40-storey skyscraper earmarked for Shakespeare heritage site

An artist's impression of what The Stage will look like

An artist's impression of what The Stage will look like - Credit: Archant

Proposals to build a 40-storey tower block on the site of one of Shakespeare’s earliest theatres – where Romeo and Juliet was first staged – have divided the community.

The remains of the Curtain Theatre

The remains of the Curtain Theatre - Credit: Archant

It has been known for several years that the 16th century Curtain Theatre, which preceded The Globe on the banks of the Thames in showcasing several of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, was located in Shoreditch.

A plaque on Hewett Street noting the siteof The Curtian Theatre

A plaque on Hewett Street noting the siteof The Curtian Theatre - Credit: Archant

The Tower Theatre Company amateur dramatics group earmarked the believed site, in a goods yard off Hewett Street, as a symbolic location for its new home in 2006 – but the deal fell through two years ago because of financial issues.

Ruins of The Curtian Theatre have been discovered on Hewett Steet

Ruins of The Curtian Theatre have been discovered on Hewett Steet - Credit: Archant

Last June the authenticity of the site was confirmed when Museum of London Archaeology experts announced they had found two sections of the theatre’s exterior wall along with well-preserved remains of the original wooden stage.

At the time, developer Plough Yard Developments announced it wanted to build on the site.

Now a planning application has been submitted, backed by The Globe Theatre and conservation group English Heritage.

If given the go-ahead, the £250 million development, nicknamed The Stage, would include a 40-storey tower block of 400 flats as well as shops, offices and restaurants.

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The historic remains will be preserved in a two-storey glass enclosure next to a Shakespeare museum and the open-air performance space.

But while architect firm Pringle Brandon Perkins and Will claim they have plans for a 250-seater open-air auditorium on the site, there is no mention of it in the planning application on Hackney Council’s website.

Matt Johnson, founder member of “Save Shoreditch” said the plans reflect “just the kind of grotesque over-development of Shoreditch” he warned about when setting up his campaign group. “Virtually everything about this development makes one feel queasy, from its stupid name, to its over-bearing, arrogant design – completely overshadowing the nearby historic four to five storey light industrial buildings which are the defining feature of this part of east London, to the fact the designers somehow think it is a wizard wheeze to plonk a 40-storey monstrosity on top of the recently-discovered remains of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre.”


Meanwhile an anonymous local blogger for the Spitalfields Life website told the Loving Dalston news website that the theatre is of ‘global cultural significance’ and should be respected.

“For developers to stick these monstrous tower blocks on the top is a derisory act of cheap opportunism and ignorance,” he said.

However Rebecca Collings, co-chairwoman of OPEN Shoreditch, was more welcoming of the plans.

“While one doesn’t necessarily agree that 40-storey buildings are needed or wanted, it is next to another tower block and seems a more appropriate location than other parts of the borough,” she said.

The proposals are due to go before a Hackney council planning committee in April.

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