Shakespeare's London Walking Tour (Self Guided), London

Often called England's national poet or simply "the Bard", William Shakespeare is revered as one of, if not the greatest playwright this world has ever seen. The dramas, such as Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth are among the finest creations in the English language, translated into every major language and performed more often than those of any other author.

Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire in 1564, Shakespeare began a successful career in London as an actor and writer sometime around 1585. The Rose Theatre in the Southwark district is the place where his plays were staged for the first time. Later, the performances moved to the original Globe Theatre after it was built in 1599. Today one can visit the archaeological sites where both theatres once stood, while the reconstructed Globe Theatre – just a short distance away – makes it possible to travel back in time and view the show as one could in Shakespeare's era.

The Crosse Keys Inn was another place where Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men gave regular performance. While in London, the writer worshiped at the Southwark Cathedral and St. Helen's Bishopsgate, both of which still stand today. To visit these and other prominent spots in London associated with the great Bard, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Shakespeare's London Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Shakespeare's London Walking Tour
Guide Location: England » London (See other walking tours in London)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 13
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Shakespeare Globe Theatre
  • Rose Theatre
  • The Site of the Original Globe Theatre
  • Southwark Cathedral
  • The Boar's Head Inn
  • Crosse Keys Inn Theatre
  • St. Helen's Bishopsgate
  • First Folio Monument
  • St Olave Silver Street
  • St. Paul's Cathedral
  • Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter
  • Blackfriars Gatehouse
  • St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe
1
Shakespeare Globe Theatre

1) Shakespeare Globe Theatre (must see)

Shakespeare's Globe is a modern recreation of the original Globe Theatre. The original playhouse was built in 1599 and rebuilt in 1613 after a fire. But it was demolished in 1644, and all that remains of the building today are various academic references and evidence.

The recreation opened in 1997 with a showing of Henry V. It's regarded as a very realistic likeness, though it holds fewer people due to modern safety standards. The building is built about 230 meters (750 feet) from the site of the original. The original site was on the banks of the Thames, which is narrower than it was back then. To recreate the same atmosphere, builders decided to place the new theatre on the river bank. Plus, the original site has been built over and is covered by townhomes.

The recreation is the brain-child of American actor Sam Wanamaker, who moved to London in the 1970s and began working towards his vision. Wanamaker wanted the theatre to appear just as it did during Shakespeare's time there, so all research and designs were based on the earlier 1599 theatre building.

Why You Should Visit

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre is an accurate reproduction of the original, and there's no better way to connect with the Bard than to travel back in time and view a performance. While time travel is still a mystery, the Globe comes pretty close.

The original Globe was owned by the actors who made up the Lord Chamberlain's Men, of which Shakespeare was the primary writer. He began with a 1/8th share that diminished over the theatre's lifespan as more shareholders entered the picture. It's believed that the theatre opened in September of 1599 with a production of Julius Caesar.

At the recreation, things are kept as authentic as possible. Performances are kept as true-to-form as possible, with no microphones, nor any spotlights or other modern theatre technologies.

Tips

If you can't make one of the summer plays, you can take the Globe Theatre Guided Tour anytime. This behind-the-scenes look at the original theatre and the recreation of the building.

The property includes the neighboring Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a recreated Jacobean-era theatre. It's used during the winter when the open-air Globe cannot.

The location of the original Globe is marked with informational signs and a commemorative plaque. Viewable portions of the original foundation are also laid out in pavers. It is located on the east side of Southwark Bridge Road, just south of Park Street.

Opening Hours: Daily: 10am - 5:30pm
2
Rose Theatre

2) Rose Theatre

The Rose was an Elizabethan theatre built very near the site of the original Globe. It went up in 1587, ten years or more before the Globe opened its doors. Its early years saw a series of acting companies pass through, and times were tough. The early 1590s saw a severe outbreak of the bubonic plague in London, and the theatre was closed for several seasons.

When it did open back up and had gained popularity, the Lord Admiral's Men worked at the Rose for seven years. At their height of popularity, they performed 36 plays, 20 of them new works. The Lord Admiral's Men were formed by some members of the Lord Chamberlain's Men in 1591.

The Rose is notable because it was here that Shakespeare's plays were first performed. It was the success of the Rose that led to the creation of the more famous Globe Theatre.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of The Rose in 1989. It couldn't have happened at a better time, because during this same time, actor Sam Wanamaker and his team were working and researching the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre.

Unfortunately, the site was found while working on a new building development. Thanks to all stakeholders' tireless work, the proposed building was built. But construction was completed in a way that preserved the theatre's remains.

Today the site of the Rose is marked by a plaque at the street. You can tour the area that archaeologists discovered, outlined with lights to make it easier to envision. Many of the artifacts unearthed here are on display. Most of the original floorplan is evident, and visitors can see it first-hand along with interpretive exhibits.
3
The Site of the Original Globe Theatre

3) The Site of the Original Globe Theatre

The original site on which The Globe theatre once stood, first opened in 1599, is now marked by a plaque and a series of illustrative panels. Back in the day, Park Street was called Maiden Lane and was part of The Liberty of the Clink area outside of control of the City and the Surrey County Sheriff. At some point, the area fell under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of Winchester who, instead of banning them completely, taxed the theatres, animal baiting rings and even brothels operating therein.

The Globe site was discovered during excavations revealing approximately five percent of the original foundations of the first (and second) Globe, thus proving that the famed theatre was a 20-sided polygonal building and providing vital info for its future replication. It is believed that about 15 of Shakespeare’s plays, including many of his most famous productions, had their first or very early shows at The Globe once located at this site.
4
Southwark Cathedral

4) Southwark Cathedral

As it stands today, the cathedral was built between 1220 and 1420. In Shakespeare's time, this was a parish church known as St. Mary Overie. It served the Bankside area in the late 1500s, and so Shakespeare and many of the Elizabethan dramatists would have worshipped and passed through here.

Edmund, Shakespeare's brother, was buried here in 1607 in an unmarked grave. A stone was later placed in the choir area. There is also a stained glass dedicated to Shakespeare's plays, along with a statue of the Bard himself, writing quill in hand.

The site began between 1106 and 1538 as a church of an Augustinian priory. When the monasteries in England were dissolved, it became the St. Saviour's parish church. In 1905, it became a cathedral when the diocese of Southwark was created.

The building was heavily damaged in the London blitz in 1941. It's estimated that Germany dropped more than 1,600 explosive bombs on Southwark throughout the war. You can see shrapnel damage on the exterior of the cathedral to this day.
5
The Boar's Head Inn

5) The Boar's Head Inn

The Boar's Head Inn was a legendary tavern in Eastcheap, the City of London, featured by William Shakespeare in his plays, particularly Henry IV, Part 1, as a favourite meeting place of Sir John Falstaff, Prince Hal and other characters.

While a Boar’s Head pub indeed stood here in the 16th century, there is no evidence of its existing in the early 15th century, when the play is set. It appears that Shakespeare must have been referring to a real inn present in his own day.

Established before 1537 but destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the tavern was soon rebuilt and continued operation until some time in the late 18th century, after which the building was used by retail outlets. It was finally demolished in 1831, but the boar's head sign remained and is now kept at the Shakespeare's Globe theatre. Another boar’s head (dating from 1868) pokes out from beneath one of the facade arches of the building standing on its site today.
Sight description based on wikipedia
6
Crosse Keys Inn Theatre

6) Crosse Keys Inn Theatre

While many Elizabethan plays were performed in theatres like the Globe or the Rose, many people saw plays at inns. Inns were formed around central courtyards, and the rooms had balconies overlooking that area.

The design was not by accident; most travelers arrived by horse or horse-drawn carriage into the central courtyard. But it made the perfect setup for performers to stage plays, as lodgers could view the show from their balconies and then retire to their rooms. Acting groups could set up a stage and sell standing tickets for the courtyard and premium tickets for the balconies.

Acting groups used the Cross Keys Inn on Gracechurch Street between 1576 and 1594. Shakespeare and the Lord Chamberlain's Men gave regular performances here. It was one of four inns granted permits by the City of London to host performances.

While we know where the Cross Keys Inn was located, but there are several different theories about its design and where and how plays may have been performed. There may have been a courtyard, like other inns, or perhaps there was a large interior room. This would then be not unlike playing a grand house, which acting companies also did often.

As more theatres were built, the use of the inn courtyards faded. Additionally, the use of inns was banned by the city council in 1594. The theatre was seen as a bad influence by the town council, which put strict limits on play-acting.

But the designs of the Globe and other Elizabethan theatres, with balconies surrounding a central courtyard, were taken directly from the inns.

Cross Keys Inn was located adjacent to the Bells Inn. A street by this name intersects Gracechurch Street to this day. But beyond that, no signs of either inn-theatres remain.
7
St. Helen's Bishopsgate

7) St. Helen's Bishopsgate

Another rare survivor of the Great Fire of London of 1666, the St Helen’s Bishopsgate church in the City is distinguishable by its somewhat strange shape – the two naves, one for the church-goers and one for the Benedictine nuns who used to live here.

Apart from this architectural peculiarity, the church is also famous for having, at some point, among its parishioners none other than William Shakespeare. Attesting to this fact, among others, is the interesting record made on 15 November 1597 by the tax collectors for the Ward of Bishopsgate stating that of 73 rateable residents of the parish, William Shakespeare failed to pay 5 shillings on taxable goods worth £5.

Shakespeare's name is listed, mundanely, in a series of parish/ward assessments for a national tax – the Lay Subsidy – which was needed to fund Queen Elizabeth I’s ongoing war in Ireland.

Evidence suggests that Shakespeare lived at a place next to the St Helen’s Bishopsgate church. His home was most probably in a cluster of buildings that overlooked the churchyard of St Helen's. The Bart lived here between 1597 and 1598 while he was writing Romeo and Juliet.
8
First Folio Monument

8) First Folio Monument

While technically this pink granite monument topped with a bust of Shakespeare, in the former churchyard of St Mary Aldermanbury on Love Lane, commemorates the First Folio of Shakespeare's plays, it also serves as a memorial to the two of the Bard's henchmen, Henry Condell and John Heminges, actors who had worked with him in The Globe Theatre and who, after his death in 1616, were instrumental in collating and printing the book. Both men lived in the St. Mary Aldermanbury parish and were buried in its churchyard.

The monument was built in 1896. By the time of Shakespeare's death, 18 of his plays had already been published, so the First Folio included those plus another 18 previously unpublished, thus totaling 36. The works not featured in the First Folio are Pericles, Prince of Tyre, The Two Noble Kinsmen, as well as the two lost plays, Cardenio and Love's Labour's Won.
9
St Olave Silver Street

9) St Olave Silver Street

Prior to the Second World War, there were still a few places left in the capital fit to qualify as "a genuine piece of Shakespearean London". One such place was the juncture of Silver and Muggle (or Monkwell) Streets in Cripplegate which has now all but vanished due to the heavy bombardment during the Blitz.

Back in 1604, Shakespeare used to live in Silver Street, lodging in the house of French Huguenot, Christopher Mountjoy, maker of tire (decorated headdress). It was in that house that Shakespeare wrote Othello and King Lear. Sadly, the house burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666 and the entire area was redeveloped after WW2. Silver Street was a short street and contained a church – St Olave’s – located almost opposite to the house where Shakespeare lived and which also perished in the Great Fire.

Nowadays, in a small square across London Wall Street (on the corner with Noble Street) there is a block of stone with a medieval skull and cross-bone carving, marking the graveyard of that church – the view Shakespeare probably would have had when he lodged with the Mountjoys in Silver Street.
10
St. Paul's Cathedral

10) St. Paul's Cathedral (must see)

Ludgate Hill, one of three ancient hills in London, has been the site of a place of worship since 604 AD. The present building on the hill is St Paul’s Cathedral, and it is quite rightly one of the most famous of London’s landmarks and the most visited cathedral in the world, after St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Between 604 and the Great Fire of 1666, there had been several churches on the hill, and after the last one was destroyed in the Great Fire, Sir Christopher Wren was commissioned to build a new, bigger one. He had to make five different designs of the building before one was finally chosen; work began in 1675 and the cathedral was officially opened in 1711.

The interior of the cathedral is very beautiful with the inner dome painted with 8 monochromes by Sir James Thornhill, depicting the life of St Paul. The inner dome holds three galleries: the internal Whispering Gallery takes its name from the unique acoustics – a whisper against the wall on one side of the gallery can be heard on the other side. Above this is the external Stone Gallery and above that is the external Golden Gallery.

In the Nave there are three chapels: on the North aisle are the All Souls Chapel and the St Dunstan’s Chapel; on the South aisle is St George and St Michael Chapel. The Knights Bachelor Chapel and the OBE Chapel are to be found in the crypt.

The tombs of Lord Nelson, the Duke of Wellington and Sir Christopher Wren are also in the crypt, along with tombs and memorials to many others who have made a great contribution to the nation, including artist and musicians. Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held here, and of course, the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana was celebrated in the cathedral.

***Charles Dickens Tour***
St Paul’s Cathedral, as a setting, is featured heavily in many novels by Charles Dickens. In "Master Humphrey’s Clock", for example, Dickens describes Master Humphrey going up to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral, then the tallest building in London, for the panoramic city view. He writes: ‘Draw but a little circle above the clustering house tops, and you shall have within its space, everything with its opposite extreme and contradiction, close beside’.

Another Dickens's work – "David Copperfield" – takes Peggotty to the top of St. Paul’s to enjoy the impressive views over London, which is something visitors still do today.

The area around the iconic cathedral Dickens knew well and frequented himself for various reasons, including major public events, like the funeral of the Duke of Wellington in 1852.

*** Harry Potter Movie ***
Other than architecture- and history buffs, nowadays Harry Potter fans also have their reason to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral. The point of interest for them is the spectacular spiral Geometric Staircase (also known as the Dean’s Stair) that appears to be floating out of the walls of the Cathedral’s South West Bell Tower. Recognizable from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, this winding staircase leads to the astronomy tower and is where students climbed up the stone steps towards Professor Trelawney’s Divination classes held in a classroom atop a Hogwart’s North Tower. It was also featured in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” as the Turris Magnus staircase. To view the staircase, you will need to enter the Cathedral on a visitor ticket.

***Shakespeare Walk***
The medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, predecessor of Sir Christopher Wren’s landmark dome design, was one of the largest European churches of its time, whose spire dominated the skyline of London until it burned down in the Great Fire of 1666. During Shakespeare’s lifetime, the area around St Paul’s was very different to what it is today.

Apart from being the centre of religious, political, cultural and social life in the city, the Cathedral was also the heart of London’s book trade and its environment was quite important in shaping the literary works of that period. By 1600, Shakespeare was the most published professional dramatist, and the first editions of his plays including Titus Andronicus, Richard II, Richard III, 1 Henry IV, 2 Henry IV, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Merchant of Venice were all bought and sold in St Paul’s Churchyard. It is also very likely that Shakespeare himself scouted the local bookshops for content that would furnish him with source material for his own work. In large part, the environment of St Paul’s shaped Shakespeare’s writing and influenced its survival and reception.

Why You Should Visit:
An architectural masterpiece and symbol of London during the War.
There is always much to explore, both above ground and in the crypt.

Tip:
You have to pay for the entrance of this cathedral. Buy tickets online to save time. You can also buy an audio tour at the entrance.
To really appreciate the interior, you should climb the steps to the dome (which should take a good 30 min.) You will find an external viewing area at the top.
Part way up there is also a whispering gallery from which you look down into the church from above.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 8:30am-4:30pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
11
Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter

11) Plaque to Richard Quiney's Letter

This plaque commemorates the only surviving letter to, as well as from, William Shakespeare, the original copy of which is held, as a valued relic, by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust on Stratford. The letter dates back to 1598 and was addressed by Richard Quiney, a mercer and council official from Stratford-upon-Avon to his “loving good friend and countryman, Mr. William Shakespeare” asking for a loan of £30 (about £3,750 in today’s money).

Richard Quiney later had his son Thomas marry Shakespeare’s younger daughter, and he came to London on business where he stayed for four months seeking to obtain a relief for Stratford, where things were pretty bad at that time, from the latest Subsidy voted by Parliament.

It seems likely that Shakespeare never got the letter, since when Quiney died in 1602, it was included among his papers in the archives of Stratford corporation. It is also documented elsewhere that Shakespeare did try to help with the matter; perhaps the two men met in person instead. In any case, eventually there was a happy end to that story as Queen Elizabeth did agree to relieve Stratford and the Exchequer reimbursed Quiney for his London expenses.
12
Blackfriars Gatehouse

12) Blackfriars Gatehouse

The Blackfriars Gatehouse stood approximately where the Cockpit pub stands today in the City of London, a short walk away from the Blackfriars Playhouse Theatre in Ireland Yard. There, the King's Men company put on Shakespeare’s plays at about the same time as they did at The Globe.

The theatre itself stood on the site of a Dominican monastery established in 1275, located between the River Thames and Ludgate Hill, and dissolved in 1538 by King Henry VIII. Records say that William Shakespeare bought the gatehouse on 10 March 1613 from Henry Walker, a "citizen and minstrel (musician)" for £140 and left it to his daughter Susanna.

The deed of purchase for the property still exists and is kept at the London Metropolitan Archives, containing one of only six “authenticated” examples of Shakespeare’s signature. This is particularly significant because – although Shakespeare owned property in Stratford, it is the only piece of property he is known to have owned in London.

Given its convenient proximity to the Blackfriars Playhouse and The Globe, Shakespeare may have intended to make it his home, yet no evidence suggests that he lived here in the three years prior to his death in Stratford upon Avon in 1616.
13
St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

13) St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe

The church at St. Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe was part of Baynard's Castle in the 13th century, but it was likely there well before that. During the 14th century, Edward III moved his "Royal Wardrobe" from the Tower of London to a storehouse just north of the church. This is the official name for the building housing the king's arms, clothing, and personal items. The name stuck.

The original buildings were destroyed by the Great London Fire of 1666, and the replacement was built in 1695. The building you see today was reconstructed after the London blitz. It was rededicated in 1965. While the construction is newer, most parts of the building came from destroyed or demolished historic churches.

For 15 years of his life, Shakespeare lived and worked in the parish. His house was in Ireland Yard, and he worked at Blackfriars Theatre. There is a memorial in the church.

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