THEATRE SITES - Southwark & Bankside

Additional Information


[Bear Gardens] [Globe] [Hope] [Sam Wanamaker] [Jerwood Space] [Menier Chocolate Factory] [Old Vic] [Rose] [National] [NT Studio] [Southwark Cathedral] [Southwark Playhouse] [Unicorn] [Young Vic]

Southwark houses the purpose-built UNICORN THEATRE for Children in Tooley Street, part of the More London development. Although founded in 1947 it never had a home of its own. The new building was designed by Keith Williams Architects and features a main auditorium plus a smaller studio theatre. A mixture of materials have been used including glass, engineering bricks and copper cladding. [website]

Between the Reformation in 1539 and 1905 when it became SOUTHWARK CATHEDRAL this was the parish chuch of St Saviours. It was the burial place of the Jacobean dramatists John Fletcher & Philip Massinger and Philip Henslowe, who became a churchwarden. Shakespeare's brother Edmund was also interred here in 1607 and is commemorated by an inscribed stone in the choir floor. In the south aisle is a recumbent alabaster figure of Shakespeare against a relief background of 17th century Southwark. It was carved in 1912 by Henry McCarthy. Above this is the Shakespeare Window designed in 1954 by Christopher Webb to replace one destroyed by bombing in 1941. On the left are characters from 'Midsummer Nights Dream' & 'Twelfth Night' above Falstaff and Portia with Jaques & Touchstone from 'As You Like It'. In the centre are Ariel, Prospero & Caliban from 'The Tempest'. On the right are characters from the tragedies; Romeo & Juliet, Richard II & III, Othello, King Lear, Lady Macbeth and Hamlet. Along the bottom are depicted the seven ages of man. Alongside the Shakespeare memorial is one to Sam Wanamaker, responsible for the reconstruction of the Globe Theatre. [website]

The reconstructed Globe known as SHAKESPEARE'S GLOBE was instigated by Sam Wanamaker. After many difficulties a 125 year lease was granted in the 1980s for a nominal rent and work progressed as and when funds were available. It opened in 1996 with 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' on a temporary stage. Sadly both Sam and the architect Theo Crosby died just before this event. Following extensive research authentic materials and construction methods were used in the re-building undertaken by McCurdy & Co. It has some splendid gates decorated with flora & fauna mentioned in Shakespeare's plays. There is an excellent exhibition (charge) which includes a tour of the theatre when not in use. Performances are given April - October but there is lots happening throughout the year including an education programme and active Friend's organisation. [website]

Within the Globe complex is the SAM WANAMAKER Theatre which provides a candlelit winter venue. It is based on Jones's drawings (held in Worcester College, Oxford) to convert a Royal Cockpit in Drury Lane into a playhouse, which probably accounts for its shape.

BEAR GARDENS marks the site of of a bull & bear baiting ring active c1540-1613, and rebuilt in 1583. Following the fire at the Globe Henslowe put in a movable stage and utilised this as the HOPE THEATRE, modelled on the nearby Swan. One of the first plays written for it was Ben Johnson's 'Bartholomew Fair'. It was shared with the animal baiting until the death of Henslowe in 1616 when the players left and it was dismantled in 1656 after there had been several accidents. A Georgian warehouse on the site (pictured) was taken on by Sam Wanamaker as premises from which the rebuilding of the Globe was organised. It served as offices, exhibition and education centre but these have now all moved to the new site.

The Museum of London archaeological department carried out evaluations/excavation at 27 Bankside in 1999 (BAK99) and 20-22 New Globe Walk in 2000 (NGW00). A 'pond for dead dogs' contained bones from mastiff-sized dogs and horses (possibly fed to them) and probable kennel buildings constructed from re-used ship timbers. An angled brick foundation, likely to be Henslowe's Hope, was found beneath a demolished 1950s building and preserved. Evidence was found of the site's subsequent use for the manufacture of pottery and glass and later ironworks. [website]

The ROSE was built by Philip Henslowe in 1587 and staged Titus Andronicus, Henry VI and plays by Marlowe including Dr Faustus. It was a 14-sided wood and plaster building, part thatched and measuring 72' across. Alterations were made in 1592 to increase its capacity by a third. Overshadowed by the Globe, it was demolished soon after the lease expired in 1605. The remains were found in 1989 when 70% was excavated by the Museum of London. There was a campaign to display it as part of an exhibition but again it probably lost out to the Globe. It was preserved under sand and water within Rose Court which was built on the site. It is open to the public most Saturdays and stages some performances. A blue plaque was unveiled by Sir Ian McKellan on 12 Jan 2006. The Rose was depicted in the film ''Shakespeare in Love' for which a full size replica was built.

The GLOBE was built in 1599 by Cuthbert & Richard Burbage with materials from the dismantled Theatre in Shoreditch. Its sign showed Hercules holding up the heavens. It was used in the summer months and prices were 1d, 2d or 3d. In 1613 a cannon set fire to the thatched roof and the theatre was destroyed. It re-opened the next year but was closed by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished in 1644. Its location was marked only by a plaque in Park Street on the site of a former bottling plant. When Sam Wanamaker, an American actor-director, saw this in 1949 he was determined to rebuild the Globe. The original site was excavated in 1989 but much of it is below Southwark Bridge Road and the listed Anchor Terrace. It has been marked out in the courtyard of the new development and there are explanatary boards along with the plaque.

The MENIER CHOCOLATE FACTORY was built in 1870 to French designs and used until WWII when it became engineering works. Abandoned in the 1980s the building became vandalized until it was purchased in 1992 by the London Bridge Property Company. The theatre is a flexible studio space seating up to 190 with new lighting and sound equipment. It stages a diverse range of productions and is available for hire. There is also a restaurant and gallery and rehearsal rooms and artists studios are planned. Box Office 020 7907 7060. [website]

SOUTHWARK PLAYHOUSE opened in 1993 in a building that had been a 19th century tea & coffee warehouse, 20th century engineering workshops and a Filipino church (pictured). It relocated in 2006 to railway arches near London Bridge Station allowing it to double its capacity to 150. It has now been moved once again to Newington Causeway (off route). [website]

The JERWOOD SPACE opened in 1998 in a former Victorian school. Old pictures suggest that an upper storey has been lost at some time. The conversion was financed by the Jerwood Foundation and the design by Paxton Locher used as many of the original features as possible. It provides rehearsal spaces with technical facilities, charged according to client's resources. The former bicycle sheds have been rebuilt as a gallery and cafe open to the public. In 2003 a glazed area known as the 'Glasshouse' was added by Satellite Design Workshop. The building was extended in 2006 with the addition of 2 studios, a green room and meeting rooms on the roof designed by Munkenbeck & Marshall. [website]

The YOUNG VIC was founded in 1970 as part of the National but became independant in 1974. It was built on the site of some bombed shops incorporating the tiled butcher's. The death of 54 people following a direct hit on the bakers on the corner of Greet Street is recorded. It stages new and classic works, some in association with the RSC, and seeks to encourage young audiences and performers. The building was intended to last five years so by 2000 was crumbling. The Young Vic went on 'Walkabout' while the theatre was rebuilt from 2004. It re-opened in October 2006 with the addition of two smaller flexible spaces. There are welcoming public areas with bar/restaurant and improved technical infrastructure and backstage facilities. [website]

The National Theatre's STUDIO for research and development is situated along from the Old Vic. It provides a workspace where artists, directors and writers can experiment and develop their skills. Work is produced not only for the theatre but also other mediums at home and abroad. The 1958 building was purchased in 1998 and listed in 2006. It underwent a 6 million redevelopment to add a second workspace and new facilities for dance and music theatre. It also provides a home for the NT Archive and the education departmment's training and project work. It is dedicated to Max Rayne, chairman from 1971 to 1988.

The OLD VIC opened in 1816 as the Royal Coburg Theatre and became the Royal Victoria (Music) Hall in 1833. From 1880 it was transformed into a temperance venue by Emma Cons. Later her niece Lilian Baylis put on quality drama including Shakespeare such that it became the home of the National Theatre in 1963-76. It seats 1067 and was purchased by the Old Vic Theatre Trust for 3.5m in 1998. Details of its history and other information is on the website

The NATIONAL THEATRE was first proposed in 1848 but was not opened until 1976 in a building designed by Denys Lasdun. The story of this long process is told in an exhibition 'Stage by Stage' in the Olivier Circle Gallery or a publication sold in the RNT bookshop. It is actually 3 theatres; the open-stage Olivier seating 1150, the proscenium-arch Lyttelton seating 890 and the flexible Dorfman seating up to 300. The foyers are open 10am - 11pm Mon - Sat plus Sundays when there is a performance with free exhibitions & music, a specialist bookshop and places to eat & drink. Backstage tours are available (charge). The website includes virtual tours. The archive can be consulted by appointment tel 020 7820 3512. Learn more about some productions on the Stagework website.


For more information on the Elizabethan theatres of Southwark have a look at the Hidden London website
For an article on Wooden Playhouses see

Shakespeare's Globe Library & Archive holds various editions of plays by Shakespeare and his contempories, documents on 16th & 17th century England, theatre history, information on the reconstruction of the Globe, Playboxes for all past performances and audio/video archive. Open Tue - Thurs 10:30-4 to bona fide researchers. Tel 020 7902 1580

Edward Alleyn, who was Henslowe's principal actor as well as his son-in-law, endowed Dulwich College which has papers relating to the running of the Rose, including Henslowe's accounts. Contact the archivist on 020 8299 9201 for more information.

The following hold theatrical material if you are interested in further research.
Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin's Street, WC2H 7HP. Tel: 020 7641 4636. Open Mon - Fri 10-8 & Sat 10-5. [
Westminster Archives [
more info] [website]
London Metropolitan Archives [
more info] [website]
The collections of the Theatre Museum are now held by the V&A. [
website] 2019

route & what to see] [Blackfriars theatre walk] [walks list]