Excavation work at a construction site in East London has led to the discovery of what is believed to be the city’s oldest recorded theatre — the Red Lion, a team from University College London’s Institute of Archaeology has said. The team first found timber remains and artefacts at the site last year, and has since been gathering evidence to confirm that the structure was once a thriving creative hub for actors and playwrights of the Elizabethan era.
“After nearly 500 years, the remains of the Red Lion playhouse, which marked the dawn of Elizabethan theatre, may have finally been found,” Archaeologist Stephen White, who directed the excavation, said in a press release. “The strength of the combined evidence — archaeological remains of buildings, in the right location, of the right period — seem to match up with characteristics of the playhouse recorded in early documents,” White explained.
In January 2019, the team discovered a large rectangular timber structure, the measurements of which matched the dimensions of the playhouse recorded in documents dating back to 1569, BBC reported. Several artefacts such as beakers, glasses, mugs, and tankards were found on the site, which helped archaeologists link it to the Red Lion.
The Red Lion is said to have been built in 1567 by John Brayne — the man behind the famous ‘The Theatre’ in Shoreditch, which staged the plays of William Shakespeare in the 1590s.
Until now, the exact location of the playhouse has been highly debated. While details about the over 500-year-old playhouse are scarce and hard to find, two lawsuits from 1567 and 1569 describe the layout of the theatre in some detail.
The team also discovered the remains of buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th century near the excavation site, CNN reported. Two of the buildings are said to have been beer cellars, say reports. According to White, the next stage of the project will deal with mapping out the site further and looking into what the buildings could have been used for.
According to a report in The Independent, the Red Lion operated as a theatre for a decade, following which Brayne shifted his focus towards building The Theatre. The playhouse later became the site of a dog fighting arena, the report further stated.
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