On this day in 1613, the original “Globe” play-house on Bankside in Southwark burned down, after sparks from a theatrical cannon set its thatch alight during a performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry the Eighth”. It was rebuilt in 1614, before falling into disuse sometime around 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans; and was finally demolished in 1644, again by order of the Puritans.
Henry Wotton wrote of the fire in 1613, in a letter to Sir Edmund Bacon (reproduced in “Reliquiae Wottoniae”):
“Now, King Henry making a Masque at the Cardinal Wolsey’s House, and certain Cannons being shot off at his entry, some of the Paper, or other stuff, wherewith one of them was stopped, did light on the Thatch, … and … kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole House to the very ground. This was the fatal period … wherein yet nothing did perish but wood and straw … ; … one man had his breeches set on fire, that would perhaps have broiled him, if he had not by the benefit of a provident wit put it out with bottle ale”.
And John Chamberlain:
“[I]t was a great marvaile and fair grace of God, that the people had so little harm, having but two narrow doors to get out”.
The 400th anniversary of the fire, in 2013, was marked by the reconstructed “Globe” by a series of events on the theme of “Shakespeare on Fire”.