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Early Modern Britain

Photo Focus: Shakespeare's Buildings

by Totally Communications (Ed), 1 April 2016


The Globe Theatre, London's South Bank
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Presenting a photographic resource which details the buildings and places which are associated with William Shakespeare.

To see the material in its original state (with potential updates), please visit the Shakespeare's Buildings microsite (see external links).

William Shakespeare statue
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

More than four centuries, seventeen monarchs, thirty-seven plays, and 154 sonnets may separate us from Shakespeare, yet the playwright's hold on the language, literature and culture of the English-speaking world remains as strong as ever.

Map of London
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

But in the four hundred years since our most revered writer and poet first travelled south across England to bring his craft to London, the buildings which would once have been so familiar to him have risen and fallen.

Theatres, houses, churches and, in some cases, entire streets have disappeared from the map. In Shakespeare's home town, Stratford-upon-Avon, however, the house of his birth and the childhood home of his bride, Anne Hathaway, still stand.

Magnificent examples of late medieval or Tudor architecture, they are owned by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world every year.

Elsewhere, The Globe has risen again on the capital's South Bank and, across the Atlantic in Virginia, his first London playhouse has been meticulously recreated.

In Shoreditch, Galliard Homes with joint venture partners Cain Hoy, McCourt, Vanke, and The Estate Office Shoreditch is developing 'The Stage' where Shakespeare's Curtain Theatre once stood.

Comprising over thirty-seven thousand square metres of mixed-use space, including 412 apartments, offices, retail and an acre or public realm, the Curtain Theatre will be preserved and transformed into the focal centrepiece of The Stage.

While many of the sites which can be linked with Shakespeare are no longer standing, it is possible to see their traces today and to still be able to explore the rich world of our greatest writer.

Shakespeare's birthplace
Photo © Trevor Wintle & Spinnakerphotography.co.uk / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

'Shakespeare's Birthplace'

A shrine for the playwright's devotees from around the world, 'Shakespeare's Birthplace' is a stunning half-timbered house on Henley Street, Stratford, where he lived from his birth in 1564 until he married Anne Hathaway when in his mid-twenties.

The house was the largest on Henley Street and was owned by William's father, John, for half a century. The home doubled as a workshop for John Shakespeare's glove-making business, with outbuildings containing animal skins and liming pits.

John Shakespeare died in 1601 and the house was passed to William. It became the Maidenhead Inn and then the Swan and Maidenhead, and remained a public house until 1847 when it was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

Anne Hathaway's cottage
Photo © Misty and David / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Anne Hathaway's cottage

A quintessential English farmhouse, the house in which Shakespeare's future bride lived as a child is in Shottery, Warwickshire.

It was built in the fourteenth century with further additions about three hundred years later. It remained in the Hathaway family until 1846 when debt and mounting money problems forced them to sell up.

They stayed on as tenants and continued to live there after it was bought by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892.

Fire wrought havoc on the building in 1969 but painstaking work by the trust saw it rebuilt and reopening to the public as a museum which was dedicated to the playwright and his wife's life together.

The Globe Threatre, London
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

The Globe Theatre

Probably the most famous of all of Shakespeare's buildings in the capital, the story of the Globe's rise, fall, and rise again is one of the most remarkable of any in London.

The Globe came into being after a dispute over the use of 'The Theatre' in Shoreditch by the Lord Chamberlain's Company (later the King's Men) of which Shakespeare was a member. The company leased a site near the Rose, a rival theatre in Southwark, demolished The Theatre, and used its oak frame to build the Globe which opened in 1599.

It burned to the ground in 1613 during a performance of Henry VIII when an accident involving a cannon ignited the thatched roof. It was rebuilt and remained the home of Shakespeare's company until it was closed - along with all theatres - by the Puritan government in 1642. It was demolished in 1644.

In 1970, the American actor and director, Sam Wanamaker, started a trust which was dedicated to rebuilding the Globe. It finally re-opened in 1996.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Lit entirely by beeswax candles, this tiny new indoor playhouse forms part of The Globe Theatre complex on Bankside. Its design was based on seventeenth century plans for an indoor theatre, similar to the layout of the earlier Blackfriars Theatre which was used for winter performances by Shakespeare's company.

It is named after the late Sam Wanamaker, founder of the Shakespeare Globe Trust, and comprises an oak structure within the brick shell of the building which was formerly used as a rehearsal space for The Globe. Described as 'intimate and intense', the 340-seat Jacobean theatre specialises in staging plays and music of the era.

The Curtain Theatre, Shoreditch, London
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

The Curtain Theatre

The Curtain Theatre opened for business in 1577 in an area of land called Curtain Close in Shoreditch. The Curtain sat just two hundred metres south of the capital's first playhouse, 'The Theatre', which opened the year before.

It's not certain who built the Curtain Theatre but it could have been Henry Lanman, a theatrical entrepreneur, who was the theatre's manager from 1582 until 1592.

The very first performance of Shakespeare's Henry V was probably at the Curtain in 1598 while the Lord Chamberlain's Company of actors, of which the playwright was a member, made the theatre their home for a year until 1599 when they moved to the Globe.

The last stage production at the Curtain was probably in 1625. It was converted into tenements in 1638 and stood for much of the seventeenth century. In June 2012, archaeologists from MOLA found its well-preserved remains.

St Leonard's Church, London
Photo © Heritage of London Trust / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

St Leonard's Church, Shoreditch

It has long been speculated that the remains of the church in which Shakespeare is rumoured to have worshipped survive underneath St Leonard's Church in Shoreditch.

This church is an eighteenth century building which found new admirers in the BBC sitcom, Rev. Some believe that the original building may have inspired scenes from Romeo and Juliet and that the tomb scene in the play, featuring the stony sepulchre where the lovers meet their tragic ends, was a re-imagining of the church's tomb-filled interior.

The church was already crumbling by the time Shakespeare is thought to have used it and was already five hundred years old. Cost and logistical difficulties have prevented any serious investigations of what now lies beneath the church.

St Helen's Church, Bishopsgate, London
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

St Helen's Bishopsgate

One of the few churches in London which survived both the Great Fire of 1666 and the attentions of the Luftwaffe in 1940/41, St Helen's Bishopsgate was Shakespeare's parish church when he first arrived in the capital in 1590.

Dating back to at least AD 869, the site has held successive church buildings with the current one being built in 1210. Shakespeare is known to have worshipped at St Helen's thanks to tax rolls from 1597 which identify him as a tax evader.

The church building is actually composed of two conjoined buildings - one of which was a nunnery until Henry VIII dissolved the priories. Inside it contains a Jacobean pulpit dated 1615 and several brasses from the middle of the fifteenth century.

Although it survived the Blitz, the church was damaged in 1992 and 1993 during the IRA's final mainland bombing campaign but was quickly restored.

Silver Street / St Olave's Church, The Barbican, London
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Silver Street / St Olave's Church (The Barbican)

Shakespeare was a lodger in a house on Silver Street, Cripplegate, from about 1604 possibly until he purchased a gatehouse in Blackfriars in 1613. The house on Silver Street and the corner of Monkwell Street was owned by the Mountjoys, a French Huguenot family.

The house probably survived until the Great Fire of London in 1666 which devastated most of the city, razing more than 13,000 properties. Cripple Street itself was destroyed in the Blitz - the entire area reduced to rubble on the night of 29 December 1940.

From his window in the Mountjoys' house, Shakespeare would have had a view of the Church of St Olave, dedicated to the Norwegian ally of the English, St Olaf. The church was crumbling in the playwright's time and was rebuilt in 1662 but it, too, fell victim to the Great Fire just four years later.

Blackfriar's Threatre, London
Photo © Gordon Butler / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Blackfriars Theatre

A Dominican monastery which had been closed by Henry VIII in 1538 became a theatre thanks to Richard Farrant, master of the boy choristers at the Chapel Royal. Many of those boys also participated in drama and the buildings came to be used for plays and private performances before the boys went on to perform at court.

It was purchased by the theatrical entrepreneur, James Burbage, in 1596 and became the winter venue of the Lord Chamberlain's Company.

Blackfriar's Threatre, London
Photo © Doug Stratton / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Blackfriars Theatre

William Shakespeare and the King's Men took part ownership of it in 1608 with the playwright buying a house nearby.

The troupe continued to use it for winter performances, decamping to The Globe in the summer. The playhouse was shut by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished in 1655.

St John's Gate, Clerkenwell, London
Photo © Mike T Photography / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

St John's Gate, Clerkenwell

Another of London's handful of buildings to survive both the Great Fire and the Second World War, St John's Gate was built in 1504 as one of the entrances to the priory of the Knights of St John.

The priory itself was the site of the office of the 'Master of Revels', who was in charge of licensing entertainment and plays at the royal court. It is known that at least thirty of Shakespeare's plays were licensed here.

Samuel Johnson is also known to have used the building for his offices.

Although giving a good idea of how this part of the capital may have looked in the sixteenth century, much of the gate's façade was rebuilt by the Victorians after it had fallen into disrepair in the eighteenth century.

The Cockpit Pub
Photo © Ben Errey / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

The Cockpit Pub

This eighteenth century watering hole is said to sit on, or at least very close to, the site of the Blackfriars house which was owned by Shakespeare.

He is known to have bought the former priory gatehouse from Henry Walker, 'citizen and minstrel', for 140 in March 1613.

Although Shakespeare owned property in Stratford, this is thought to have been the only building he owned in London. It was conveniently close both to the Blackfriars Playhouse and The Globe theatre, yet no evidence exists to suggest that Shakespeare actually lived here in the years before his death in 1616.

Tichfield Abbey
Photo © Ozz13x / Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Titchfield Abbey

A striking medieval abbey built in 1222 for an austere order, Titchfield Abbey in Hampshire is an imposing stone building with a twin-towered gate.

It was closed during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1537 and became a country home which was owned by the Wriothesley family.

In the sixteenth century it passed to Henry Wriosthesley who was one of Shakespeare's patrons. The playwright lodged at the house and the family staged a number of plays there.

Shakespeare wrote only two dedications during his life and both were attached to the poems Venus and Adonis (1593) and Lucrece (1594).

Both dedications were addressed to Henry. The house itself featured in a number of his plays - notably Love's Labour's Lost. Titchfield Abbey was abandoned and partially demolished in 1781 but was bought by the state in the early 1900s and is now cared for by English Heritage.

Juliet's House, Verona, Italy
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Juliet's House

The early fourteenth century Casa di Giulietta, at No 23 Via Capello in the Italian city of Verona, was once the home of the Cappello family, said to be the model for the Capulets of Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet's House, Verona, Italy
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

Juliet's House

Today tourists flock to the house to leave love letters and gaze at the balcony which could have inspired the play's most famous scene (although sceptics claim this was a later addition to the building).

In a small courtyard a bronze statue of Juliet has had its right breast worn bare due to a legend that touching it will bring fortune in love.

Blackfriar's Threate, Virginia, USA
Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

The Blackfriar's Playhouse

In the Shenandoah Valley in Staunton, Virginia, sits a recreation of the Blackfriars Theatre in London as it would have looked four hundred years ago. The three-hundred-seat playhouse opened in September 2001 following years of research into the original structure which has resulted in a building which is thought to bear a remarkable resemblance to the original.

It is the home of the American Shakespeare Company and has been described as one of the most important theatres in the world.

Photo © Shakespeares-Buildings.co.uk

The Stage

Many of the buildings and locations mentioned in this visual journey have undergone massive evolution in their existence, functionality, or both.

While some may be similar to how the bard may have seen them, others are completely unrecognisable. However, what is fundamental is that their connection to one of the most significant literary figures in the world is defended, thereby preserving his legacy for generations to come.

Online Sources

Blackfriar's Theatre / Playhouse Yard (Britannia.com)

Blackfriar's Theatre, Virginia

City of London: Things to do

In Search of Shakespeare's London

Juliet's House (Casa di Giulietta) (Viator)

Museum of the Order of St John

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse: A Jacobean Theatre on Bankside (Isabel Sutton / BBC)

Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust

Shakespeare's Globe

Shoreditch Church

Silver Street Nr St Giles Church

The Stage

Visit Stratford-upon-Avon: Anne Hathaway's Cottage


Images and text copyright © 'Shakespeare's Buildings' except where stated. Reproduced for the History Files from original materials with the help and support of Totally Communications.