's will - as penned by him
b and w plane pic
A record of the 1943 Dambusters operation still exists
Items related to some of Britain's most notorious and celebrated historical characters are to go on public display.

Artefacts at the Public Record Office in Kew, London, span more than 1,000 years and include the Magna Carta, Shakespeare's will and a signed confession from gunpowder plot ringleader Guy Fawkes.

The valuable British treasures have been cherry picked from 95 miles of document shelving at the PRO.

Some of the documents provide simple insights into a particular era, while others record great or tragic moments in history.

Historical evidence
Magna Carta
Robin Hood's wage account
Shakespeare's will
Guy Fawkes' confession
Trial record of Charles I
Bligh's account of the mutiny on the Bounty
Letter from Jack the Ripper
SOS from the Titanic
Edward VIII's letter of Abdication
'Dambusters' operations record

The final frantic telegram sent by wireless operator Jack Phillips on 14 April 1912, as the Titanic began to sink on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, reads: "We are sinking fast - passengers being put into boats".

Shakespeare's will contains what is believed to be one of only three examples of the Bard's handwriting.

As was the common practice of the time, he left the bulk of his estate to his elder daughter, Susannah Hall. To wife Anne Hathaway he bequeathed his 'second best' bed.

Highwayman Dick Turpin, well known for his looting escapades around the country, received his own just rewards in 1739.

The exhibition shows a written indictment of John Palmer, alias Richard Turpin, who was charged with horse stealing and hanged at York.

writing on will
A rare copy of William Shakespeare's signature
Even more chilling is a letter and postcard forwarded to Scotland Yard in 1888, which is believed to have been written by the notorious Jack the Ripper.

The murder of six prostitutes, carrying the hallmarks of the Ripper, remains one of the unsolved mysteries of the 19th century.

Some of the items are so fragile that they will only be on display for the first two months of the exhibition, which opens on 12 April.

The exhibition also marks the opening of the new Education and Visitor Centre, which will enable the PRO to stage a number of rotating exhibitions, displaying a fascinating range of material from its vast collection.

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