Ancient Monuments

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The Theatre Playhouse

A Scheduled Monument in Hoxton East & Shoreditch, Hackney

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Latitude: 51.5247 / 51°31'28"N

Longitude: -0.0797 / 0°4'47"W

OS Eastings: 533313.17415

OS Northings: 182388.863778

OS Grid: TQ333823

Mapcode National: GBR V7.7M

Mapcode Global: VHGQT.KYQ1

Entry Name: The Theatre Playhouse

Scheduled Date: 14 September 2016

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1433271

County: Hackney

Electoral Ward/Division: Hoxton East & Shoreditch

Built-Up Area: Hackney

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: St Leonard with S Michael, Shoreditch

Church of England Diocese: London


The buried deposits of The Theatre of 1576-77 and some buildings associated with the C12 Holywell Priory revealed during archaeological investigations.

Source: Historic England


The monument includes the buried deposits of The Theatre of 1576-77 and some buildings associated with the C12 Holywell Priory revealed during archaeological investigations. A 5m buffer zone has been added to the extent of scheduling for the protection and preservation of the monument.

The archaeological remains were discovered during archaeological investigations at 4–6 New Inn Broadway and 7–15 New Inn Yard, by Museum of London Archaeology. Natural brickearth levels are generally encountered at c12.50–13.00m OD, with the present ground surface in The Theatre area at between around 14.20–15.00m OD. On average, archaeological remains are reached immediately below surface level at about 13.20m OD.

It is clear that some of the medieval buildings in the area continued in use following the Dissolution. On the eastern side of the site at 4–6 New Inn Broadway were several buildings, including a two storey tenement probably that mentioned in the Burbage lease, with the Priory brew house adapted and reused. Remains relating to Holywell Priory were revealed beneath the deposits of The Theatre. In addition to the brew house, the bake house fronting onto New Inn Broadway, numerous ovens, and floor surfaces were discovered. Of note was a floor made of reused Westminster tiles that defined the entrance to an unknown building in the priory Outer Court, sealed beneath The Theatre yard. A truncated medieval wall was found underneath the existing basement of 86–90 Curtain Road surviving to a depth of c12.43m OD. From this evidence it is clear that remains from the medieval period which may have a direct association with The Theatre can survive under the present basements in places, although they will have been truncated.

The remains of the north-east quadrant of The Theatre itself and associated features and structures have been identified during archaeological works at the 4–6 New Inn Broadway site, exposed and recorded by Museum of London Archaeology in several investigations from 2008–2011. The outer wall of The Theatre is represented by two pier bases, one of brick and one of ragstone, that mark the position of the wall and which would have supported the timber superstructure. The brick pad was truncated to a depth of c13.40m OD. Approximately 3.8m to the south of the outer piers are the north side of The Theatre’s inner foundation wall. This consists of a brick foundation wall and a truncated square foundation pad that would have supported one of the structure’s main upright timbers, marking the division of one of the internal bays. Several other fragments of the substructure were recorded on the same alignment, some 5m long in total, which together allows for a curved reconstruction of the inner wall. A clay deposit with a distinct angled edge is at the western end of the foundation wall, which probably defines the north-eastern corner of the stage.

Adjacent to the square foundation pad to the east is a short section of brick floor, thought to mark the northern ingressus or entrance to the galleries from the yard. The bricks themselves show little sign of wear, which has led to the interpretation that they formed the base for a short flight of wooden steps. Assuming that steps were at a 45 degree angle the size of the brick flooring allows for 4 equal steps of 8”, and places the floor of the wooden galleries within The Theatre structure at 2”9’ (84cm) above that of the yard. The playhouse yard itself is a gravel surface sloping towards the south, which abuts the inner wall. A drip gully, showing the overhang of the Theatre roof to be 9”, is evident and has parallels with the excavated example at the Rose in Southwark.

In addition to the remains of the actual playhouse structure, numerous other features directly associated with The Theatre survive. On the eastern side of the 4–6 New Inn Broadway site a well preserved cobbled surface was recorded at 13.20m OD. This external surface, which contained ragstone, flint, sandstone and half a mill stone, was probably composed of material reused from the medieval precinct from within the footprint of the playhouse. A drain was set on an alignment perpendicular to the conjectured outer wall of The Theatre, running towards New Inn Broadway, and is thought to have taken water from a down-pipe connected to guttering on the roof out to the street, preventing rainwater damage to the outer wall.

To the north of the cobbled surface the priory brew house building was still in use and adapted to function as part of The Theatre operations. Modifications included the reconfiguration of the building, with new internal walls, doors and the insertion of a possible ‘kiosk’ structure. Artefacts from within the pebbled floor surface of the building included a thimble, a scabbard fitting and a roll of copper wire, lace chapes, pins and a costume bell, all of which would have been used in dress or costume making, and which suggests that the former brew house was a backstage costume store or workshop.

The overall interpretation of the site allows for the playhouse to be reconstructed as a 14-sided polygon with an external diameter of 22m. The remains compare very well with The Rose playhouse, which has been more fully excavated, and which is based upon The Theatre design. Theatregoers would have entered the playhouse venue from the east, the present New Inn Broadway, into a cobbled yard area. They could then go straight into the playhouse, the stage would have been facing the main entrance, and remain in the yard or use the ingressus to access the galleries and upper floors. Alternatively, the theatregoers could have turned to their right into the former brew house and kiosk area. Pottery from the internal yard surface included a fragment of a black-glazed red ware mug, a type often associated with beer, which may have been available from the kiosk area. Further behind, a door led from the old brew house into the yard to the north of The Theatre, but this may have been a private area reserved for actors and other staff. The archaeological findings support the documentary records which state that The Theatre was demolished in 1598, and also that the superstructure was systematically removed and taken to Bankside to be used in the construction of The Globe.

The following are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath them is included: the buildings above the remains, including their foundations and basement slabs where they exist: the modern overburden beneath the buildings: all external surfaces and the modern overburden beneath them. The basements to 11-15 New Inn Yard and the ground beneath it, where archaeological investigations indicate that no remains of the monument survive, are also excluded.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

The remains of The Theatre, constructed in 1576-77 and dismantled in 1598, and some medieval structures of Holywell Priory, are scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Historic importance: a monument of national (arguably international) historic importance for its association with important figures in the nation's literary history including William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe and Richard Burbage. The remains of the medieval Holywell Priory contribute to the historic importance of the monument;
* Literary significance: it is believed that Shakespeare's Hamlet (c1599-1602), and Marlowe's Dr Faustus (c1592), considered by some to be his masterpiece, and both highly important late-C16 literary pieces, were first performed at The Theatre, flagging the importance of the monument in the development of English literature;
* Survival: buried archaeological deposits pertaining to the north-east quadrant of The Theatre, including foundations, the yard, ingressus (internal entrance) and a possible kiosk, which incorporates medieval fabric of Holywell Priory, are preserved in situ; the rest of the monument is projected to survive beneath the existing buildings and structures on the site;
* Documentation: historic leases support and augment the archaeological findings, giving details on land ownership and leasing, and the construction, form and demolition of The Theatre;
* Rarity: one of only four sole-purpose Elizabethan playhouses thought to survive as archaeological monuments in London and the earliest known to have been polygonal in shape;
* Fragility; the recorded and projected buried archaeology of The Theatre are fragile and vulnerable to redevelopment;
* Potential: the potential to discover further structural remains of The Theatre and artefacts is high, further informing on The Theatre’s structural composition, our understanding of playhouse buildings in general and the lives of the people who attended them for their leisure;
* Period: the Elizabethan playhouses are a distinct monument type of the period, found only in London;
* Typological Group value: The Theatre is closely associated typologically with those playhouse remains already scheduled, The Rose and The Globe on Bankside; the dismantled parts of The Theatre were used in the construction of The Globe in 1599.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bowsher, Julian, Shakespeare's London Theatreland: Archaeology, History and Drama, (July 2012), 55-62
Stabler Heritage. London's Elizabethan and Jacobean Playhouses and Bear Baiting Arenas. January 2016
The Theatre: 7-15 New Inn Yard, Hackney. Museum of London Archaeology Evaluation Report. 2014

Source: Historic England

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