How To Build An Elizabethan Theatre – With No Surviving Plans

Conservation Architect Paul Simons talks on Tuesday 01 March 2.30p.m. at Gold Hill Museum Shaftesbury on “Reconstructing the Theatres of Shakespeare’s Time – the Globe and the Wanamaker Playhouse”.

The original Globe opened on the South Bank of the Thames in 1599. It was owned by six of the troupe of actors known as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. William Shakespeare, who wrote most of their material as well as performing, held a 12.5% share. The design of the “wooden O” mentioned in “Henry V” reflected the layout of innyards where many early plays were put on by itinerant companies, especially when plague in London led to Elizabethan lockdowns. The timbers of the Globe had been recycled from The Theatre in Shoreditch, north of the Thames, when the lease on the site ran out. These were dismantled overnight and put into store to prevent the owner of the ground from claiming ownership of the building. They were rebuilt into a larger theatre, the Globe – and then consumed by fire in June 1613 when a cannon special effect during a performance of “Henry VIII” went badly wrong.

The modern Globe was the brainchild of American actor and film maker Sam Wanamaker. Unfortunately he did not live to see its opening in 1997. He had selected McCurdy & Co Ltd, a craft company of carpenters, to erect the first thatched building in central London since the Great Fire of 1666, having previously seen their reconstruction of Barley Hall, a 14th century timber framed structure in York. Conservation architect Paul Simons was a director of McCurdy & Co from 1978 to 2016 and intimately involved in the design and construction process. As you will hear, this was not exactly straightforward when the only surviving contemporary drawing of the interior of an Elizabethan theatre was this one of The Swan:

Copy of the only contemporary drawing of the interior of an Elizabethan playhouse, c.1596

Paul has earned an enviable, international reputation as a conservation architect and Tourism, World Heritage and thermal spa specialist and consultant. He has masterminded major projects in Bristol and Bath, and is currently chair of the Bath-based Cleveland Pools Trust, which aims to restore Britain’s oldest open-air lido. He may be persuaded to say something about the progress of this scheme.

Paul Simons, Conservation Architect

Please don’t attend this talk if you have reason to believe that you may have Covid or recently been exposed to the virus. The Garden Room will be well ventilated and the seats will be more spaced out than they used to be, with an inevitable reduction in capacity. S&DHS members will have until 2.20p.m. to claim a seat.