OLYMPICS, EDMUND SHAKESPEARE AND PLACING A STORY IN CONTEXT

THE EDMUND SHAKESPEARE BLOG

London is about to host an Olympics, but there is also a Cultural Olympics going on and a Shakespeare fest too. There is useful work being done at the moment mapping Elizabethan London, and Southwark. It is work that a lay student can join in with too and an example is the use of the so-called ‘Agas Map’ Click here. A little doubtful here of ‘Virtual Reality’ or ‘interactive history’, often supposed facts and dates too, it still helps readers imagine the ground, four hundred years ago.

To start imagining Bankside though, go there today, and visit Sam Wanamaker’s Globe Project, which stands near the area of old ‘Paris Gardens‘, a Liberty, where Francis Langley’s Swan Theatre once stood, a Bull and Bear baiting arena, and the Royal Barge house on the Thames, that the landlord and impresario Philip Henslowe franchised and re-equipped. Just South East of the modern Globe, parallel with the Thames, runs dreary modern Park Street, which more or less follows the line of old Maid Lane, which for a time became the Broadway or Shaftesbury Avenue of its day. It was on Maid Lane that Henslowe put up his Rose Theatre, and in 1599, the Burbages, with Will Shakespeare a sharer, The Globe. It is possible that another figure involved in the theatres, Jacob Meade or Maide, a prominent waterman, like so many in the district, took his name for Maide Lane.

The Elephant Tavern, perhaps referenced in Twelfth Night, stood on one Maid Lane corner, as did The Vine, in a group of properties called Hunt’s Rents. The Vine included, as did many monastic and also tavern properties, a brewhouse, in a celebrated brewing area by the river, and a ‘messuage’ of land, tenements, stables and gardens. So it was like hundreds of taverns located in Southwark. It was bequeathed in the Online will of Edwarde Hunt, to his ‘beloved wife Mary’, who was pregnant, in 1588. It is uncertain when it went up, but a Vyne is mentioned in the 1530’s, and it belonged to a John Le Hunte, under Henry VI. Or rather to that Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption, connected to St Margaret’s Church, granted rights to buy Land and properties by the King of up to Twenty Marks. In the Token Books of Southwark Cathedral, registers of locals buying church tokens handed in to prove communion attendance, Edmund Shakespeare’s name appears at the Vine in 1607. He died that freezing December and was buried on the 31st, though the furiously chill weather extends the possible time of fairly rapid burials. Alan Nelson and his colleague Professor Ingram have been listing all the names in the Token Books to put up on line.

They include the likes of Edmund Shakespeare, Phillip Henslowe, and Edward Alleyn, several actors and some characters who appear in other references to Shakespeare. Keep walking East passed the modern sites of The Rose and Globe excavations, and you get to the point Park Street turns right and South. It was once called Deadman’s Place. If you had gone South West four hundred years ago you would have got to St Margaret’s Cross, where St Margaret’s Church once stood, dissolved during the Reformation, to become a local prison. We think Deadman’s Place is linked to land called, in one document, Lord Farrar’s Place, that St Margaret’s Church bought up for a new burial ground and sepulchre.

Above the Park Street bend, at the modern wine mecca Vineopolis, begins what was once the Liberty of The Clink, running along Clink Street, where London’s oldest prison stood, passed the remains of Winchester House, the London palace of the Bishop of Winchester, and you get to St Saviour’s Dock, where the Golden Hinde replica is, Winchester Street and then Southwark Cathedral. We can now prove that Phillipe Henslove lived in a house that was effectly No 5 Bell Alley, just before Clink Street, on the edge of the Church Square, probably part of another tavern and tenement complex, like The Vine, or the nearby Green Dragon Inn.

Henslowe lived in Southwark for over 20 years, but for several years his Son-in-law the famous actor Edward Alleyn moved in with him. Both were to become Wardens of St Saviour’s Church, for a time. Both were also involved in something called The Great Enqueste. It began with the Coronation of James I, into many affairs, but in Southwark coalescing about complaints against the Church Vestrymen and local administration, that is its own important and fascinating story. Here we think, because the Wardens oversaw legal agreements and purchases, it was very important in the Shakespeare story, and may have been one of the reasons William Shakespeare moved out of the area again. If Charles Nicholls is right about the dates surrounding Shakespeare’s sojourn on Silver Street, around Elizabeth’s death, then it makes sense, if a rival like Henslowe came more to the fore as a Southwark Man, with the Queen’s death.

The topography of the area has of course changed enormously, with the rise in height, the crowding of concrete buildings, and above all the movement of London Bridge, west by over fifty yards. But what remains is the dominating space of St Saviours Church, Southwark Cathedral, and the fact that Bankside, once Stewside, has not moved at all, unlike the North Shore. Olympic visitors disgorging next week at London Bridge Tube Station, or people trying to get away from it all, and rediscover an extraordinarily interesting and important area, threatened by buildings like the Shard and the activities of Thames Water, may find it difficult to imagine. But perhaps the coming blogs and precise details will help. In the meantime, here is a picture of JJ Visscher’s famous engraving of 1616, the year both Shakespeare and Henslowe died.

Let the eye dwell on the bottom shore, across the river from the old wooden, walled City of London. To the right is the small church of no longer standing St Olaves, the spire of which Peter Ackroyd says is mentioned more than any other in Shakespeare’s Plays, although London then had five St Olaves. Go West to the old covered London Bridge, famous throughout Europe, then to the large church of St Saviours, originally St Mary’s Overies, now Southwark Cathedral. Keep going left and you get to Winchester House or Palace, in the Clink Liberty, and then you get to Maid Lane, where the round bear gardens and theatres stood. In time we will pinpoint where Edmund Shakespeare was staying in 1607. (The panorama is taken from Wikepedia. If there are any copyright issues please contact the blog.)

FOR FURTHER EVIDENCE AND WORK SEE SHAKESPEARE’S BROTHER IN THE PUBLISHER’S PAGES, ABOVE


Phoenix Ark

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