Archaeology Update: Four Playhouses and the Bear Garden

By Blatherwick, Simon | Shakespeare Studies, Annual 2002 | Go to article overview
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Archaeology Update: Four Playhouses and the Bear Garden


Blatherwick, Simon, Shakespeare Studies


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.

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