What was the Newington Butts playhouse?

Almost all of the performances described in Henslowe's Diary refer to those at the Rose playhouse. But for just over a week in June, 1594, Henslowe instead recorded the performances at a playhouse called Newington Butts.

London and the village of
Newington (bottom left), in
Symonson's map of Kent (1596)
Newington Butts was one of the first theatres to be built in Renaissance London, but we know almost nothing about it. Like the Rose, it was on the southern side of the Thames, but it was nearly half a mile further south. In those days that made for a big difference, because the city had not yet spread that far south. The playhouse was near to the small farming village of Newington; the word 'Butts' may refer to a nearby archery ground, or to a kind of agricultural field.

The playhouse at Newington Butts existed for about twenty years, but it's hard to imagine that it was ever a popular venue. Londoners who wanted to see plays there had to squelch along half a mile of muddy road. The theatre seems to have closed in 1595, shortly after its brief appearance in Henslowe's Diary.

If you find yourself in London and would like to follow in the footsteps of Elizabethan playgoers trekking to Newington Butts, you can make your way across London Bridge and walk down Borough High Street to your destination: the southeast corner of the giant traffic circus at Elephant and Castle. To be perfectly honest, there are much better ways to spend your time, but it's interesting to discover that the site of the old playhouse remains a theatrical area today: on it now stands the Coronet Theatre, a modern concert venue, which was built on the site of the 1870s Elephant and Castle Theatre where the young Charlie Chaplin once performed.

If you prefer not to suffer the traffic fumes in person, you can explore the neighborhood of the Newington Butts site in the Google Street View window below:




Further reading


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