Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT)

Lead Research Organisation: De Montfort University
Department Name: School of Humanities


It is not widely known that the sites of many of the London theatres of Shakespeare's time have been positively identified and can be enjoyed as tourist destinations. This project aims to increase public awareness of these sites and to promote their enjoyment by producing, through a partnership between Loughborough University and the Victoria & Albert Museum, maps, booklets, interactive software, public talks, and downloadable short films that will enable the public to travel to the modern London locations of these theatres and learn about them. The knowledge to be transferred includes the histories of particular theatres--who owned them, how they were designed, what plays were performed there, their playwrights, and what kinds of audiences came--as well as social and cultural differences between these locations now and 400 years ago (when, for example, Shoreditch was suburban and largely fields). Maps, booklets, talks, and films will transmit this knowledge passively, while a website and a software application for smartphones will interactively direct users to particular sites in modern London and provide visual representations of how the sites looked 400 years ago when theatres stood and thrived in their several locations.

Knowledge of the history of professional drama in London begins, for many, with the Restoration theatre in 1660, and the start of the Drury Lane tradition that by the twentieth century had evolved into London's West End Theatreland. However, this evolution could not have taken place without the theatregoing that flourished from 1567, when the Red Lion theatre in Stepney was built by John Brayne and James Burbage (father of the celebrated actor Richard), until 1642 when Parliament closed the theatres as Civil War loomed. Interested playgoers are aware of Bankside's original Globe theatre, where Shakespeare's dramas were performed from 1599, and its modern replica nearby. Rather fewer playgoers are aware of the adjacent Rose theatre (where his early plays premiered), although its site was extensively surveyed 20 years ago, providing a mass of new knowledge. The benefits of recent archival and archaeological discoveries about other theatres are currently confined to specialist research publications. Apart from those who teach or research the topic, few people know anything about the other 22 theatre venues which brought dramatic entertainment to all sectors of the rapidly increasing population of London over the 75 years from 1567 to 1642. This is the 'Shakespearean Period' of theatre, for which the project aims to promote a greater awareness among 21st century citizens.

The Victoria & Albert Museum's Theatre and Performance Department (incorporating all that used to be at the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden) is the national home for public appreciation of the material culture of theatregoing in Shakespeare's time, and the work of this project will enhance its representation of the pre-Commonwealth period. From the theatre historians to the Victoria & Albert Museum (and on to the public) will be transferred knowledge about the Rose (built 1587) where Shakespeare's very first plays were premiered from 1590 to 1593; the Theatre and The Curtain in Shoreditch (built 1576 and 1577) where his plays written between 1594 and 1599 premiered; the Globe (built 1599) where his plays from 1599 to 1608 premiered; and the Blackfriars (built 1596) where his plays were performed from 1608. As well as these five venues, the project will provide knowledge on a further seventeen London theatres used by rival theatre companies, including the only open-air amphitheatre whose interior is shown in a surviving drawing - the Swan (built on Bankside in 1595, a quarter of a mile upstream of the Rose) - and the indoor theatres used by all-boy companies, such as the small theatre at St Paul's cathedral.

Planned Impact

Theatre is one of London's major cultural and economic activities, and tens of thousands of playgoers--Londoners and visitors--enjoy drama in a variety of modern venues. These venues derive their layout and configuration from the London theatres of Shakespeare's time, and playgoers are among the people most likely to want to increase their historical knowledge. London is a famously walkable city, and Londoners and visitors alike will find that the materials produced by this project enable them to undertake a variety of distinct walks, each taking in a number of the historical theatre sites. The project will thereby have an impact in enhancing London's attractiveness to tourists. Theatre-goers and tourists will benefit from the most up-to-date theatre-historical research, and teachers will be allowed to reuse all the materials generated without charge in their teaching.

The impact upon the Victoria & Albert Museum will be to enhance its stock of highly specific and up-to-date expertise and knowledge regarding the pre-Commonwealth theatres, a period for which its current provision is not so well-developed as it is for the post-Commonwealth stage. The impact will be felt within the institution in its new capacity to organize displays about this period, and in the public's greater engagement of its relevant holdings. By enhancing the Museum's capacity to fulfil its mission and by increasing London's attractiveness to tourists, the project will have an indirect (but nonetheless real) impact upon the nation's wealth and culture, and by encouraging walking it will have a positive impact upon its health too. Increasing tourist activity in London will have a positive economic impact on the businesses in the areas where the Shakespearean theatres used to be located (mainly within a two-mile radius of St Paul's).

The ability of Loughborough University (and specifically its Department of English & Drama) to engage public interest in its research activities and culture will be enhanced by this project. The full-time post-doctoral research assistant (PDRA) on the project will provide formal presentations and informal advice to the University on the mutual benefits of knowledge transfer, using this project as an illustration. Currently, a great deal of academic expertise and knowledge is locked away within the University, especially in departments concerned with the Arts and Humanities which (unlike the departments concerned with Science and Technology) have relatively little direct engagement with outside institutions and the wider public. The PDRA will also provide these presentation and advisory services to the Victoria & Albert Museum, and this individual will in return benefit from the Museum's extensive expertise in engaging the public in learning about the material culture of London. The PDRA will be the main conduit by which the project's knowledge transfer will be able to wash back and forth between the institutions.

The benefits of these impacts will begin to be felt during the 24-month project but will impact most immediately after its conclusion when the walking map, the booklet, the website, and the software applications are fully launched. (The project will partner with 'Visit London' to gain marketing/promotional visibility.) The map and booklet are likely to be long-lasting benefits because they can be repeatedly reprinted at little cost by the Victoria & Albert Museum. The website and software applications are inherently more prone to decay if not maintained. Loughborough University is committed to maintaining the website for at least two years following project completion. The Open University (whose expertise in making smartphone software applications will be bought in) estimates that such software has a shelf-life of around twelve months if not maintained to take advantage of new technological developments.


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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
AH/I025786/1 12/09/2011 31/05/2012 £333,709
AH/I025786/2 Transfer AH/I025786/1 01/08/2012 31/10/2013 £260,860
Title Audio recordings of public talks 
Description We audio-recorded the series of public talks that we held at the V&A in the summer of 2013 and made them freely available over the web 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact We have feedback indicating that the public got a more up-to-date understanding of what theatre historians know and think about theatre in Shakespeare's time than they would have had we had not done this. 
Title Video recordings of performances of scenes from plays of Shakespeare's time 
Description We chose five key scenes from five plays of Shakespeare's time that illustrate particular matters of early modern theatrical activity and we paid professional directors and actors to create live performances of these scenes. We made the resulting video recordings freely available to the public. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact To date (Sept 2014) the videos have been watched 13,112 times. 
Description Our grant was a Knowledge Transfer Fellowship and as such we were not permitted to undertake any research.
Exploitation Route We're happy to advise others on the hardest and easiest parts of Knowledge Transfer, and on the best ways for academics to engage with a large public-facing institution like a museum. We hope that others might find our pioneering use of a very generous Creative Commons licence to be inspiring and reassuring. (The sky does not fall in if you give everything away.)
Sectors Creative Economy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

Description We set out to increase the public's awareness of the London theatres of Shakespeare's time beyond just the Globe, which everyone knows about. And we set out to get people walking around modern London to visit and learn about (from us) the sites where the theatres stood. The evidence that we achieved these things can be numerically summarized as follows: * We put 20 videos (between 8 and 45 minutes each) on YouTube and they have been watch over 24,000 times in all (an average of 1,200 viewings per video). * We made our materials available on a publicly accessible website and it has been viewed 47,320 times in all. * We ran public talks at the Victoria and Albert Museum throughout the summer of 2013 and got an average audience of just over 70 attendees per talk. * We asked people using our materials to give us their feedback and they did. According to the feedback: -- 73% of respondents had gone or would be going to one of the London theatre sites we cover as a result of our project. -- 63% of respondents had or would be taking one of our smartphone-app-guided walks around the sites of London theatres. -- 64% of respondents were inspired by our materials to go and see a modern play production. -- 67% of respondents were inspired by our materials to read or re-read a play. Amongst the discursive comments we found that people especially valued our policy of giving everything away under a non-restrictive Creative Commons (BY-SA) licence. Typical comments were: ** "Thank you very much for uploading such instructive and illuminating videos from which we can make use of and can share with our students even here in Turkey." ** "We've been designing maps with this subject using google maps for our personal use when we visit London. We don't have nearly enough detail about locations of theatres and homes and pubs and other sites. This is very nice. Saves me a lot of trouble." ** "We've done one of the walks on a lovely sunny day and discovered parts of London we had not known before." ** "I am going to follow the routes with my daughter and grandson - starting tomorrow. Would love the android app to help with this. We are really looking forward to visiting all the places and learning new facts." ** "I used the introductory vid this morning with my Intro to Shakespeare class . . . They'd already read Gurr's Norton essay, and the video complements it beautifully!" ** "A very useful website for Shakespeare time's fan, Thank you, Celine (french fan)" ** "This website was recommended by my Open University tutor. I have found all the information on your site very useful and relevant to my study, (BA (Hons) Language and Literature). The series of films give a great deal of detail in a very accessible way. I especially enjoyed the performed excerpts, and wish I could see more!" ** "I shall be visiting London in April and will attend 3 performances at the new Jacobean indoor theatre. I shall also be going on at least one walk. Thanks. From a Friend of Shakespeare's Globe. I live in Los Angeles California, USA." ** "I discovered this project through (a course on Shakespeare's Hamlet). It's a treasure trove !" ** "I am not in London, although I'd like to be, and I am using this resource for my university studies at Goldsmiths. I hope to use the resource when I get to visit London again." ** "Thank you - I really appreciate having these resources freely available." Challenges We Had to Overcome to Achieve Impact: We found the hardest thing to do was get the public to come to public talks at the Victoria and Albert Museum; we consider 70+ a good turnout but hoped for 100+. The second hardest thing to do was get our free pamphlet into the pamphlet-giveaway stands that one sees in hotel lobbies, railway stations, and the like. We significantly underestimated the competition for (and concomitant cost of) these 'slots'.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Title ShaLT website 
Description We build a website comprising tens of thousands of words of theatre-historical narrative (organized under the names of various London theatres) supported by hi-resolution colour imagery and document transcriptions. Although we did this for the purpose of Knowledge Transfer, the result is unavoidably also the best research tool on the web for this topic. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2013 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Public feedback has told us that people are going to the theatre and talking walks around London and reading/re-reading plays that they would not have done had it not been for our website. 
Description Collaboration with V&A 
Organisation Victoria and Albert Museum
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We provided the expertise--in the person of the postdoctoral research associate paid for by the grant--for someone to work their way through the V&A's holdings relevant to early modern theatre and to provide a series of 'Collection Enhancement Reports' to help the V&A make the most of what they have. We also provided the expertise (in the persons of a series of world-class theatre historians whose expenses we covered) for a series of public talks at the V&A in the summer of 2013.
Collaborator Contribution The V&A provided a London office for our postdoctoral research associate, provided the London space for our launch and our public talks and our project meetings, and gave expert advice and guidance on the creation of our outputs for public consumption.
Impact A free walking map A book by our postdoctoral research associate Dr Peter Sillitoe called _A Guide to Shakespearean London Theatres_ A website of theatre-historical scholarly writing and images at A series of public talks at the V&A An Apple and Android smartphone app for guiding tourists around London A series of educational videos
Start Year 2011
Title Shakespearean London Theatre smartphone app 
Description We paid for the making of a smartphone app (Apple and Android) that uses the geo-location of the user to guide that person around modern London to look at and learn about the places where there were theatres in Shakespeare's time. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2013 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Our feedback tells us that people went to the theatre more often, read/re-read plays more often, and took more walks than they would otherwise have done were it not for our app. 
Description Public talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A series of 11 free public talks at the V&A in London were attended by an average of just over 70 persons per talk, which was followed by lively debate about theatre in Shakespeare's time, all of which was audio recorded and made publicly available by Open Access.

The speakers were invited to further events by members of the audience.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013