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Archaeology update: four playhouses and the Bear Garden.

THIS ARTICLE AIMS to provide a brief update on archaeological activity on the sites of London's Tudor and Stuart playhouses. It is intended that it will provide readers with an understanding of the current situation with regard to archaeology and the playhouses and to create a wider awareness of the various forms of archaeological work that has taken place but is not always reported on. A bibliography at the end of this article will provide details of all reports referred to.

The history of archaeological activity in relation to London's playhouses begins with the Museum of London's excavations at the site of the Rose playhouse in 1988-89. Prior to the discovery of the remains of the foundations of the Rose, the main forms of evidence concerning the type of structures in which plays were performed consisted of maps, panoramic drawings, and building accounts, coupled with the written accounts of contemporary travelers. The image that appeared from these forms of evidence was, at best, confusing and often contradictory. Whilst the evidence from the Rose excavation has not dispelled debate about these early structures, it has provided dramatic evidence of the foundations of one such playhouse and provides an invaluable tool to aid interpretation of the records of (among others) Philip Henslowe and the maps of John Norden.

The uncovering of the remains of the Rose had a profound effect on the theater world and a similar one on the way in which archaeology is conducted in England. The Rose excavation (and the furor that surrounded it) resulted in the Department of Environment (1990) publishing planning guidance--Planning Policy Guidance 16, colloquially known as PPG 16--providing guidance on how archaeological remains should be dealt with in the planning and development process. As a result of this, archaeology is now a material consideration in the granting of planning consent, with most archaeological work paid for by commercial developers in advance of and during the course of development. The principle of the "polluter" paying for archaeology has lead to the increased privatization of archaeological work, the awarding of archaeological contracts primarily by competitive tender, and a move towards preservation in situ to avoid time-consuming (and sometimes expensive) archaeological excavation. This philosophy of preservation in situ (also conceived as a result of the backlog of unpublished material from excavations in the 1970s and 1980s) should provide a framework for the comprehension of policies followed on sites to be discussed in this article.

PPG 16 provides planning authorities with a staged approach to the consideration of archaeological remains that may survive on a proposed development site and states that where there are "nationally important archaeological remains ... that are affected by a proposed development there should be a presumption in favour of their physical preservation" (DoE 1990, A8). Preservation in situ of archaeological remains does not, however, mean that they are preserved and available for public viewing and consumption but that they are often "entombed" beneath building foundations without the development impacting on the remains.

After discussing the Rose, the article will move on to look at work on the sites of the Globe, the Bear Gardens, the Boar's Head, the Hope, and the steps taken towards protecting the sites of London's other Tudor and Stuart playhouses.

The Rose

The story of the excavation of the Rose and the political fallout surrounding the excavation have been dealt with elsewhere (Blatherwick 2000, Bowsher & Blatherwick 1990, Bowsher 1998, Eccles 1990), and it is not the focus of this article to deal with issues already reported on. It is worth, however, looking at the preservation of the Rose and the future that the site holds.

When the developers received their final planning consent in the summer of 1989, their new building (now named Rose Court) was designed in such a ,way as to ensure that it straddled the majority of the remains and that the pile foundations had minimal impact on known archaeological deposits. It was also designed so that a basement space was created in which the remains of the Rose were preserved.

The preservation of the archaeological remains was not a straightforward issue, as the site is located on the alluvial soils of Bankside, which contain layers of peat originating from a prehistoric regression of the Thames. This damp, anaerobic environment was one that ensured the organic survival of the Rose but one that had been affected by archaeological intervention. The problem facing conservators and soil specialists, therefore, was not only that of preventing the deterioration of the organic material related to the structure of the Rose (e.g., wooden planks forming part of the foundation of the stage, timber drains running under the stage area, etc.) but of preventing the deterioration of the alluvium on which the site was based. One of the biggest concerns was that the alluvium and peat (which had been open to the environment during archaeological work) might have been affected by that exposure to such an extent that it would deteriorate once the site was reburied. The challenge, therefore, was to design a protective reburial regime that would not only protect the remains of the Rose during construction work but would also rehydrate the exposed archaeology and soils. At the same time, it was necessary to introduce a monitoring system that would allow for checks to be made to ensure that the protection was working. Although only intended as a relatively short-term measure, the last thing wanted was to rebury the Rose and then find out (on reopening) that it had decayed. Such a procedure had never been undertaken in Britain before.

The scheme eventually devised to preserve the remains of the Rose during and after the construction of Rose Court was that they were sealed under a protective layer of terram (an inert geotextile). The terram was then covered with a layer of salt and lime-free sand, with the sand being held in place by thick polythene sheeting and then secured by a weak mix of concrete. The concrete, while visually unattractive, served the purpose of preventing the evaporation of water and the movement of sand, while also providing a hard crust during the construction program. Water was slowly reintroduced to the archaeology and soils by a leaky-pipe system (normally used by horticulturists) being installed throughout the sand, with the water flow being controlled by a ballcock. This is still in place to maintain the water content of the clays. Saturation of the remains is achieved by the concrete cover being partially submerged under a pool of water.

To provide a means of checking that the protection was working, monitoring tubes were installed in the protective sand projecting out of the concrete cover. These enable regular monitoring of the Rose to be undertaken--as it now has been for the past decade. Results from this monitoring program (which looks as water level, chemical composition of the water, and so on, in an attempt to assess whether any decay is taking place) indicate that the remains of the Rose have been stabilized. This analytical conclusion has also been enhanced by visual inspection undertaken when monitoring tubes have been replaced: the visual inspection indicating that the alluvial clays (cracked and fissured when the site was reburied) have rehydrated.

The planning consent included a condition that the developer deposit a sum of money, in the keeping of Southwark Council, for the excavation of the site of the Rose to be completed and the remains put on display. However, the calculated costs of completing the excavation and developing an exhibition space greatly outweigh that sum. With this in mind, Southwark Council released some of the money to the Rose Theatre Trust (a charity established in 1990 with the aims of preserving the remains of the Rose and of making those remains accessible to the public by the completion of the excavation) to establish a temporary public exhibition on the site. The exhibition opened in April 1999 and is (at the time of writing) open for public access. It has succeeded in raising public consciousness about the Rose but has been disappointing in terms of revenue; the Rose Theatre Trust is now looking elsewhere for the capital funding required to complete the excavation of the site and put its archaeological remains on permanent display.

This autumn (2001) will probably see the temporary closure of the exhibition as activity on site moves into a new phase with the excavation of a trial pit on the eastern side of the Rose site against the foundations of Southwark Bridge. The work is to be funded by English Heritage and has the dual purpose of assessing the survival of archaeological remains contemporary or associated with the Rose and assessing the geotechnical/engineering options for ensuring that the site can be made watertight for exhibition purposes. This work will be managed by the author.

The Globe

Subsequent to the 1989 archaeological evaluation of the Anchor Terrace site (then in the ownership of Hanson plc), on which the partial remains of the Globe were discovered (Blatherwick 2000, Blatherwick & Gurr 1992, McCudden 1989 & 1990), the remains of the Globe were covered with similar protection as that installed at the Rose. Further archaeological work was also undertaken within the basement of Anchor Terrace building. This consisted of trial pits and geophysical surveys, with the dual purpose of examining archaeological and geotechnical/engineering conditions on the site to assess the state of archaeological survival beneath the building and the structural integrity of the Listed Anchor Terrace building (Mackie et al. 1996, McCann 1998). Due to the national and international importance of the known archaeological remains on the site, planning guidance recommending the presumption in favor of their physical preservation provided the framework for approaches to the site.

The archaeological trial pits within the basement indicated that remains, possibly associated with the Globe, did survive beneath the Anchor Terrace building despite the fact that it was sitting on a massive concrete raft foundation. A tentative diameter for the Globe playhouse was forwarded (Blatherwick & Gurr 1992) and quickly dismissed as presenting a scheme encompassing a stair turret leaning against the frame "like a drunk clinging to a lamp post" (Orrell 1992, 333).

A geophysical survey undertaken in 1990 failed to recognize that Anchor Terrace sat on a huge concrete raft foundation, but ground penetrating radar had undertaken in 1996 (Mackie et al. 1996) indicated that the (GPR) optimum correspondence between recorded anomalies and potential structural elements associated with the Globe lay within a projected diameter of 77 to 87 feet. A further ground-penetrating radar survey with improved techniques and data processing was undertaken within the basement of Anchor Terrace in February 1998, and concurred with the preliminary conclusions, in relation to building diameter, from the 1996 survey. The 1998 report went further in its conclusion stating that "possible significant remains of the Globe have been identified beneath Anchor Terrace and that these are more likely to have been associated with a structure whose external diameter was close to 72 feet rather than anything larger" (McCann 1998, 26). Geophysical survey does not provide "concrete" evidence and it is known that "tightly constrained sites in city centres do not offer suitable conditions for geophysical techniques, with the possible exception of GPR" (David 1995, 7), but it is hoped that another phase of geophysical survey will take place within the basement of Anchor Terrace in the future.

During the mid-1990s Hanson plc sold the Anchor Terrace site and its adjacent parking lot to a development company based in north Southwark. As a result of their development proposals for the site (refurbishing the Listed Building, constructing new flats on the eastern side of the site and protectively burying--with no development above--the remains of the Globe), they received consent for the work to go ahead. In addition to the protective burial of the site, the development company undertook to mark out the recorded remains of the Globe on the ground and mount a notice-board display on the Park Street frontage of the site. The development proceeded with the display providing an introduction to the archaeology of the site.

The Bear Gardens

In 1995 the Museum of London began a program of archaeological work in advance of development on a site known as Benbow House (immediately east of "Shakespeare's Globe"). The work had the aims of uncovering evidence of medieval buildings known to front the Southwark waterfront, and also to examine evidence for the survival of two possible animal-baiting arenas.

Due to planning control on the development site, a program of evaluation and excavation was designed with the development designed in such a way as to have reduced impact on the site's archaeology. During the course of the archaeological work (Mackinder & Blatherwick 2000), remains of medieval buildings fronting the Thames were recorded along with remains though to be associated with the Bear Gardens. These remains provisionally interpreted as being of a polygonal structure and approximately 16 meters (52 feet, 6 inches) in diameter were not fully excavated and have been preserved in situ beneath the new development, Deposits containing both horse and dog bones showing butchery marks were found associated with the remains as was evidence of the site's development and change to industrial uses.

The Boar's Head

In advance of development proposals for the site of the Boar's Head, desk-based assessment work (Blatherwick 1999a) indicated that post-medieval archaeological deposits were likely to survive on the site. On site evaluation work has taken place but the results are not known to the author. The site still remains undeveloped to date.

The Hope

Recent work by the Museum of London Archaeology Service is interpreted as having located remains associated with the Hope--the playhouse that Philip Henslowe contracted Jacob Meade and Gilbert Katherens to build for him. Henslowe's instructions to the men were to demolish the existing Bear Gardens and erect a playhouse modeled on the Swan.

Although there has been doubt over the location of the Hope in relation to the demolished Bear Gardens, archaeological work would appear to confirm that Henslowe's builders moved the new playhouse to the south of the Bear Gardens so that it was built on land within one ownership (Braines 1924, 98). Documentary evidence of successive property leases (Blatherwick 1999b) may indicate that the land available for the construction of the Hope was only 80 feet wide on its north-to-south axis.

To date the only public report on the archaeological work at the Hope is in The Sunday Telegraph (22 April 2001). The site has subsequently been protectively backfilled and redeveloped with the remains being preserved in situ.

English Heritage Report

As a result of archaeological work, particularly at the sites of the Rose and Globe, two major outcomes became apparent:

* that archaeological remains relating to London's Tudor and Stuart playhouses did survive despite successive generations of development

* the massive public interest generated by the survival of these sites.

With this in mind, English Heritage commissioned this author (then-working as a freelance archaeologist) to undertake a "desk-based assessment" of the known sites of London's Tudor and Stuart playhouses and to assess their potential to survive as archaelogical sites. Desk-based assessments are (as a result of PPG 16) a common tool in the archaeology/development world with the Institute of Field Archaeologist's (1999) defining an assessment as a collation of written and graphic evidence to identify the likely character, extent, quality, and worth of the known or potential archaeological resource. The purpose of an assessment is to gain information about the potential archaeological resource on a site, in order to be able to assess the likely impact of a proposed development, enable strategies for the archaeological resource to be formulated and inform professional judgments. In addition an assessment should aim to assess the impact that previous centuries of development may have had on a site.

The report presented to English Heritage in 1998 (Blatherwick 1998) addressed the sites of twenty-two playhouses (plus the Davies Bear Garden) with locations, provided documentary and historical background to them, interpreted archaeological evidence from archaeological sites work within the vicinity of each location, and provided an assessment of potential for the archaeological survival of each playhouse. One of the striking aspects of the report was the "discovery" that of the known playhouse locations where archaeological remains are expected to survive, apparently only the Rose survives within property boundaries that has not been subject subsequent division. Other sites have been subject to division which would mean that even if development were to take place, the entire historic sites would not be available for study. In that sense along, the Rose would appear to be unique.

The report is used by English Heritage to enable them to make informed comment should any of these sites be earmarked for development or ground works activity.


Since 1989 there has been a huge increase in the amount of archaeological information available in relation to the study of London's Tudor and Stuart playhouse, and it is hoped that this article provides a brief introduction and review to the existing state of knowledge. As archaeologists, we work within a commercial environment serving the interests of the client, the archaeology, and the public. Development now provides the opportunity for professional archaeologists to examine sites but invariably does not provide that opportunity to the interested and informed public or academic researcher. "Sufficient interest" (Gurr 1992) to be involved with aspects of our cultural heritage is a commercial consideration.


The bibliography consists of published and unpublished sources. The unpublished sources are reports that have been commercially produced for clients and are not publicly available. They often provide the raw data for the material used in published sources and (as such) are referenced her.

Published Sources

Blatherwick, S. 2000. "The Archaeology of Entertainment: London's Tudor and Stuart Playhouses." In London Underground: The Archaeology of a City, ed. I. Haynes, H. Sheldon, and L. Hannigan. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

--. 1997. "The Evaluation of the Globe Theatre." In Shakespeare's Globe Rebuilt, ed. J. R. Mulryne, and M. Shewring, 66-80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Blatherwick, S., and A. Gurr. 1992. "Shakespeare's Factory: Archaeological Evaluations on the Site of the Globe Theatre." Antiquity 66, no. 251: 315-28. Also published in The Design of The Globe, ed. A. Gurr, R. Mulryne, and M. Shewring, (London: International Shakespeare Globe Centre, 1993).

Bowsher, J. M. C. and Blatherwick, S. 1990. "The Structure of the Rose." In New Issues in the Reconstruction of Shakespeare's Theatre ed. F. J. Hildy; 55-78. Proceedings of the conference held at the University of Georgia, February 16-18, 1990. Oxford: Peter Lang.

Bowsher, J. 1998. The Rose Theatre: An Archaeological Discovery. London: Museum of London.

Braines, W. W. 1924. The Site of the Globe Playhouse Southwark. London: Hodder & Stoughton.

David. A. 1995. Geophysical Survey in Archaeological Field Evaluation: English Heritage. Research and Professional Services Guideline No. 1.

Department of the Environment. 1990. Planning Policy Guidance 16. Archaeology and Planning.

Eccles. C, 1990. The Rose Theatre. London: Nick Hem Books.

--.1992. "Cultural Property and `Sufficient Interest': The Rose and Globe sites." International Journal of Cultural Property 1:9-25.

Institute of Field Archaeologists. 1999. Standard and Guidance for Archaeological Deskbase assessment. 2nd ed.

Mackinder, A., and Blatherwick, S. 2000. Bankside: Excavations at Benbow House, Southwark, London SEI. Archaeology Studies Series III. Museum of London Archaeology Service.

McCudden, S. 1990. "The Discovery of the Globe Theatre." London Archaeologist 6: 143-44.

Orrell, J. 1992. "Spanning the Globe," Antiquity 66, no. 251: 329-33.

Sunday Telegraph. "Elizabethan theatre found under car park concrete," 22 April 2001.

Unpublished Sources

Blatherwick, S. 1999a. Hotel and Other Associated Uses, Middlesex Street, London E1. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service.

--. 1999b. Empire Warehouse, 1 Bear Gardens, 2 Rose Alley and 58 Park Street, Southwark, London SE1. An Archaeological Desk-Based Assessment.

--. 1992. Anchor Terrace Car Park. The Archaeological Considerations in Relation to Redevelopment. London: Museum of London.

--. 1991. Report on the Archaeological Evaluation at 1/15 Anchor Terrace, Southwark Bridge Road, London SE1, London: Museum of London.

Mackie, P.C., McCann, W.A., and Brown, A. 1996, The Globe Theatre Site. A Geophysical Survey: Assessment of Potential for Further Analysis. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service.

McCann, W. A. Site of the Globe Theatre: A Geophysical Survey. London: Museum of London Archaeology Service.

McCudden, S. 1989, Report on Evaluation at Anchor Terrace Car Park, Park Street, SE1. London: Museum of London, Department of Greater London Archaeology.

SIMON BLATHERWICK is a Director of the Rose Theatre Trust and a principal archaeologist with Gifford & Partners Ltd. (London). He co-directed the excavation of the Rose Theatre in the late 1980s and has recently directed an "evaluation" to the east of the Rose Theatre, within the Little Rose Estate. This provided further evidence of the high quality of archaeological preservation within the historic property boundaries and located a post- and plank-lined ditch, thought to be the eastern boundary ditch of the estate on which the Rose was built. In addition to managing archaeological work on large infrastructure and development projects within the southeast of England, he is presently working on further documentary and archaeological assessment of London's Tudor and Stuart playhouses.
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Author:Blatherwick, Simon
Publication:Shakespeare Studies
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jan 1, 2002
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