Monday, 22 April 2013

Shakespeare in London

To mark Shakespeare’s birthday, which falls this week, we are here highlighting some of the sites in London that are associated with the Bard, and that we visit on various of our walks (note that it is not really practicable to visit them all on one walk, as they are in such disparate locations).

St Olave Silver Street (visited on our Wednesday morning “Historic Smithfield ... ” walk).  A church that Shakespeare would certainly have known, having lived for a while in Silver Street.  Burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and never rebuilt. The churchyard survives as a city garden.

Curtain Playhouse, Shoreditch (visited on our Thursday morning “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and Beyond” walk).  Plays by Shakespeare are known to have been performed here, and he is known to have performed here (see Julian Bowsher’s “Shakespeare’s London Theatreland”).  Built in 1577, and was pulled down some time in the 1620s.

The Theatre [Playhouse], Shoreditch (visited on our Thursday morning “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and Beyond” walk).  The first building in London devoted to the performance of plays.  Shakespeare is known to have performed here.  Built in 1576 on the site of the dissolved Holywell Priory, and pulled down in 1598, some of the building materials being used in the construction of the Globe.

George Inn, Southwark (visited on our Thursday afternoon “Historic Southwark” walk).  An inn Shakespeare is known to have frequented (see Pete Brown’s “Shakespeare’s Local”).  Burnt down in the Great Fire of Southwark in 1676, and rebuilt in 1677.

Globe Playhouse, Southwark (visited on our Thursday afternoon “Historic Southwark” walk).  “Shakespeare’s (own) playhouse, and the venue where many of his plays were first performed” (Bowsher). Built in 1599, and burnt down in a fire in 1613, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set some thatch alight during a performance of Henry the Eighth.  Rebuilt in 1614.  Fell into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by the Puritan Parliamentarians, and was pulled down in 1644.

Reconstruction, Globe Playhouse, Southwark (visited on our Thursday afternoon “Historic Southwark” walk (entry not included)).  Built by the late American  film director and all-round good guy Sam Wanamaker (memorialised, alongside Shakespeare, in nearby Southwark Cathedral).  Here it is possible to experience performances as the common man would have in the early seventeenth century, standing in the open as a “groundling”.

Rose Playhouse, Southwark (visited on our Thursday afternoon “Historic Southwark” walk).  Another venue where Shakespeare’s plays were performed.  Built in 1587, and demolished in 1606. The foundations were recently rediscovered and are preserved in the basement of an office building. Occasionally open to the public for performances.  And/or for perusal of the free display of artefacts uncovered during the archaeological excavation of the site (see also the Museum of London Archaeology Service  Monograph on the Rose and Globe by Bowsher and Miller). 

Cockpit (visited on our Friday morning “London Wall” walk).  This pub is built on the site of a house owned by Shakespeare in Ireland Yard (for which, according to the Deed of Conveyance in the City Archive, he paid £140), and burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666.

In nearby Playhouse Yard is the site of the - covered - Blackfriars Theatre, built in 1576 on the site of the dissolved Blackfriars Priory, and burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666. 

Bust of Shakespeare, Aldermanbury Square (visited on our Friday morning “London Wall” walk).  Situated in the ruins of the church of St Mary Aldermanbury, where Shakespeare’s colleagues Condell and Heminge, who after his death oversaw the publication of the First Folio of his works, were parishioners.  The church was burnt down during the Great Fire of 1666, and rebuilt by Wren in 1671-5, only to be destroyed during the terrible incendiary air raid of Sunday 29th December, 1940.  There is a faithful reconstruction, using salvaged materials, and Wren’s designs, in Fulton, Missouri!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Parallel Worlds (Part 2 - Roman)

While in Florence last week, we took the opportunity to travel by bus to Fiesole, a hilltop town just 5 miles to the North East of Florence itself. In particular we wanted to see the Roman Amphitheatre and other Roman ruins there. As mentioned in our previous blog post (about the Ponte Vecchio), we couldn't help but notice parallels between the features we were discovering in Italy and aspects of The Lost City of London - in this case Roman Londinium.

The Amphitheatre in Fiesole has been extensively restored over the years and is very well preserved. Built into the natural rock of a hill, it dates from the first century BC and is situated where the 'Cardo' - one of the Roman town's main streets - once led to the forum. It had a capacity of about three thousand people. 

By comparison the Roman Amphitheatre in London  - situated where the Guildhall Yard is today - was about twice as big, with seating all the way round. Built first in timber around 70AD, and upgraded to stone (with timber seating) in about 120AD, it had a capacity of six to seven thousand spectators, in a Roman city with a total population, at that time, of about twenty to thirty thousand. The seating would have been tiered around the performance arena. The Amphitheatre was abandoned in the 4th century AD, and all knowledge of its existence had pretty much vanished until the twentieth century

This significant Roman site was in fact only discovered in the 1980s during excavations prior to the building of the Guildhall Art Gallery. Today a dark circle in the Yard marks the line of the Amphitheatre's circumference, giving a good sense of its great size. 

 The basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery (which is normally accessible during the Art Gallery's opening hours)  houses an atmospheric exhibition space where you can see:

* The remains of the stone walls of the eastern entranceway which led into the arena. 
* Part of the wooden drainage system - a rare survival, thanks to the wet burial conditions.
* Remnants of the walls of two antechambers

This exhibition, together with the marking in the Yard above, provides a significant glimpse of the 'Lost' Roman City of Londinium - and it (naturally) features on our Friday afternoon walk, Tower to Temple (the Heart of the City).

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Parallel Worlds (Part 1 - Medieval)

Even when away on holiday we can't help noticing connections to the Lost City of London! We've just come back from a wonderful week in Florence and thought we'd show you a couple of interesting parallels between what we saw in today's Florence and the London of Medieval and Roman times. This blog post looks at a key Medieval parallel; part 2 will cover a Roman one.

The only bridge in Florence to survive the second World War is the Ponte Vecchio - 'Old Bridge' in Italian. It dates from 1345 (although there had been previous bridges in that location since at least 996). It was a real thrill to see (albeit in minature) something very similar to what (Old) London Bridge - demolished in 1831 - would have looked like in the Medieval period, with rows of buildings on either side.

The Ponte Vecchio, Florence (April 2013)

File:London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher.jpg

London Bridge (1616) by Claes Van Visscher

Ponte Vecchio, from 'Golden View'  on the South Bank
Early morning on the Ponte Vecchio
Jewellry shops on the Ponte Vecchio
In the case of the Ponte Vecchio, the buildings on either side of the narrow thoroughfare - thronging with tourists except for first thing in the morning - are today exclusively gold jewellery shops; when built the shops on the bridge had at first been occupied by butchers - who made use of the river below to dispose of their more unpleasant waste products. The butchers were eventually ousted by the powerful Medicis who disliked the smell.

The Medici family also  built a 'secret' walkway across the upper part of the bridge for their own private use, known as the Vasari Corridor (the upper storey is visible in the photograph below), connecting the Uffizi on the north bank to the Pitti Palace on the south bank.

The Vasari Corridor
Ponte Vecchio is a small bridge with only three arches, whereas London Bridge had nineteen! The Thames back then was a lot wider than either the present day Thames, or the Arno River in Florence. The buildings on London Bridge - 138 shops by 1358 - were a mixture of all sorts, and there were public latrines discharging into the river below, and heads on spikes on the south end.

The Ponte Vecchio was built just before the major outbreak of The Plague - known as the Black Death, which killed between a third and a half of Florence's total population in 1348, a similar proportion to the death toll when the Plague reached London later the same year. Many of the plague burials in London were in the Charter House - the site of which forms part of the Cross Rail archaeological excavation by the Museum of London. This location is on the route of our Wednesday morning walk - Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn.

PLEASE NOTE - Due to the security measures relating to the funeral of Lady Thatcher on Wednesday 17th April, we will not be able to offer either of our usual Wednesday walks on that date - back to normal on 24th April . (The Thursday and Friday walks will be available as usual on 18th and 19th April)