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 listed 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 earliest Renaissance theatres to be built in London, but we know almost nothing about it. Like the Rose, it was on the southern side of the Thames, but it was much further away from the river, lying nearly half a mile further south. In those days, that was a big difference, for the city had not yet spread that far south; the playhouse was near a small farming village called Newington, perhaps by an archery ground (the word 'butts' can refer to archery targets, but also to a kind of 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 would like to follow in the footsteps of Londoners trekking to Newington Butts, you can make your way from London Bridge down Borough High Street to the southeast corner of the giant traffic circus at Elephant and Castle. To be perfectly honest, there are probably better ways to spend your time, but it's interesting to learn that on the site of the old playhouse now stands the Coronet Theatre, a concert venue which was originally the Elephant and Castle Theatre, built in the 1870s; the young Charlie Chaplin once performed there. You can explore the neighborhood of the Newington Butts site in the Google Street View window below:

Further reading

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