Shakespeare’s Buildings

A photographic resource detailing the buildings and places associated with William Shakespeare

More than four centuries, 17 monarchs, 37 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.

But in the 400 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 hometown, 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 400,000 sq. ft. 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 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

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 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.
©Trevor Wintle

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

A quintessential English farmhouse, the house where Shakespeare’s future bride lived as a child is in Shottery, Warwickshire. It was built in the 14th century with further additions about 300 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 dedicated to the playwright and his wife’s life together.

Misty And David

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 and demolished in 1644. In 1970, the American actor and director, Sam Wanamaker started a trust dedicated to rebuilding the Globe. It finally re-opened in 1996.

The Globe Theatre
Chameleon’s Eye /

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 17th century plans for an indoor theatre, similar to the layout of the earlier Blackfriars Theatre 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 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

The Curtain Theatre opened for business in 1577 in an area of land called Curtain Close in Shoreditch. The Curtain sat just 200 yards 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 and it was converted into tenements in 1638 and stood for much of the 17th century. In June 2012, archaeologists from MOLA  found its well-preserved remains.

St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch

It has long been speculated that the remains of the church that Shakespeare is rumoured to have worshipped at survive underneath St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch – an 18th century building which found new admirers in the BBC sitcom, Rev. Some believe that the original building might 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 reimagining 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 500 years old. Cost and logistical difficulties have prevented any serious investigations of what now lies beneath the church.

© Heritage of London Trust

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 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. It 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 15th 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)

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 December 29, 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 rebuilt in 1662 but it, too, fell victim to the Great Fire just four years later.

Blackfriars Theatre

A Dominican monastery which had been closed by Henry VIII in 1538 became a theatre thanks to Richard Farrant, the 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 bought by the theatrical entrepreneur, James Burbage, in 1596 and became the winter venue of the Lord Chamberlain’s Company. 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.
©Gordon Butler

Playhouse Yard ©Doug Stratton

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell
© Mike T Photography

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 and it is know that at least 30 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 might have looked in the 16th century, much of the gate’s façade was rebuilt by the Victorians after it had fallen into disrepair in the 18th century. 

The Cockpit Pub

This 18th century watering hole is said to sit on, or at least very close to, the site of the Blackfriars house 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 to both 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.  

©Ben Errey

Titchfield Abbey

A striking medieval abbey build 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 owned by the Wriothesley family. In the 16th 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

The early 14th century Casa di Giulietta, at number 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

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.

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 400 years ago. The 300-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.

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: