PRIORY OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST, THE THEATRE
Plaque erected in 1920 by London County Council at 86-88 Curtain Road, Shoreditch, London, EC2A 3AA, London Borough of Hackney
Historical Sites, Theatre and Film
THE SITE OF THIS BUILDING FORMS PART OF WHAT WAS ONCE THE PRECINCT OF THE PRIORY OF S.JOHN· THE·BAPTIST, HOLYWELL. WITHIN A FEW YARDS STOOD FROM 1577 TO 1598, THE FIRST LONDON BUILDING SPECIALLY DEVOTED TO THE PERFORMANCE OF PLAYS, AND KNOWN AS "THE THEATRE."
The land around 86–90 Curtain Road in Shoreditch was once occupied by the Priory of St John the Baptist, Holywell, and later The Theatre. Operating from 1577 to 1598, the playhouse was the first London building devoted to the performance of plays and is thought to have been the venue for many of William Shakespeare’s early plays.
FROM PRAYERS TO PLAYERS
Holywell (or Haliwelle) Priory, founded in the mid-12th century in the fields north of London was dissolved in 1539 and the land sold off. In 1576, a northern portion of the former priory precinct was leased to the actor James Burbage (d. 1597) and here, in partnership with his brother-in-law John Brayne (d. 1586), he erected a theatre.
The Theatre was probably constructed of timber and was polygonal in shape, with an open courtyard at the centre. The site fell beyond the control of the City authorities – which viewed theatres as breeding grounds of disorder and disease – but could readily be reached by playgoers from London via a short walk across Finsbury Fields.
SHAKESPEARE’S FIRST GLOBE
Little is known about the works performed at The Theatre, but it is probable that some of Shakespeare’s early plays were staged here, and more than likely that Shakespeare appeared here as a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s company of players.
Burbage’s lease expired in 1597, and the following year the theatre was broken up. The Theatre’s remains were carried across the river and used in the construction of a new playhouse on the south bank of the Thames: the Globe Theatre, Southwark.