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London’s Oldest Playhouse From Shakespeare’s Time May Have Finally Been Found

Archaeologists may have finally found the remains of London’s oldest playhouse called the Red Lion. Timber, brick walls, and several artifacts were unearthed at a site located in Whitechapel in the East End of London last year by a team of researchers from Archaeology South-East, the commercial arm of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London (UCL).

It is believed that the remains are indeed those of the Red Lion and if it turns out to be true, this would be an extraordinary find as it was built at the beginning of Queen Elizabeth’s rein and when William Shakespeare was just three years old. Shakespeare grew up to become a poet, playwright and actor, in addition to being considered the greatest dramatist of all time.

William Shakespeare

The Red Lion playhouse, which was constructed around the year 1567, was the first ever theater that was built in London and many people, including the queen, enjoyed watching the plays that were performed there. Other than that, there really isn’t much information available about the theater with the exception of an estimated location as to where it once stood.

In an interview with Live Sciencearchaeologist Steve White who led the excavations said, “The reason we were excavating these areas was because of the potential for finding the Red Lion,” adding, “Once we came off-site and analyzed the stratigraphic sequence, material culture, historical lawsuits, land deeds and the cartographic evidence, it all pointed in this direction.”

There were two surviving lawsuits against the theater which gave a bit of detail regarding the outdoor stage and seating area. According to old records, the theater was constructed by “grocer and citizen” John Brayne. The first lawsuit from 1567 claimed that Brayne used deception in order to obtain the 6 acre lot that housed the theater. The second lawsuit was from 1569 where Brayne claimed that the carpenters used poorly made timber – possibly in reference to the seating area.

A map of other playhouses around London.

The second lawsuit described the stage as measuring 40 feet north to south, by 30 feet east to west, and 5 feet in height. What’s so interesting about this is that the timber remains that were excavated are a near match to those described in the lawsuit. Additionally, the post holes that were located near the timber remains could have been the seating area. Two beer cellars with numerous drinking glasses, drinking mugs with two handles, ceramic cups, bottles and tankards were also found which could have came from the Red Lion Inn which was located adjacent to the playhouse.

Archaeologists still have a lot of work to do before confirming for certain whether these remains are in fact the Red Lion playhouse, but based on what they’ve found so far, it seems quite promising that it is London’s oldest theater. Pictures of the excavation site can be seen here.

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Jocelyne LeBlanc works full time as a writer and is also an author with two books currently published. She has written articles for several online websites, and had an article published in a Canadian magazine on the most haunted locations in Atlantic Canada. She has a fascination with the paranormal and ghost stories, especially those that included haunted houses. In her spare time, she loves reading, watching movies, making crafts, and watching hockey.