Boar’s Head Theatre

Theatre in/near Spitalfields, existed between 1598 and 1616

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Theatre · Spitalfields · E1 ·
FEBRUARY
14
2018

The Boar’s Head Theatre was an inn-yard theatre in the Whitechapel area.

Boar
Credit: Unknown
The Boar’s Head was located on the north side of Whitechapel High Street. Berry notes that "it became a playhouse partly because of where it was — just outside the City of London … a few feet beyond the ordinary jurisdiction of the lord mayor and his aldermen."

The Boar’s Head was originally an inn, which was built in the 1530s; it underwent two renovations for use as a playhouse: first, in 1598, when a simple stage was erected, and a second, more elaborate renovation in 1599. In 1616, the lease of the space to Oliver Woodliffe, one of the men responsible for expanding the theatre, expired, and Charles Sisson surmises that this marked the end of the Boar’s Head’s days as a theatre space.

On 28 November 1594, Jane and Henry Poley, who owned the inn, entered a lease agreement with Oliver and Susan Woodliffe. The agreement began on 25 March 1595 and ended on 24 March 1616 and included a promise to spend £100 during the following seven years to build, among other things, a tiring house and a stage.

In 1598, a primitive stage was built in the middle of the yard, measuring 39 feet 7 inches by 25 feet. The audience stood mostly in the yard, as the galleries were not big enough to accommodate a large audience. In 1599, Woodliffe and Richard Samwell (who had leased the inn in 1598 from Woodliffe; Woodliffe remained landlord of the theatre) took down the primitive stage setup and built a new playhouse apparently meant to compete with Shakespeare’s Globe, which had just opened on the other side of the Thames. As Leggatt states, "the stage — essentially the same stage — was moved to the west wall so that actors could enter directly on to it from the tiring house, a roof was built over the stage, and the galleries were considerably expanded and roofed with tiles."

During its lifetime as a playhouse, it was home to the Earl of Derby’s Men (summer 1599-summer 1601, summer 1602-March 1603), the Earl of Worcester’s Men (summer 1601-summer 1602, April 1604-1605 or 1606), and Prince Charles’ Men (summer 1609-March 1616); the historian Herbert Berry suggests that many other unidentified companies may have played there, as well.

In 1616, the lease agreement between the Woodliffes and the Poleys (now controlled by Mrs. Poley’s heir, Sir John Poley) expired. By this time, the Prince’s Men had merged with Lady Elizabeth’s Men and had entered into an agreement to play in the Hope Theatre on Bankside. Sisson suggests that Poley "found it more profitable to develop the buildings and site of the Boar’s head, or to dispose of it to a speculator, for other purposes than those of an inn and a theatre, in the rapid growth of this residential and industrial suburb of London.".

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VIEW THE SPITALFIELDS AREA IN THE 1750s
The 1750 Rocque map is bounded by Sudbury (NW), Snaresbrook (NE), Eltham (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1750 map does not display.

VIEW THE SPITALFIELDS AREA IN THE 1800s
The 1800 mapping is bounded by Stanmore (NW), Woodford (NE), Bromley (SE) and Hampton Court (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1800 map does not display.

VIEW THE SPITALFIELDS AREA IN THE 1830s
The 1830 mapping is bounded by West Hampstead (NW), Hackney (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Chelsea (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1830 map does not display.

VIEW THE SPITALFIELDS AREA IN THE 1860s
The 1860 mapping is bounded by Brent Cross (NW), Stratford (NE), Greenwich (SE) and Hammermith (SW).
Outside these bounds, the 1860 map does not display.

VIEW THE SPITALFIELDS AREA IN THE 1900s
The 1900 mapping covers all of the London area.

 

Spitalfields

Spitalfields is near to Liverpool Street station and Brick Lane.

The area straddles Commercial Street and is home to several markets, including the historic Old Spitalfields Market, and various Brick Lane Markets on Brick Lane and Cheshire Street. Petticoat Lane Market lies on the area's south-western boundaries.

The name Spitalfields appears in the form Spittellond in 1399; as The spitel Fyeld on the 16th-century Civitas Londinium map associated with Ralph Agas. The land belonged to St Mary Spital, a priory or hospital erected on the east side of the Bishopsgate thoroughfare in 1197, and the name is thought to derive from this. An alternative, and possibly earlier, name for the area was Lolsworth.

After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Spitalfields was inhabited by prosperous French Huguenot silk weavers. In the early 19th century their descendants were reduced to a deplorable condition due to the competition of the Manchester textile factories and the area began to deteriorate into crime-infested slums. The spacious and handsome Huguenot houses were divided up into tiny dwellings which were rented by poor families of labourers, who sought employment in the nearby docks.

The area has recently attracted a IT-literate younger population.
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