Artefacts from Shakespeare’s Theatre return to Hackney

Finds from Shakespeare’s Theatre in Shoreditch will be on display at Hackney Museum as part of the Mapping the Change exhibition from 17 May to 15 September 2012. This fascinating exhibition coincides with the World Shakespeare Festival, launched 23 April.

The exhibition, part of the Council run Hackney Museum’s Mapping the Change project will include a special section on the Theatre site and a selection of objects found there. These include a fragment of 16th-century pottery featuring the image of a man with beard and ruff; decorative medieval tiles from the priory; roof tiles that are some of the last remaining fragments of the Theatre, pipes and drinking vessels that playgoers may have used during performances; a 17th century crucible and mortar from the alchemist’s workshop; and Victorian domestic items including a well-used toothbrush.

These amazing finds that give a voice to people from the past were discovered at the location of one of the earliest of London’s playhouses, called The Theatre, built in 1576 by James Burbage, and the location was confirmed by Museum of London Archaeology following excavations of the site, previously a warehouse, in Shoreditch, Hackney.

Cllr Jonathan McShane, Hackney Council’s Cabinet Member for Health, Social Care and Culture said: “I’m delighted that we will display important artefacts showing Hackney’s link with Shakespeare and the arts, as far back as the 16th Century. Through Mapping the Change the Council is showing the public part of Hackney’s past while providing an insight into the 2012 Games for future generations.”

Senior Archaeologist for Museum of London Archaeology, Heather Knight, said: “Shakespeare has not only helped to shape the culture of the capital, his influence is evident across the globe. Excavating the Theatre gave Museum of London Archaeology the opportunity to add to the knowledge of this extraordinary figure. It’s been a privilege for us to be involved with this exciting project and we are delighted that the finds are going to be displayed to the public at the Hackney Museum.”

Shakespeare wrote and performed at The Theatre between 1594-7 and Romeo and Juliet was almost certainly premiered there and was written to be performed in The Theatre, as details of the stage layout in the script show.

In 1597 following a disagreement between the Burbages and their landlord, the wooden structure was dismantled and taken south of the river to become part of The Globe theatre. The site has also been home to Holywell Priory, an alchemist’s workshop, terraced housing and a warehouse, giving 800 years of religious, scientific, artistic and commercial change on one small site emphasising just how the much the site has changed over the years.

The Council run Hackney Museum is free and visitors can find out about Hackney past and present. All the family can get stuck in to our hands-on activities. Sail the Saxon boat, try on historical costumes, bring spooky ghosts to life or try your hand at making Victorian matchboxes against the clock. Hackney Museum hosts events activities throughout the year as well as school holidays. To find out more go to

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Mapping the Change exhibition
17 May to 15 September 2012
Hackney Museum
Ground Floor
Technology and Learning Centre
1 Reading Lane
E8 1GQ