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Archeologists Find London’s Oldest Theatre

Archeologists Find London’s Oldest Theatre
Representative Image: London's oldest theatre may have been discovered in this excavation, Photo Credit: Shutterstock
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The excavation began in January 2019

OT Staff
June 17 , 2020
03 Min Read

In a recent archeological expedition, London’s oldest theatre (from the 16th century) might have been discovered. An Elizabethan playhouse known as the Red Lion has been uncovered, and it represents a missing link in the history of English drama. 

“This is one of the most extraordinary sites I’ve worked on. After nearly five hundred years, the remains of the Red Lion playhouse, which marked the dawn of Elizabethan theatre, may have finally been found,” said Stephen White, who directed the excavation. 

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The theatre is the link between performances in the medieval period and those in the time of Shakespeare. The former were dominated by Biblical subject matter and the latter were more secular, often performed in purpose-built theatres. The Red Lion was a drinking establishment and London’s first purpose-built theatre.

The excavation work in East London has unearthed the timber remains of this purpose-built theatrical venue, built in 1567. The discovery was first made in January 2019. Since then, there has been constant work to collect artefacts and other historical documents to confirm the structure’s identity. The artefacts discovered include glass and pottery assemblages, numerous beakers and drinking glasses, ceramic cups, two-handled drinking mugs, bottles, and tankards. Also included is a late-17th century tavern mug with the royalist medallion of Charles II, and other tankards featuring tavern or landlord names.

The theatre was set up by John Brayne and the only information known about the playhouse was from two lawsuits of 1567 and 1569 between proprietor Brayne and the carpenter’s responsible for its construction. The actual location of the playhouse has also been debatable for long. 

‘Analysis of historic mapping and the three specific land deeds that relate to the location of the Red Lion (dated 1688-89) suggested it was on or near the Whitechapel site, but before the excavations no physical evidence had been found for the playhouse or the farm,’ read a statement from UCL Archaeology, for whom the excavation was carried out.


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