Category Archives: London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays

London Stone

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

London Stone (Henry VI Part II)

P1040271 - Copy.JPG

The so-called “London Stone” now stands at 111  Cannon Street, although unfortunately in an easily overlooked position at street level.


From 1798 it had  been  incorporated into the south wall of the church of St Swithin London Stone, and was preserved when the church was demolished in 1957, according to a stipulation in the conditions for the redevelopment of the site.


Previous to that it had stood in the middle of the street, and was apparently used as a place from which to make important public pronouncements throughout the Middle Ages, being evidently richly endowed with  symbolic significance.


During the failed rebellion of 1450 that ended with the “Harvest of the Heads” of the leaders, one of the same, Jack Cade, alias Mortimer,  struck the stone with his sword, and declared himself to be “Lord of this City”, an act  immortalised thus by Shakespeare in “Henry VI, Part II”, Act IV, Scene VI (London, Cannon Street): “Now is Mortimer Lord of this City.  And here, sitting upon London-stone, I charge and command that, of the city’s cost, the pissing-conduit run nothing but claret wine this first year of our reign”.

The first (Lord) Mayor of London, appointed in 1189, was Henry Fitz-Ailwyn de Londonestone, who evidently hailed from hereabouts.  And the  recorded history of the stone extends back even beyond the Medieval period and into the Saxon: it is referred to in a document of Athelstan, the first  Saxon King of All England (924-39).  Indeed, it is possible, although not proven, that before that, it  was associated in some way with  the Roman “Governor’s Palace” complex that once stood nearby, and now forms part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument substantially under Cannon Street Station (it   has  been postulated, plausibly, that it served as a milliarium, or centre-stone, from which Roman roads radiated and distances were measured).  According to one of many romantic myths surrounding the stone, it was the very one which Brutus used to mark the city of Troia Nova, and “So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish”.  As Leo Hollis put it, in his book “The Stones of London”: “We will never know [its true origin], and perhaps that is as it should be”.

Ely Palace

Close-up of model of Ely Palace - Copy.JPG

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Ely Palace (Richard II)

Ely Palace was originally built in around 1293.  John of Gaunt came to live here after his own Savoy Palace was destroyed in the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.  In a scene in Shakespeare’s  “Richard II”, he utters his famous dying “This England” speech here.  The palace’s gardens were said to produce the finest strawberries in London, in honour of which a “Strawberrie Fayre” is still held nearby  every June.  In a scene in “Richard III”, Gloster says to Ely: “My Lord of Ely, when I was last in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there; I do beseech you, send me some of them”.

The palace’s Great Hall was famed for its banquets.  According to surviving records, the guests at one such  in 1531, who included  the Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, managed over the course of five days to work their way through 24 oxen, 51 cows, 91 pigs, 100 sheep, 168 swans, 444 pigeons and 720 chickens – not to mention 340 dozen, that is, 4080, larks!

In 1576, the palace was ordered by Elizabeth I to be leased to  her  favourite Sir Christopher Hatton, for a rent of £10 a year, ten loads of hay, and a rose picked at mid-summer.   It remained more or less continuously  in the possession of the Hatton family until the death of the last Lord Hatton in 1772, when it was finally demolished to make way for what is now Hatton Garden.

Boar’s Head, Eastcheap

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Boar’s Head, Eastcheap (Henry IV Part I; Henry IV Part II; Henry V)

Eastcheap was first recorded in around 1100 as Eastceape. Like Cheapside, it takes its name from the Old English  “ceap”, meaning market, in reference to the market that was situated here.

After facelift - Copy.jpg

Old Boar's Head - Copy.JPG

Boar's Head - Copy.JPG

The Boar’s Head, where Falstaff and Mistress Quickly frolicked, stood here until it was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666.  Its approximate site is presently occupied by the  former Hill and Evans vinegar warehouse, built in the Victorian Gothic style by the architect Robert Lewis Roumieu in 1868, and characteristically memorably described by Ian Nairn as ” …  the scream that you wake on at the end of a nightmare”.


Blackfriars Priory in 1530 (St Andrew's) - Copy.jpg

Another in the  occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Blackfriars (Henry VIII)

Wall - Copy.JPG

Blackfriars Priory was built  in 1278, and dissolved in the reign of  Henry VIII in 1538, and the site was subsequently substantially destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.


It was in the Parliament Hall of the Priory in 1529 that the Legatine Court convened to discuss Henry VIII’s proposed annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon (which was intended to free him to wed Anne Boleyn).  The Court, including  the Papal Legate, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, and the King’s representative, the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey,  finally ruled against the King, with far-reaching and long-lasting consequences.

Parliament Hall = Second Blackfriars Theatre - Copy.jpg

The first “Blackfriars Theatre” was built, on the site  of the Great Hall of Blackfriars Priory, by Richard Farrant, in 1576; the second, on the site of the aforementioned Parliament Hall, by  James Burbage, between 1596-1600, remaining in use until it was closed down by the Puritans in 1642, and then ending up being demolished in 1655.    The  “Second Blackfriars”, was covered, and was used by theatre companies – including, from 1608, Shakespeare’s “King’s Men” –  throughout the year, including in the  winter,  when the open-air “Globe” and “Rose”  playhouses in Southwark were rendered unusable by bad weather.  It  was also an “all-seater”,  seating 700 in some – although not much – comfort, and charging 6d a head (in contrast, the “Globe” seated or stood more (2-3000), but charged less (from 1d a head)).  It was extremely popular with the fashionable set, and equallly profitable.  Shakespeare owned a part share of it (he also owned a property, once the priory gate-house, in nearby Ireland Yard).  The  recently completed “Wanamaker Playhouse”, inside the reconstruction of the “Globe”, is similar in design to the “Second Blackfriars”, and conveys a real sense of what it would have been like.  A   sense of enclosed space, of intimacy, of proximity to the players, of exclusiveness perhaps.  Of  being surrounded by the shadowy  light of dancing candles and reflecting costume jewellery.  And of being surrounded by sound, and in interludes by the sound of music (it is thought that the music in some of Shakespeare’s later  plays, most particularly “A Winter’s Tale” (1609), “Cymbeline” (1610) and “The Tempest” (1610), was not only well suited to, but perhaps also  specifically written for, an indoor arena).


Baynard’s Castle

The first in an occasional series on “London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays” …

Baynard’s Castle (Richard III)

The first Baynard’s Castle was originally built to a little to the south-west of St Paul’s Cathedral by Ralph Baynard, one of William I’s noblemen, in the late eleventh century, and demolished in the early thirteenth, after the baronial conspiracy against King John in 1212, in which the Constable, Robert FitzWalter, was implicated  (the castle was possibly rebuilt afterwards).  Blackfriars Priory was built on the site in 1278.

Baynard's Castle.JPG

The second Baynard’s Castle was built  in a river-front location in the early  fourteenth century, around 1338, and rebuilt in early fifteenth, around 1428, and possibly again in the late fifteenth.  It was used by a succession of kings and  queens in the late fifteenth to sixteenth  centuries, before being essentially completely  destroyed in the Great Fire in the seventeenth.  It was the London headquarters of the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, and  Edward IV was hailed king here, in 1461 (moreover,   Richard III is believed to have asserted his claim to the throne, over that of Edward’s infant sons, here, in 1483).  Both Lady Jane Grey and, nine days later, Mary Tudor were  proclaimed queen here, in 1553.

Blue Plaque.JPG

A Corporation “Blue Plaque” on the Embankment marks  the  site of the castle, parts of which were uncovered during building works in 1972.

Essentially nothing of either castle remains above ground today, other than, arguably, part of the outline of the moat of the first, traced by the curved northern end of  St Andrew’s Hill.

Site of Baynard's Castle.jpg

However, numerous archaeological finds have been dug up in the vicinity  over the years.