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Soil search reveals Rose Theatre secrets

London SE1 website team

New light is being shed on the Elizabethan Bankside theatregoing experience by a re-examination of evidence from an old excavation of the Rose Theatre site in Park Street.

According to a report in the latest issue of BBC History Magazine, a detailed new analysis of soil samples taken from the site 15 years ago suggests that a trip to the theatre in the 1590s was a huge party.

Beer, ale and wine were drunk in apparently large quantities, huge numbers of cockles, mussels and oysters were consumed, and tobacco was already being smoked extensively, even though it had only been introduced to Europe a few decades earlier.

The soil search was carried out by Julian Bowsher, one of the archaeologists on the original dig. He says it provides hitherto unsuspected clues to the social habits of Elizabethan theatre audiences. The full findings will be present a book to be published next year by English Heritage and the Museum of London Archaeological Service, but Bowsher shared some of his discoveries with BBC History Magazine because there is the prospect of a new excavation.

The Rose , the first theatre to be built on Bankside, was built in 1587 and demolished in 1606. It was uncovered in a pre-development investigation of the site in 1989 and the remains proved far more detailed than expected. Stars including Ian McKellen and Judi Dench led protests to prevent bulldozers destroying the remnants.

As a result of the campaign, the remains were buried under a protective concrete shell. Recent checks have confirmed that the previously unexplored areas of the wooden building are still in good condition. Now it is hoped that a new dig can take place and a permanent display be created with help from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Rose Theatre Trust

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