Guide to East London

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The East End Theatre

Near the St. Leonard's Church in Shoreditch stood two of London's earliest theatres. 'The Theatre', established 1576 and the 'Curtain Theatre', the sites are marked in Curtain Road close to the junction with Holywell Lane. 'The Chamberlain's Men,' a theatre company that included William Shakespeare, probably acted at the Curtain Theatre.

In 1598 the timbers of 'The Theatre' were used to construct the original Globe Theatre in Southwalk and by 1625 the "Curtain Theatre" fell into disuse and was burnt down in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

St. Leonard's Church in Shoreditch also has a thespian connection. It's graveyard residents include many actors including Shakespeare's friend and builder of the Curtain Theatre, Richard Burbage; Will Somers who was Henry VIII's jester (1560); Queen Elizabeth's famous clown - Richard Tarlton, and Gabriel Spencer, the actor killed by Ben Jonson in a duel in Hoxton fields in 1598.

The photo at right shows the whipping post and moveable village stocks in St. Leonard's churchyard. Founded in the 1100s and rebuilt 1740 the Church spire imitates that of St. Mary le Bow, Cheapside, in the City of London.

The famous actor and Drury Lane Theatre manager, David Garrick made his debut at the Goodman's Fields Theatre on 9 October 1741, playing the role of Richard III.

It is hard to image the early Shoreditch as a village, sited on the North Road from the Roman City. An area that had windmills as a twelfth century landmark, a place later used by Royal archers for their target practice. In the seventeenth century the village of Hoxton had a reputation for its market and nursery gardens, but by Victorian times it was described as 'one of the worst parts of London, where poverty and overcrowding are characteristic of practically the whole district'. Since the last century Hoxton was renowned for its Music Halls. The Britannia Theatre, once known for its blood curdling melodramas was rebuilt in 1858 and became one of the most famous music halls. Close to here stood the Pollock's Toy Theatre shop as immortalised in Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured'. The area was heavily bombed during the last war and the area's history is virtually undetectable.

Today, theatre performances can be enjoyed at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, Barbican. (0171 638 8891); the Brick Lane Music Hall, 134-146 Curtain Road, Shoreditch EC2A. (0171 739 9996). Originally a Button Factory, the site's history can be traced back to Shakespeare's time.

Theatre, music and comedy shows can also be seen at the Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, E8. (0181 985 2424). A former Music Hall with a voluptuous interior.

East End London Theatres, 1800-1868
THE ROYALTY, renamed East London, burned down in 1826, reopened as Brunswick in 1828, collapsed a week later during a rehearsal and never rebuilt.
SHAKESPEARE THEATRE (1820-1831?), Curtain Road, Shoreditch, specialized in musical plays.
(Royal) PAVILION (1829-c.1934), 191-193 Whitechapel Road, Stepney, 1st House 1828-1856; 2nd House 1856-?.
THE NEW CITY THEATRE (1829-1836) Milton Street (formerly Grub St.), Shoreditch, Cripplegate.
GARRICK THEATRE (1831-c.1881), 70 Leman Street, Goodman's Fields, Whitechapel, 1st House 1831-1846, burned down; 2nd House 1854-1881, seating capacity: 462.
GRECIAN THEATRE (1832-1881), City Road, Shoreditch (Eagle Tavern Music Hall in 1857-1887).
DUCROW'S NEW NATIONAL ARENA (1834-?), Church Street, Whitechapel.
CITY OF LONDON THEATRE (1835-1871), 35 and 36 Norton Folgate, near Bishopsgate Station.
STANDARD THEATRE (1835-a pub, 1837-1926), 203-204 Shoreditch High Street, Shoreditch, 1st House: 1835-1866, seating capacity: 3,400; 2nd House: 1867-?, seating capacity: 3,000; 3rd House: ?-1943.
BRITANNIA THEATRE (1841-1923), 188 Pitfield Street, High Street, Hoxton.
NEW EAST LONDON THEATRE (Effingham Saloon; New East London, Stepney) (1843-1850), 236-237 Whitechapel Road, Stepney, 1st House: 1834-1867, burned down; 2nd House: 1867-1879, burned down.
THE VARIETY (1870-1910), 18-20 Pitfield Street, Hoxton, Shoreditch.
ALBERT SALOON (1843-1851), 106 Shepherdess Walk, Hoxton.
THE ORIENTAL THEATRE (The Albion) (1867-c.1955), 275-279 Poplar High Street, Poplar.

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