Rose Playhouse Collection

History of the Rose Property

The property known as the Rose was situated on the south bank of the Thames in the liberty of the Clink, located to the west of London Bridge in Southwark and to the east of Paris Garden manor. The bridge was the only crossing of the river to link the city of London and lands south and southeast of the river from Roman times until the eighteenth century, so its presence there was key to the development of Southwark as a zone of hospitality for travellers, notably Chaucer's pilgrims to Canterbury. The lordship of the manor was acquired by Henry of Blois, bishop of Winchester, from the priory of St Saviour, Bermondsey, in the twelfth century and the area continued to lie outside the jurisdiction of the London city authorities until the nineteenth century. At the outset the greater part of the bishop's manor comprised marshy fields, meadows, and pastures. At the northeast corner of the estate, the bishop and his successors built a palace to serve as their London area residence: the great hall's west end wall with the stone tracery of its fine rose window remains standing on the south side of modern Clink Street as a silent witness to the former grandeur of the episcopal palace. Development of the rest of the estate for urban uses followed gradually, with smaller houses and inns built first along the riverside by the road that became known as Bankside by the sixteenth century. The brothels or 'stews' of Bankside were a notorious attraction there and remained a feature on Bankside through the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods despite earlier attempts at suppression. Maiden or Maid Lane, running parallel to the river and south of Bankside, was named and known as early as the mid-thirteenth century and may indicate that prostitution was already flourishing by then.

The property called the Rose stretched from Bankside to Maid Lane and was owned by William Spence, a fishmonger of London, in the early years of the sixteenth century. By this time the Little Rose had been segregated from the 'Great Rose,' so its subsequent history evolves under different ownership. However, the deed drawn up for Spence's sale of the Great Rose names a Ralph Symonds as owner of the property just east of the Great Rose. This refers to the smaller section of the Little Rose which fronted on the Thames; the larger section of the property extended from behind the Hartshorn Inn to Maid Lane. An alley that became known as Rose Alley ran between these two sections of the Little Rose property but not all the way to Maid Lane until later in the seventeenth century. Near the northwest edge of the Little Rose boundary lay two properties owned by the bishops of Winchester, called the Barge (on the east) and the Bell and Cock (on the west). The Bell and Cock in particular was destined to feature in the history of bearbaiting on Bankside by the mid-sixteenth century.

After Ralph Symonds' death in 1541, his widow Thomasyn inherited the Little Rose. By 1552 she determined to make a charitable bequest of the Little Rose property in perpetuity following her death. Income from its rents would contribute to support of the poor from her parish, St Mildred’s Bread Street London, and from Christ's Hospital, as well as needy fishermen in Old Fish Street. The deed, dated 3 December 1552, names as trustees or feoffees two gentlemen from Kent as well as sixteen others, very likely from St Mildred's parish. From Thomasyn's death in 1555 onward, the trust seems to have been managed by representatives from the parish. The description of the estate in the deed indicates that some urban development had occurred: 'all that my mesuage or tenement called the little Roose with two gardeyns to the same adioyning sett lying & being in the parish late called seynt margarettes in Southwark in the County of Surrey & now being the parish of seynt Savyour in Southwarke aforesaid And also all my houses shoppes cellers Sollers Chambers entries gardeyns pondes easiamentes land soile & hereditamentes whatsoeuer with their appurtenances in the parish of seynt Savyour in Southwarke...' The mention of 'pondes' suggests that, like the neighbouring pike gardens to the west, the Little Rose still had some fishponds at the time. The marshy land along Bankside had been used in recent centuries for breeding freshwater fish, especially pike, in ponds maintained by London fishmongers like Ralph Symonds.

On 20 November 1574 six of eight named parishioners of St Mildred's Bread Street signed a thirty-one year lease for the Little Rose 'messuage or Tenement' with William Griffen, a vintner of London. An annual rent of £7 would be due in quarterly instalments, with Griffen (or his sub-tenants) responsible for repairs and maintenance of the property. Five years later, on 11 December 1579, Griffen assigned the lease to a fellow London vintner, Robert Withens, transferring the right to collect rents from the sub-tenants for the remaining twenty-six years of the property lease.

By this time there were several pictorial representations of Bankside and its terrain. The earliest plan of Southwark, drawn in c 1542, focused on the Borough High Street rather than the area running west from London Bridge. However, there is a view of the south bank of the Thames from the city of London's perspective in a mid-eighteenth century copy made of a mural, subsequently lost, of the 1547 coronation progress of Edward VI through the city. Across the river, the church of St Saviour can be seen to the right of the bridge and then a shallow line of small houses along Bankside, with a dense avenue of trees and the foothills of the North Downs beyond.

Early modern mapping of London was sporadic, mostly derivative, and pictorial – not true cartography until 1676. One of the most often used views is the so-called Agas woodcut map published in 1633 but really based on a finer copperplate map produced c 1560, of which only three sections remain extant for comparison. Sadly, none show Southwark. The Agas version of the south bank to the east of Lambeth Marsh depicts the string of houses along the edge of the river, labelled ‘The Banck,’ with gardens stretching behind. Just a sampling of the more extensive fish ponds, or 'pike gardens,' south of the bank is represented and there are no theatres in view, a sure clue that the Agas map was based on an earlier, pre-1576 version of London. By the mid-sixteenth century, however, there is documentary evidence to support the existence of bearbaiting arenas in Southwark and these are suggested in the two circular arenas just south of the bank, one titled 'The bolle bayting' and the other, to the east, 'The Bearebayting.' We should assume considerable artistic licence here. The precise locations of the arenas remain in question, but the views available suggest that when Withens took over the lease, the Little Rose estate consisted of very few buildings along the river with two as yet undeveloped 'gardens' stretching behind.

1633, Traditionally attributed to Ralph Agas, based on a c 1560 original copperplate view of London (most sections now lost). London Picture Archive Database, By kind permission of London Metropolitan Archives, City of London.

Just over six years later Robert Withens sold the remainder of the Little Rose lease to Philip Henslowe, by then a resident of Bankside. The terms of the lease, signed by both parties on 24 March 1584/5, retained the annual rental rate of £7, with no indication of the sale price.

The next document of interest relating to the Little Rose has deeper significance for the history of London theatre. On 10 January 1586/7 Henslowe signed a deed of partnership with a London grocer, John Cholmley. Their joint venture was, in fact, the first playhouse to be built in Southwark, on the Little Rose property recently leased by Henslowe. The basic dimensions of the property are described as approximately ninety-four feet square. By the time the deed was being drawn up, the playhouse was 'now in framinge and shortly to be ereckted.' It seems likely that Henslowe, an entrepreneur just beginning to make his mark in Southwark, conceived of the plan and made a start to raise a playhouse, with the help of John Griggs the carpenter, in an area more readily accessible to London audiences than the earlier playhouse at Newington, about a mile from the river, south of Southwark. However, there was a small house at the southwest end of the property by Maid Lane that already had a tenant, whether resident or not. Although the terms of the sub-lease for this tenement have not been discovered, the deed of partnership makes clear that John Cholmley was the tenant and therefore an agreement of some sort with him would probably have been required in order to build the playhouse adjacent on the garden plot.

The partnership agreed to between Henslowe and his tenant Cholmley was potentially profitable for both. As Bowsher and Cerasano summarize the terms, 'Cholmley was to pay Henslowe £816 in instalments over the course of eight and a quarter years but not starting until 25 June [sic, for 24 June], the feast day of St John the Baptist. This clearly shows that Henslowe had enough ready money to finance the bulk of construction costs himself. In return, Cholmley would receive a half-share in the profits of the plays, and have exclusive right to the catering and victualling of the enterprise run from his house. Moreover, both men would be allowed to admit their friends to performances without charging admission fees. Henslowe would finance the construction of the playhouse and pay all rents as of 29 September 1587, suggesting that this was the target date for the Rose’s opening. According to the deed, although Cholmley and Henslowe would share maintenance expenses of the playhouse thereafter and throughout the period covered by the agreement, Henslowe appears to have financed all of the major expenses before the playhouse was operable.'

The partnership would expire on Lady Day, 25 March 1595, but after the agreement early in 1587 Cholmley virtually disappears from the record. The only other mentions of Cholmley amongst the Henslowe-Alleyn papers after 1587 are a couple of scribbles, perhaps pen trials, on f 1 of Henslowe’s diary. William Ingram has persuasively identified this shadowy character as John Cholmley, originally from Bletchingley, Surrey, where he began his career as a tanner, following his father's trade, before achieving the freedom of the city as a member of the Grocers' company. This Cholmley died a mere two years into the contract, in April 1589, so Henslowe would have assumed the profits from the joint enterprise thenceforth, according to the terms of the partnership agreement.

John Norden (1548–1625?). Speculum Britanniae (London, 1593), plate facing leaf E2 verso: map of London. Call #: STC 18635. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

John Norden’s map of 1593 is the first to show the Rose playhouse, labelled 'The play howse,' and Cholmley's small victualling house in the southwest corner of the Little Rose site. Norden also depicts the sewer lines along the edges of the property, for which the owners were responsible, including any cleaning to enable the flow of water and regular repairs to the access bridges across the sewers. The marshy land along the river had required such drainage ditches since the thirteenth century at least and their maintenance was a particular concern of the commissioners appointed to ensure that owners carried out their responsibilities or paid fines until they did so. Henslowe's name begins to appear (initially as 'ffinchley,' mistaken for Hinchley) in the court minutes of the Commissioners of Sewers for Surrey and Kent in April 1588 and continues, not always as a co-operative owner, until 1605 when his lease on the Little Rose ran out.

Henslowe would continue to pay his annual rent of £7 to the feoffees of the Thomasyn Symonds trust until the end of the thirty-one-year term. His playhouse had flourished for more than a decade but by 1600 the resident Lord Admiral's Men would relocate to the new Fortune playhouse built by Henslowe with his partner and son-in-law Edward Alleyn, north of the city wall in Finsbury. Further, both men desired royal appointment as masters of the Bears, Bulls, and Mastiff Dogs to complement the acquisition of the Bear Garden at the nearby Bell and Cock site in 1594. The following note in Henslowe's diary jotted down in 1603 forecasts the end of the Rose playhouse:

'Memorandom that the 25 of Iune 1603 I talked with mr Pope at the scryveners shope wher he lisse consernynge the l<..> tackynge of the leace a new of the Littell Roosse & he showed me a wrytynge betwext the pareshe & hime seallfe which was to paye twenty pownd a yeare Rent & to bestowe a hunderd marckes vpon billdinge which I sayd I wold Rather pulledowne the playehowse then I wold do so & <.> he beade me do & sayd he gaue me leaue & wold beare me owt for yt wasse <.> in hime to do yt.'

The lease of the Little Rose was soon to come due for renewal in 1605 but the new terms increasing the annual rent to £20, with a further 100 marks (equivalent to almost £66) required for building repairs, were obviously unappealing. It seems most likely that Henslowe followed through on his threat to abandon the playhouse. Closure of the theatres during the plague year of 1603 and subsequently for periods during 1604 and 1605 may have further contributed to his decision. The court minutes taken for the commissioners of Sewers in 1605 witness to his steadfast refusal to pay for repairs and removal of two posts standing in the sewer under his bridge by the playhouse. On 14 December 1604 he had claimed that he 'hath not any lands against the sewar in Roase aley' – not true at the time of course, but within the year, on 29 September 1605, his lease of the Little Rose estate expired. The next entry relating to the Rose in the sewer commissioners’ minutes, on 30 January 1605/6, names 'Box of Bredstreete in London,' perhaps one of the feoffees of the Thomasyn Symonds Charity, St Mildred's Bread Street, as the person responsible for related property maintenance costs. By 25 April Edward Box appears again in the sewer records but this time the reference is to 'the Late Playhouse in Maidelane called the Rose.' The ‘Late Playhouse’ may or may not have been demolished by this time but late twentieth-century archaeological evidence suggests that demolition had likely happened by 1606.

With the demolition or dismantling of the Rose playhouse, the later history of the Little Rose estate merges with the gradual development of Bankside as an industrial area. However, a lease signed in 1650 between the feoffees of the Thomasyn Symonds Charity and John Wallington of London, provides more details of the measurements of the property than previously given; see the full text in Appendix 2. A century later in 1754, a plan attached to a property indenture 'provides the first known detailed and measured survey of the Little Rose Estate' showing it as '115'0" wide at its southern end, 92'6" wide midway along its length and 97' wide at its northern end.'

  • Footnotes
    • For manor boundaries see the linked interactive map of London and Southwark.
    • See further Martha Carlin, Medieval Southwark (London, 1996), 191–8. See also Great Britain, J.S. Roskell (ed), The House of Commons 1386–1421, vol 1: The History of Parliament (Stroud, 1992), 638–9, where medieval Southwark's 'great diversity of crafts and industries' (some of them, as for example slaughterhouses and tanning, less salubrious) is also noted.
    • Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 11–12.
    • Martha Carlin's doctoral dissertation includes an extensive description of Winchester House; see 'Urban Development,' vol 1, pp 79–119.
    • For a concise description of the medieval area of the Clink and Bankside, see Julian Ayre and Robin Wroe-Brown, The London Millennium Bridge: Excavation of the Medieval and Later Waterfronts at Peter's Hill, City of London, and Bankside, Southwark, MoLAS Archaeology Studies Series 6 (London, 2002), 11–12, 53. Mao, 'Rose Playhouse,' provides a more extensive study of the further economic and social development of the sixteenth-century Southwark neighbourhood.
    • Henry VIII's royal proclamation against the stews legislated their closure on 13 April 1546 but was apparently resisted (Society of Antiquaries: Proclamations, vol 2, f 164, forthcoming in the Bear Gardens/Hope playhouse records edited by Stephanie Hovland and MacLean for the REED series).
    • Maid Lane is now modern Park Street. For the acquisition of the manor, its medieval development, and its wider context in the borough of Southwark, see Carlin, Medieval Southwark, pp 32–51. Carlin's work for her PhD dissertation (see 'Urban Development') also remains an important source for the history of the area.
    • In June 1537 Spence, then of Great Palgrave, Norfolk, but previously citizen and stockfishmonger of London, sold the Great Rose to Henry Polsted; for the deed, see TNA: E 326/12364.
    • See the map and Carlin, 'Urban Development,' vol 1, pp 67–8.
    • Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 24, 79.
    • Ralph Symonds' will (TNA: PROB 11/29/32) was made on 8 September 1541 and proved 1 February 1541/2; see Alfred Beaven, The Aldermen of the City of London Temp. Henry III–1912, vol 2 (London, 1908), 26.
    • The deed was enrolled on Chancery Close Roll C54/482, mb 13, now at The National Archives. The details are discussed by Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 23–4. Thomasyn Symonds' will was drawn up on 17 September 1551 but not probated until 8 May 1555 (see TNA: PROB 11/37/319, transcribed by William Ingram in Thomasyn Symonds' Deed of the Little Rose Property to Eighteen Trustees, 1552).
    • For a transcript of the lease (DC: Mun 8), see Lease of the Little Rose from Ambrose Nicholas et al to William Griffen, 1574.
    • For a transcript of the lease (DC: Mun 10) see Assignment by William Griffen of the Lease of the Little Rose to Robert Withens, 1579.
    • See TNA: MPC 1/64. Martha Carlin includes a redrawn version in Medieval Southwark, p 39, fig 9.
    • See The Coronation Procession of King Edward VI in 1547. This watercolour copy by Samuel Hieronymous Grimm was made from a mural at Cowdray House destroyed in a fire in 1793. For a reproduction see Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, p 11, fig 6.
    • The first true cartography was done by John Ogilby and William Morgan. For a full view see 'Ogilby and Morgan's Large Scale Map of the City As Rebuilt By 1676,' in Ogilby and Morgan's Large Scale Map of the City As Rebuilt By 1676 ([s.l.], 1676), BHO, accessed 25 June 2023.
    • For a full digital reproduction of the Agas map (from the London Metropolitan Archives print collection), with gazetteer and other features, see The Map of Early Modern London. For the Copperplate map, see Ann Saunders and John Schofield (eds), Tudor London: A Map and a View, London Topographical Society Publication 159 (London, 2001).
    • Henslowe first appears in the St Saviour's Token Books in 1588 as a parishioner living at the east end of Bankside 'from the Bell.'
    • See Withens' Assignment of the Little Rose Lease to Henslowe, 1584/5.
    • See Deed of Partnership in the Rose between Henslowe and Cholmley, 1586/7.
    • For a full-length study of the playhouse at Newington Butts, opened c 1576 by Jerome Savage, see Laurie Johnson, Shakespeare's Lost Playhouse: Eleven Days at Newington Butts, Routledge Studies in Shakespeare 24 (New York and London, 2018).
    • The Token Books surviving sporadically between 1571 and 1588 do not list a John Cholmley (or variant surname) as a Southwark resident.
    • Julian Bowsher and S.P. Cerasano, 'The Deed of Partnership in the Rose Playhouse (January 10, 1587),' pp 2–3.
    • 'John Cholmley on the Bankside,' Early Theatre 15.2 (2012), 43–66, especially 45–50.
    • Cholmley was buried at Blechingley on 1 May 1589; see Ingram, 'John Cholmley,' p 60.
    • See also EMLoT event 7542 and associated records. For more on the late twentieth-century excavation of the site and Cholmley’s house, see Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 24–32, 111–12.
    • See further Ida Darlington, 'The London Commissioners of Sewers and their Records,' Prisca Munimenta: Studies in Archival & Administrative History Presented to Dr A.E.J. Hollaender, Felicity Ranger (ed) (London, 1973), 282–98; and Cerasano, 'Down the Drain,' especially pp 89–90.
    • See Surrey and Kent Commissioners for Sewers' Court, 1605/6.
    • See DC: MS VIII, f 5v, for Edward Alleyn's 1594 purchase of the lease of Bear Garden properties for £450; Alleyn was licensed as deputy to hold bearbaiting games there by Ralph Bowes, then Master of the Bulls, Bears, and Mastiff dogs. See the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project MS 8, f 5v. See also 'History of the Playhouse' for further discussion.
    • DC: MS VII, f 114v. See the Henslowe-Alleyn Digitisation Project MS 7, f 114v. Mr Pope, the scrivener, has not been identified otherwise but see Appendix 1 for the suggestion that he may have been one of the successor feoffees from the parish of St Mildred's Bread Street. There is no reason to identify him with the king’s player, Thomas Pope, who died in the same year (TNA: PROB 10/224). Rutter notes that the Rose was not among the three playhouses allowed to reopen in April 1604; see her transcription of the privy council's 9 April 1604 letter, Documents of the Rose, pp 216–17.
    • See further F.P. Wilson, The Plague in Shakespeare's London (Oxford, 1927; rpt 1963), 86–117, and Leeds Barroll, Politics, Plague, and Shakespeare’s Theater: The Stuart Years (Ithaca and London, 1991), 131–2.
    • See Surrey and Kent Commissioners for Sewers' Court, 1604 and LMA: SKCS/018, f 406v (14 December 1604).
    • See Surrey and Kent Commissioners for Sewers' Court, 1605/6 and LMA: SKCS/018, f 436. It is possible that Box was a son or otherwise related to William Box, one of the original feoffees named in Thomasyn Symonds' deed of bequest. Unfortunately, the parish registers surviving for St Mildred's Bread Street do not begin until the mid-seventeenth century, so tracing personal details for either William or Edward is difficult. Furthermore, there are no other parish records extant for St Mildred's Bread Street that might help determine the administration of the Symonds Charity. See further Bowsher, Rose Theatre, p 57, n 6.
    • See Surrey and Kent Commissioners for Sewers' Court, 1606 and LMA: SKCS/018, f 441.
    • See further extensive detail on the archaeological evidence provided by Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 66–70. Wickham et al, English Professional Theatre, p 435, include a notice that '[a]fter the year 1620, as appears from Sir Henry Herbert's office book, they [the Swan and the Rose] were used occasionally for the exhibition of prize-fighters.' This unverifiable and cursory reference appeared in a footnote to Edmond Malone's enumeration of seven principal theatres in London during Shakespeare's time; see 'Rise and Progress,' p 44. Wickham et al cite the 1821 edition of the essay. The office book has since been lost.
    • Details of later leaseholders and use of the site are outlined by Bowsher and Miller, Rose and the Globe, pp 77–85.
    • Simon Blatherwick and Chris Pickard, 'The Little Rose Estate: New Insights into the Rose Theatre, Southwark: Part 1,' London Archaeologist (Summer 2004), 241 and fig 6.