On this day in 1613, according to the surviving Deed of Conveyance (*), William Shakespeare bought for £140 a “dwelling house or Tenement with th’appurtenaunces situate and being within the Precinct, circuit and compasse of the late black Fryers London, … and now or late being in the tenure or occupacion of one William Ireland or of his assignee or assignes; abutting upon a streete leading downe to Pudle wharffe on the east part, right against the Kinges Maiesties Wardrobe; part of which said Tenement is erected over a great gate … ” [the former entrance to the Black Friars Priory, dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538].
There is no evidence that Shakespeare ever lived in this particular house in London, returning to his native Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and dying there in 1616, but he is known to have spent almost the entirety of his productive working life in London, and in truth is much more a London than a Stratford figure. He is known to have arrived in London sometime between 1585 and 1592, and to have lived in the parish of St Helen, near “The Theatre” and the “Curtain” in Shoreditch, in 1596; in the Liberty of the Clink in Southwark, near the “Globe”, in 1599; and in Silver Street, near the “Blackfriars”, in 1604.
As Peter Ackroyd put it in his marvellous “Shakespeare – The Biography” (Chatto & Windus, 2005), “Shakespeare did not need to address London directly … ; it is the rough cradle of all his drama”. However, as Hannah Crawforth, Sarah Dustagheer and Jennifer Young suggest in their thoughtful and thought-provoking “Shakespeare in London” (Bloomsbury, 2014), he may have indirectly referenced the violence of Tyburn in “Titus Andronicus”; the political machination of Whitehall in “Richard II”; the class distinction of the Strand in “Romeo and Juliet”; the legal machination of the Inns of Court in “The Merchant of Venice”; the religiosity of St Paul’s Cathedral in “Hamlet”; the madness of Bedlam in “King Lear”; the misery of imprisonment for debt in the King’s Bench Prison in Southwark in “Timon of Athens”; the strange new world of the “cabinet of curiosity” on Lime Street in “The Tempest”; and the rich variety and cosmopolitanism of one of the first true World Cities in the form of an ever-present back-drop. Moreover, he did set one of his most famous scenes in London, in Ely Palace: that in “Richard II” in which John of Gaunt utters the immortal words:
“This royal throne of kings, this sceptr’d isle, This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,|This other Eden, demi-paradise,|This fortress built by Nature for herself|Against infection and the hand of war,|This happy breed of men, this little world,|This precious stone set in the silver sea,|Which serves it in the office of a wall,|Or as a moat defensive to a house,|Against the envy of less happier lands,|This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.
The site of Shakespeare’s Blackfriars house is visited on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London” and “Tudor and Stuart London” themed specials.
Further details of all our walks are available in the “Guided Walks” section of this web-site.
Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org), or by phone (020-8998-3051).
(*) Readers may be interested to know that the deed, which is one of only a handful of documents to bear Shakespeare’s signature, is currently on display in the “By me William Shakespeare: A life in writing” exhibition in the Inigo Rooms in the East Wing of Somerset House, which runs until May 29th.
It also bears the signatures of Shakespeare’s trustees, namely John Hemmyng and John Jackson, Gentlemen of London, and William Johnson, Citizen and Vintner of London (and of the vendor, one Henry Walker, Citizen and Minstrel of London). It is tempting to suggest that John Hemmyng was the same man who once acted alongside Shakespeare in the “Lord Chamberlain’s Men”, and later, after his death, helped to put together the First Folio of his works; and William Johnson the same man who was the landlord of the Mermaid Tavern in Bread Street just off Cheapside.