Located on the site of the former Blackfriars Monastery which has closed during the Dissolution (see our earlier post here), the origins of the Blackfriars Playhouse or Theatre go back to the mid-1570s when children connected with the Queen’s Chapel Choir performed plays in part of the former monastery.

While those plays were performed in order to practice for those performed before Queen Elizabeth I, the organisers did also apparently use the theatre for paying audiences. This first theatre ceased operation in 1584.

In 1596, part of the priory and an adjoining building were bought by James Burbage in 1596 who created a playhouse within them. It was used by the Children of the Chapel, a group of choristers and other boys, until 1608 when the King’s Men took over – with Burbage’s son Richard and Shakespeare among those who had a share in the theatre – and used it as their winter playhouse.

The theatre – where Shakespeare himself is believed to have performed – was apparently the first commercial premises of its type to used artificial lighting and, usually for the time, featured music between acts.

The wife of King Charles I, Queen Henrietta Maria, is known to have attended the theatre later in its life in 1634 and again a couple of years later.

The theatre closed with the commencement of the English Civil War and the theatre was demolished in 1655.

The candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which opened in January at the Globe Theatre on Bankside, was designed based on drawings of indoor theatres of the era (there’s also a recreation of the Blackfriars Playhouse in the US which is home to the acting troupe of the American Shakespeare Center).

While nothing remains of the playhouse today, it lives on in the name Playhouse Yard.

The London area of Blackfriars – centred on Blackfriars Railway Station – takes its name from the former Dominican friary (known as the “black friars” thanks to their dark robes) which stood on the site.

The Dominicans first came to England in the 1220s and soon took up residence in Holborn. But the limitations of that site led them to move to a new location between Ludgate and the River Thames in the latter part of the 13th century. There, they constructed a substantial priory.

The priory subsequently played an important part in London’s civic and religious life – Parliament and the Privy Council is known to have met here and in 1529, a hearing was held here with regard to the divorce of King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon.

It was also a place of burial for the wealthy and influential – among those buried there was the beloved wife of Edward I, Eleanor of Castille (at least her heart was – her body was buried at Westminster Abbey).

The priory was dissolved in 1538 during the Dissolution. The Blackfriars Playhouse was built on the site during Elizabethan times and the Apothecaries Company also took up residence there. Those of the original buildings that survived were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. In more recent times, the area became the site of Blackfriars Railway Station.

A reminder of the area’s origins can be found on the facade of The Black Friar pub (1875) which sits opposite Blackfriars Bridge at the western end of Queen Victoria Street (pictured). There you can see a statue of a black friar, the work of Henry Poole which dates from around the beginning of the 20th century. There is also a plaque commemorating the friary in nearby Carter Lane.