Theatre Sites

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[Belle Sauvage Inn] [Blackfriars] [Bridewell] [Dorset Garden] [Mermaid] [Middle Temple Hall] [Salisbury Court] [Whitefriars]

The MERMAID began in 1951 as a private theatre at an old school hall in St John's Wood. It was formed by Bernard Miles and had an Elizabethan stage. In 1953 it staged performances at the Royal Exchange as part of the Coronation festivities which were well received. In October 1956 the City granted a lease of a blitzed Victorian warehouse at a peppercorn rent. Over the next couple of years it was converted to a permanent theatre retaining the thick walls and cast iron pillars. It had single tier seating for about 500 and a revolve stage. It was opened by the Lord Mayor in May 1959. It was sold in 1983 by which time Bernard Miles was no longer involved and has now become a conference centre.[website]

Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries the monk's refectory of BLACKFRIARS was utilised as a playhouse. In 1577 it was used by Richard Farrant for the Windsor Choirboys. Farrant himself lived below but died in 1580. James Burbage purchased it in 1596 but the local residents protested and the following year his son Richard leased it to the boys of the Chapel Royal. During this period coloured lighting and ghost effects were tried. In 1608 Richard Burbage and six others including Shakespeare formed a partnership and were able to regain use of it. It was closed by the Puritans in 1642 and demolished in 1655. Present day Playhouse Yard recalls its location. Shakespeare bought a house which had been the Blackfriars Gatehouse (at Ireland Yard) in 1613 for 140. He left it to his daughter Susannah but it was destroyed in the Great Fire.

The courtyard of the 15th century BELLE SAUVAGE INN on Ludgate Hill (near present Limeburner Lane) was a venue for plays including Marlowe's Dr Faustus. It was demolished in 1873. There are illustrations on the Collage website (search 'Sauvage').

The BRIDEWELL was constructed in 1994 in a disused Victorian swimming pool and laundry. The drained pool remains below the stage/seating area and is used as a band pit or for access to stage trap doors. Wrought iron balconies, pillars and staircases have been retained. The former laundry room serves as the bar and still has the Victorian washing machine and dryer. It stages lunchtime performances and productions of the Tower Theatre Company and Guildhall School of Music & Drama. [website]

The DORSET GARDEN THEATRE was built on the riverfront in the gardens of Dorset House, which had been destroyed in the Great Fire. Also known as the Duke's Theatre this magnificent Restoration building by Christopher Wren cost 9000 and opened in 1671. Patronised by the upper classes it seated 1000 and became the principal playhouse when Drury Lane burnt down in 1672. However in 1682 the company moved to Drury Lane and the venue was used by wrestlers and other acts. It was renamed the Queen's Theatre in 1689 and demolished in 1709 to become the site of timber yard and later the City of London School playground (plaque). There are images on the Collage website.

SALISBURY COURT THEATRE. Salisbury Court partly covers the site of Salisbury House, the town house of the Bishops of Salisbury from the 13th to 17th century, after which it came into the possession of the Earls of Dorset. A private theatre was built by Richard Gunnell and William Blagrove at a cost of 1000 in 1629. Plays were illegally performed during the Commonwealth but it was destroyed by soldiers in 1649. After the Restoration it was restored by William Beeston and was one of the first theatres to re-open. Samuel Pepys records visiting in September 1661 to see a performance of 'Tis a Pity She's a Whore' - he found the (female) audience more appealing than the play! It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 but its site is marked by a plaque.

WHITEFRIARS THEATRE. The refectory of the Whitefriars Monastery was converted into a private theatre in 1606 by Michael Drayton and Thomas Woodford. Admission was dearer than in the public theatres but everyone was seated and there was artificial light. It was used by companies of child actors until 1614 when they joined with a adult troupe and moved to the Hope. It was replaced by the Salisbury Court in 1629.

MIDDLE TEMPLE HALL was built between 1562 - 1573. Measuring 100' in length it has an 60' high oak double hammerbeam roof and a carved wooden screen. Until 1830 there was an open fireplace in the centre. Designed for the use of lawyers it was also used for entertainments especially at All Saints and Candlemass. In February 2002 an all-male company from Shakespeare's Globe performed Twelfth Night 400 years after it had originally been acted at the Hall. The Hall MAY be open 10-11:30 & 3-4 (check on 020 7427 4800). Guided tours can be arranged for small groups by written request to The Treasury Office, Middle Temple Lane, EC4Y 9AT.

For more information on Shakespeare's connections with Blackfriars have a look at the Hidden London website

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]
The collections of the Theatre Museum are now held by the V&A. [
website] 2009

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