Category Archives: London Settings for Shakespeare’s Plays

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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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