The Rose Playhouse was the first purpose-built playhouse on Bankside built in 1587 and owned by Philip Henslowe. The Rose was renovated in 1592, the same year in which Henslowe began his accounts book which still survives. Henslowe listed in his accounts book the building materials needed for the renovation of The Rose, as well as listing the various tradesmen he employed for this refurbishment. In his accounts book Henslowe records

pd for makenge the penthowsse shed at the tyeringe howsse doore as foloweth pd for owld tymber”

During the archaeological dig of The Rose in 1989, Museum of London archaeologists discovered reused oak ship timbers on site.


The Rose survived until 1605 when Philip Henslowe decided not to renew his lease with the parish of St Mildred’s Bread Street in the City. During the Rose’s nearly twenty year history, it was an integral part of The Bankside, and provided many opportunities for new playwrights such as William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd and Thomas Dekker to showcase their work. The great Elizabethan actor Edward Alleyn played the leading roles at The Rose, and later married Philip Henslowe’s stepdaughter Joan Woodward in 1592. Their marriage is recorded in Henslowe’s accounts book.

As London Bridge was the only bridge that connected the north side of the river Thames with Southwark, The Rose also provided excellent opportunities for the Company of Watermen to enjoy a thriving business ferrying theatregoers across the river. In times of plague, The Rose would be temporarily closed by the Privy Council, and in one instance in 1592, “A riot in Southwark in early June led to a suspension of playing from 23rd June.” Surviving documentation, a petition from the Watermen of the Bankside to the Lord Admiral Charles Howard, who was a member of the Privy Council and Patron of The Lord Admiral’s Men, demonstrates how vital The Rose was to the success of the Watermen’s trade.

…So it is if it please your good Lordshipp, that wee yor saide poore watermen have had muche helpe and reliefe for vs oure poore wives and Children by meanes of the resorte of suche people as come vnto the said playe howse, It maye therefore please your good L.’ for godes sake and in the waye of Charetie to respecte vs your poore water[e] men, and to give leave vnto the said Phillipp Henslo to have playinge in his saide howse during suche tyme as others have according as it hathe byne accustomed”

The Privy Council responded by issuing a warrant for the reopening of The Rose.

And that the Rose maie be at libertie wthout any restrainte, solonge as yt shalbe free from infection of sicknes, Any Comaundemt from vs hereto fore to the Countrye notwthstandinge”


Today The Rose continues to be an integral part of The Bankside as an archaeological site, and as an exciting performance space. The Rose’s association with the Watermen of the Bankside can still be found at the top of The Bear Gardens, only a few minutes’ walk away from the archaeological site of The Rose, where you can visit and sit on, the surviving seat of the Bankside Watermen. The most famous of the Watermen was John Taylor (1578-1653) known as the Water Poet. In Taylor’s poem “The Praise of Hemp-seed” published in 1620, he pays tribute to Shakepeare who “did in Art excell”.
The Rose is now a Scheduled Ancient Monument At Risk, so in the spirit of the Bankside Watermen, perhaps another petition is called for – a petition to Save The Rose.

For further information, see Foakes, R A (ed), 2002 (1961) Henslowe’s Diary, 2 edn, Cambridge. You can also visit the Rose.