Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 8.0060. Wednesday, 15 January 1997.
From: Andrew Gurr <
Date: Wednesday, 15 Jan 1997 09:46:56 +0000 (GMT)
Subject: Not digging the Globe's remains
English Heritage is the government body responsible for sites in England that
are scheduled and protected because they are thought to be of 'heritage'
interest. It has a statutary responsibility to endeavour to 'preserve' all such
sites. Unfortunately in recent years it has converted that responsibility into
a policy of keeping archaeologists away from sites of archaeological interest.
Now it has found another victim. The foundations of the original Globe, public
interest in which is attested by the three hundred thousand visitors that
passed through the new Globe exhibition nearby in the last two years, are not
to undergo any further excavaation.
The 5% or so of the Globe that a Museum of London team of archaeologists
uncovered in 1989 from the open space behind Anchor Terrace in Southwark was a
segment on the north-east flank of the auditorium. Analysis of this fragment
made it clear that the most significant and valuable foundations, the stage
area, must be underneath Anchor Terrace itself. A tentative dig was done in the
Terrace's cellarage in 1992, and established that the remains are there. Now,
it seems, the opportunity to learn anything from them is to be buried
At a meeting on 7 January Southwark Borough Councils Planning Committee
affirmed English Heritage's policy by granting permission to the owners of
Anchor Terrace, which is a scheduled late Georgian block built in 1839 facing
Southwark Bridge Road, to convert the building into flats, and to return the
Globe's remains (quote)to the burial regime which has protected them in the
past (unquote). Without consultation, least of all with the scholars and
theatre historians who could have told them how important the site is, nor
taking any account of the high level of public interest, English Heritage has
concluded that (quote) further archaeological investigation with the basement
of Anchor Terrace is not justified at present (unquote). This is rather like
burying the Elgin Marbles in the hope that everyone will forget they exist.
When converted to its new use, Anchor Terrace will be able to use its Grade 2
Preservation Order to keep itself immune from any digging throughout the
foreseeable future. The rest of the Globe behind Anchor Terrace is also to be
buried indefinitely under a new block of flats.
The sites of the Globe and its near neighbour the Rose are unique. The
fragments of the two of them that the Museum of London archaeologists uncovered
in 1989 told us much more about Shakespeare's theatres than had been achieved
through centuries of painstaking analysis of the documentary evidence. As
theatres their design was unique. The Globe and all the other similar early
theatres were demolished during the Cromwell era in the 1640s, and few records
of what they were like survive. Consequently we know less about the venue for
which Shakespeare wrote his greatest plays than about almost any other kind of
theatre in the world. It was the workplace where he staged his greatest plays.
He himself contributed one-eighth of its building cost in 1599. Abandoning the
study of these remains means that we lose permanently the opportunity to learn
anything new about our greatest playwrights own theatre.
English Heritage's policy was really designed for Roman and similar remains,
not for these rarities. The Globe and Rose sites are unlike other
archaeological remains precisely because they are unique. More than two hundred
Roman theatres have survived. Leaving some of them buried will not affect what
has been learned already from the early excavations. But only eight or nine
theatres like the Globe were ever built in London during the first brief
flourish of Shakespearean theatre, and most of them have already been lost to
later redevelopment. Both the Rose and the Globe sites are protected by
scheduling as Heritage sites, but the knowledge they contain is what gives them
life. Protection in the form of permanent burial is a function appropriate to
the dead. The Globe site does not deserve permanent interment.
None of the principles that were invoked when this decision was made will bear
much scrutiny. The argument, for instance, that (quote) the burial regime...
has protected them in the past (unquote) is itself scarcely tenable, on the
evidence of a report by English Heritages own Archaeology unit. When the Rose's
remains were concreted over in 1989 to allow Rose Court to be built over its
head it was acknowledged that this form of preservation for a half-dug site was
new and experimental. Sensors were installed to identify any changes in the
condition of the remains. A report based on the records from these sensors
handed to English Heritage in 1993 said that indications of significant changes
in the moisture content together with bacterial activity had been found. Since
then nothing has been done to check on the progress of these changes. The
remains stay buried and decaying. A similar shell of concrete protects the
Globe's relics dug up in 1989 behind Anchor Terrace. We simply do not know
whether this kind of alleged protection will prevent the remains from decaying
in the future.
The technology needed to dig under Anchor Terrace is not a novelty. There is no
need to demolish the whole of this not unhandsome building, but only to dig a
few more holes in its sturdy basement floor. This has already been done once by
the archaeologists. An innovative ground radar survey in 1991, looking for
density differences at the level of the Globes foundations under the floor of
the Terrace, led in 1992 to four test pits being dug to check on the hints that
the radar scan gave. These digs proved that the whole of Anchor Terraces
foundations consist of a raft of concrete three feet thick, and that some
remains of the Globe do lie under that raft. In the hope of prompting further
digs, the Globe Centre in 1995 commissioned a more sophisticated ground radar
scan in the basement. This produced significant indications that there are
ample remains of the Globe there under the raft. There is ample space in the
vicinity of the stage area for a further analytical dig which would do no harm
to those three feet of concrete which hold the Georgian building in place.
The Globe is a site of truly international interest, and anything that can add
to our knowledge of it as Shakespeare's workplace is invaluable. Leaving the
remains undisturbed is the very form of protection which left us ignorant of
even their existence for three hundred years. A policy on archaeological sites
which insists on leaving them undiscovered is a paradox, brilliantly economical
in cost, but appallingly smug about the ignorance those savings leave us in
over the sites for which English Heritage has statutary responsibility. It
acclaims the heritage concept and historical knowledge in principle, but denies
it in practice.
Further information about this issue can be found on the Web by accessing the
Globe page at http://www.reading.ac.uk/globe. The only form of pressure that
can be applied to change this policy and the decision over the Globe site is by
loudly voicing public interest. The Globe is a scheduled site, so the decision
can be referred to the Heritage Minister in the Department of the Environment
and the Secretary of State for the Environment. If you have even a mild opinion
about the loss which implementing this decision will entail, please write to
the Heritage Minister, Virginia Bottomley, and to the government minister
ultimately responsible as Secretary of State for the Environment, John Gummer.
Their addresses are c/o the House of Commons, Westminster, LONDON SW1.
(whose address is the English Department,
University of Reading, Box 218, READING
RG6 7AA, UK).