In 2008, a team of archaeologists from MOLA discovered the remains of The Theatre, one of London’s earliest playhouses, buried beneath the streets of East London.
Built in 1576, The Theatre was England’s first purpose-built, permanent playhouse – and the first to be known as a ‘theatre’. As home to William Shakespeare’s company the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from 1594-8, it is where plays such as Romeo and Juliet are believed to have been first performed.
The Theatre was the invention of James Burbage and
John Brayne, theatrical entrepreneurs who chose to build their playhouse in Shoreditch, an area just north of
London’s city walls.
The Theatre was a great success and by 1577 a second Shoreditch playhouse, The Curtain, was operating nearby.
As the sixteenth century progressed, more playhouses were built throughout London, establishing a thriving theatre culture in the capital.
Archaeologists from MOLA unearth the inner foundation wall of The Theatre
Money boxes were used to collect money at
The broken remains of money boxes were found in the excavation
In 1598, following a land-dispute, The Theatre was dismantled and the timbers were carried over the Thames to Southwark, where they were used to build a new playhouse – The Globe.
Since its discovery in 2008, The Theatre has been designated as Hackney’s first Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Alongside the remains of The Theatre, archaeologists found remnants of an older building – the Holywell Priory, built around 1127. The Theatre was built on the former site of the Priory, making use of some of its buildings.
In summer 2018 archaeologists from MOLA discovered medieval ovens belonging to the Holywell Priory
Today, The Theatre Courtyard Gallery brings the story of The Theatre to life in a brand-new exhibition, using elements of the archaeological site and objects from the dig to tell the fascinating story of Shakespeare’s long-lost Shoreditch playhouse.