A Visit to the Theatre

On 29 July 2010, a group from the Thames Discovery Programme visited the site of the Theatre in Shoreditch, which is currently being excavated by a team from Museum of London Archaeology.


The TDP group at the site

The area of the site originally lay within the precinct of Holywell Priory and parts of the Brewhouse have been recorded during the current investigation. The excavation has also revealed the remains of a medieval structure believed to lie in the area of the Bakehouse; however this will require further investigation as the plaster ceiling found collapsed over the foundations suggests a building of higher status.


Maggie Cox (MoLA) records the medieval building

In 1576 part of the former priory, including the Great Barn, was leased to the ambitious head of the Earl of Leicester’s acting company, James Burbage, who was then living in a house on Holywell Street. On a site near the junction of the present Curtain Road and New Inn Yard, and conveniently outside the control of the City of London (who had just banned all play acting), Burbage built the Theatre, the first purpose built playhouse in London. The fragmentary remains of parts of this building were recorded during the earlier evaluation work on the site, and further evidence for the polygonal playhouse structure is now visible on the site. William Shakespeare wrote and performed at The Theatre between 1594-7, and Romeo and Juliet was almost certainly premiered there. In 1597 following a disagreement between the Burbages and their landlord, the wooden structure was dismantled and taken south of the river to become part of The Globe theatre.


Model of the new Theatre

Museum of London Archaeology are excavating at the site prior to redevelopment; The Tower Theatre Company, one of London’s leading non-professional theatre organisations, are planning to create a 21st century equivalent of the original theatre, a no frills, hardworking place of entertainment.

You can follow the progress of the excavation on the site blog, and further information about previous investigations in the area can be found here.


Display board at the Theatre

TDP would like to thank Heather Knight from MOLA, and Jeff Kelly and Dinah Irvine from the Tower Theatre Company for a fantastic trip to the site and visitor centre!