London’s First Theatre

Well, London’s first two theatres were built in Shoreditch. The first theatre was built in 1576 and was called The Theatre, not only London’s first ever permanent Playhouse, it was also Britain’s the benefit of shortage, much like Southern was that it was just outside the walls of the city of London.

Even though plays were highly censored. The mayor of London had banned players from being performed within the City walls, but he couldn’t ban them out of it. Before specific theatre buildings were built, traveling troupes of artists were performing inside the square courtyards of taverns and Inns across the country.

The Theatre was a polygonal building, open to the elements, just like the Globe theatre. And was demolished in 1598 under the terms of its lease. The second theatre in Shoreditch, which was called the Curtain theatre, which is on the site of where Hewitt Street is now. And of course we also have curtain road.

The curtain theatre was only opened a year after The Theatre. And it was only my 180 meters South, about 200 yards of the first theatre, The Theatre, which had opened a year previously. And why was it called the Curtain theatre? Because it was located near a plot of land called curtain close. And that got its name from its proximity to the walls of Holywell Priory, a curtain wall being a section of wall between two bastions. The difference with the curtain theatre compared to the theatre was that it was rectangular, not round. And it had about a 14 meter stage. That’s about 46 feet. And this was all found in an excavation that happened there  by the museum of London again, so the molar  from 2012 to 2016.

There have been a few finds including  a ceramic money box, which would have been there for collecting entry fees, a ceramic bird whistle, was this a prop? Also some beads, so I’m thinking were used to decorate stage costumes and also a small statue of Bacchus, who is the God of wine making.

Learn more about London’s first theatre in our London History Podcast Episode 50: History of Shoreditch. Duration: 19 mins.

Hazel Baker is an award-winning London Tour Guide and qualified CIGA guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Hazel’s walking tours.


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