I am grateful for this opportunity to write a foreword to Reconstructing the Rose. I would like to set the audio-visual reconstruction of the Rose’s superstructure, undertaken by Roger Clegg and Eric Tatham, within the context of the discovery of the playhouse and the work of the Rose Theatre Trust.
The late Elizabethan Rose playhouse was found on Southwark’s Bankside early in 1989 by Museum of London archaeologists investigating a site prior to the development of a new office block. Until then, none of London’s late Elizabethan and Jacobean open-air playhouses, built either just north of the City, or across the Thames in Southwark, had been physically located on the ground. Much passionate interest was created by the discovery of the Rose. The emergence from the earth of Bankside’s first playhouse, built and run by the entrepreneurial Philip Henslowe, associated with the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare and the performances of Edward Alleyn, was seen as an event of international significance. During the spring and summer of 1989, as the dig progressed, more of the playhouse was revealed and a public campaign began in support of the Rose’s survival. Arising from the campaign, the Rose Theatre Trust was established with objectives that included ensuring that the playhouse was fully investigated and preserved in situ despite the planned construction of the new office block to be built above it. A more long-term objective of the Trust was to make sure that the remains of the playhouse were subsequently made available to the public, for learning and enjoyment. The new office block, to be named Rose Court, was erected between late 1989 and early 1992, with the remains of the Rose now buried beneath its basement. Once Rose Court was completed, the site was placed on the government’s Schedule of Ancient Monuments, providing for its long term protection. By a prior agreement between the government and the owners, the basement area of Rose Court was to be left as a space for the benefit of the playhouse in the future.
In the late 1990s the Rose Theatre Trust obtained permission from the then owners of Rose Court to make use of this space. Although only an empty shell, without facilities such as heat or toilets, the Trust opened the site to visitors, mounting an exhibition about the playhouse and its discovery. It has been possible to keep the doors open to the public since. Today, the Trust, through the efforts of its Friends organisation and other volunteers, opens the site regularly on Saturdays, providing opportunities for visitors to learn about the Rose by participating in a programme of themed activities relating to the playhouse and the period, including examining archaeological artefacts as well as learning about costume and performance. The site is also made available in the evenings, providing acting companies with opportunities to stage short productions for our visitors, temporarily returning the site to its use on Bankside during the final years of Elizabeth’s reign.
To provide for the future of the playhouse, the Trust has developed the ‘Rose Revealed’ project, an ambitious plan which will create a purpose-built visitor centre on the site. Delivering the project will include further excavations, so as to investigate the eastern third of the playhouse, which lay beyond the area of development in 1989. It will also provide for the installation of a long-term conservation system to protect the remains of the playhouse in the wet environment in which they lie. Following the excavation and conservation phase, a Visitor Centre will be built. Once constructed, facilities will be put in place to tell the story of the playhouse, and of the playwrights and players associated with it. Broader political and cultural themes will also be explored, examining, for example, how the plays produced in the London playhouses might relate to the circumstances of the times.
Archaeological investigations in Britain’s towns, such as the exciting one that in 1989 encountered the Rose, are usually undertaken in advance of potentially destructive redevelopment schemes. Many of these urban centres have long histories and excavations offer opportunities to acquire evidence of the buildings that stood there during earlier periods.
However, even if evidence of earlier buildings can be found, their superstructures will have largely vanished. Once they are no longer required, it is likely that the stone, brick or timber components used for their walls and roofs would have been removed and taken for re-use elsewhere.
Thus, though the ground-plans of the demolished buildings might be recognisable from the foundations and whatever survived of the flooring and wall bases, evidence for their superstructure might be largely absent on the site, apart perhaps from debris tossed aside during demolition. That was clearly the case with the Rose: even though much of the ground plan could be recorded, much less architectural detail of the superstructure has survived.
Visitors to the Rose are interested in learning about how the now missing superstructure of the building may once have been like, and what details can be established about the architecture as well as the decorative schemes that might have adorned the playhouse’s interior. Clearly for the Rose, as well as for London’s other Elizabethan and Jacobean playhouses, some indications as to their superstructure can be obtained from existing illustrations, such as the contemporary—or near contemporary—maps and panoramas.
For these reasons the Trust was delighted when Roger Clegg approached us with a view to creating a ‘fly–through’ of a computer model enabling our site visitors to experience a re-creation of the Rose as a standing building. Whether as an immersive experience or viewed as a video, the model will enable visitors to enter the Rose and examine how it might have appeared to playgoers.
This re-creation of the Rose is of importance for a number of reasons. Our visitors, as viewers, can first experience the late sixteenth century Rose from Maid (or Maiden) Lane, a road that separated the crowded and notorious urban Bankside, to the north, from the rural expanses of Bishop of Winchester’s hunting park to the south. They can then examine the external façade of the playhouse on Maid Lane, cross the ditch, and arrive within, to become familiar with the elements of the standing building, including galleries, arena and stage, and appreciate the types of rich decorations that may have embellished the interior of Henslowe’s playhouse.
Reconstructing the Rose is a comprehensively researched, informative and well-illustrated work. Resulting from extensive enquiry into historical and archaeological records, it demonstrates that the audio-visual interpretation is underpinned, as far as is possible in our current state of knowledge, by evidence rather than conjecture.
Chair, Rose Theatre Trust