Bankside bear-baiting pits and The Hope theatre protected by Department for Culture, Media and Sport

News Desk (29 September, 2016)

Opening its doors in 1614, The Hope was unique in doubling up as a playhouse and a bear garden

12235MOLA Excavation of The Hope


A seventeenth century Bankside theatre and bear-baiting pit was given listed status this week.

Opening its doors in 1614, The Hope was unique in doubling up as a playhouse and a bear garden.

The first play staged was Ben Jonson’s ‘Bartholomew Fair’, and within the play Jonson makes several references to the dual-purpose of the Hope, such as likening the smell of the playhouse to that of the animals at Smithfield market.

Illustration of the hope by Judith Dobie Historic England

Illustration of the hope by Judith Dobie Historic England

The original intention was to hold animal baiting only on Sundays and Thursdays, with plays in between, however the animal baiting and other entertainment gradually eclipsed the playing. Tension increased between the actors and playhouse owners which finally led to the acting company leaving the Hope in 1617.

By the 1620s the playhouse had reverted to its old name Bear Garden. Parliament ordered it to close in 1643, however it continued to operate until 1656 during the English Civil War when it was eventually dismantled.

Baiting of bears, bulls and horses by dogs was enormously popular sport for all levels of society in the 16th and 17th centuries, as documented by Samuel Pepys who describes his visits to the Davies Bear Garden in his diaries on at least four occasions from 1666 to 1669.

Five bear gardens were known to have been built in Bankside; by the 17th century the general area including the arenas, kennels and adjoining houses had become known as Bear Gardens, a street name which survives today on Bankside.

The Hope was protected by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on the advice of Historic England.

It will now be added to the National Heritage List for England, to sit alongside the Globe.

Tracey Crouch, Heritage Minister, said: “As we celebrate Shakespeare’s great works and global influence on the 400th anniversary of his death, it’s important that we also protect and recognise the remains of the playhouses where his and many other fantastic British playwrights’ works first came to life on stage.

“I’m delighted that so many sites associated with our nation’s strong theatrical heritage will now be protected.”

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “The archaeological remains of the first and last Elizabethan playhouses to be built in London give us fleeting glimpses of a fascinating period in the history of theatre. They are where some of the world’s greatest stories were first told and it is wonderful that they remain today, bearing witness to our fascinating past.”


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