A contemporary of William Shakespeare (and hence, given our current focus on Shakespeare, the reason why we’re featuring him), Philip Henslowe was a theatre owner and impresario who, along with John Chomley, built the Rose Theatre in Bankside.

Henslowe is believed to have been born in about 1550 and was the son of Edmund Henslowe, master of the game at Ashdown Forest in Sussex. He is known to have moved to London in the 1570s and there became an apprentice to dyer Henry Woodward. Marrying Woodward’s widow Agnes, from 1577 Henslowe lived in Southwark – in the Liberty of the Clink – where, along with other business interests including bringing in timber from Sussex, he is known to have been a prominent landlord.

He and Chomley built The Rose Theatre – the first theatre in Bankside – in 1587 on land Henslowe had purchased several years earlier and from 1591 onwards, he partnered with the acting company known as the Admiral’s Men (they had parted ways with theatre owner James Burbage after a dispute about money). In fact it was the company’s leading actor, the renowned Edward Alleyn, who married Henslowe’s step-daughter Joan.

Following the arrival of the rival Globe Theatre in Bankside in the late 1590s, Henslowe decided to make a move and built the Fortune Theatre in the north-west corner of the City which subsequently became home to the Admiral’s Men. He is also believed to have had interests in several other theatres – Newington Butts, the Swan and more latterly, the Hope in Paris Garden, a versatile facility which could be used as both animal-baiting ring and theatre.

His prominence in business matters led to many rewards including serving as a Groom of the Chamber during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and the delightfully named Gentleman Sewer of the Chamber during the reign of King James I.

He died in 1616, leaving behind a diary which spans the period 1592 to 1609 – it includes mention of performances of many of Shakespeare’s plays and although the Bard himself doesn’t get a mention, many of his contemporaries – Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson included – do. The diary – which had been written in an old account book and provides great detail of Henslowe’s theatre-related business – passed into the care of Dulwich College which his son-in-law had founded.

Click here to buy Henslowe’s Diary.

While the remains of some of London’s oldest purpose-built theatres – such as The Rose and The Globe – can be found in once notorious Southwark, London’s oldest, still-in-use theatre is in fact in the West End. The Theatre Royal Drury Lane (not to be confused with the Theatre Royal Haymarket) apparently takes the honor – the latest incarnation of a theatre which has still on the same location since 1663.

First built on the orders of Restoration-era dramatist and theatre manager Thomas Killigrew, the original theatre on the site – where King Charles II’s mistress Nell Gwynn apparently trod the boards and which was originally known as the Theatre Royal in Bridges Street – was burnt down in 1672 only to be rebuilt to the designs of Sir Christopher Wren two years later.

This building lasted for more than a century before it too was demolished – this time to make way for a larger theatre which opened its doors in 1794. Fire seems to have been a perennial problem, for it too burned down in 1809, being rebuilt and opened again in 1812 with a performance of Hamlet (the current building, designed by BenjaminWyatt).

Now owned by star composer Andrew Lloyd Webber via his Really Useful Group, the building has associations with some of London’s theatreland’s finest names – everyone from eighteenth century actor David Garrick (one of the theatre’s managers) to early nineteenth century child actress Clara Fisher and, in more recent times, Monty Python.

Currently hosting Shrek: The Musical, other recent productions there have included Miss Saigon and a musical adaption of Lord of the Rings.