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