Survey of London: Volume 8, Shoreditch. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1922.
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XLIX.–LII— Nos. 2, 4, 6, and 8 HEWETT STREET.
General description and date of structure.
These premises consist of a terrace of three-storey brick houses, dating from the latter portion of the 18th century. Relief is afforded to an otherwise plain front by the ground-floor windows having folding-back shutters, semicircular fanlights over the entrance doorways, and the windows divided up into small panes by well-proportioned sash bars. The whole is compact and pleasing.
Condition of repair.
From the facts recorded in the earlier part of this volume, (fn. 1) it will be seen that there is no doubt whatever that the Curtain theatre was situated in Curtain Close, and that it was either identical with or adjacent to the house called The Curtain. This absolutely disposes of the idea that the site is now indicated by St. James's Church, (fn. 2) which is on the wrong side of the street. Further than this, however, it is hardly possible to go. On the whole, the probabilities seem to be in favour of the suggestion that the site is approximately indicated by the opening called Curtain Court, in Chassereau's map, (fn. 3) though no positive evidence can be adduced therefor. The site of Curtain Court seems to have been approximately in the neighbourhood of the present Hewett Street, and it therefore seems probable that the Curtain theatre occupied a site somewhere near the south side of that street.
The Curtain, the second theatre to be built in London, (fn. 4) was opened some time in 1577. It is known that in 1585 Henry Lanman was the proprietor and manager and from the fact that Lanman is mentioned in March, 1580–1, as one of the lessees of Curtain Close it is a fairly warrantable inference that his connection dates back to that time. From 1585 to 1592, however, James Burbage appears to have shared in the management, using the building as an easor to The Theatre. (fn. 5) The association of the two managements may have lasted even later than 1592, for two actors in the companies of Burbage and Lanman at their deaths (Thomas Pope, in 1603, and John Underwood, in 1623) owned shares in the Curtain. (fn. 6) The building survived orders by the Privy Council in 1597 and 1600 (fn. 7) that it should be destroyed, and is referred to in a licence in 1603 to Thos. Green and others to act "in their usual houses "called the 'Curtayne' and the 'Bore's Head' in Middlesex," (fn. 8) and in a letter dated 9th April, 1604, from the Lords of the Council to the Lord Mayor and other magistrates. (fn. 9) It gradually fell into disuse, the last reference to it which has been traced being in 1628, in the recognizances of Thos. Roades, Wm. Crosswell and Rich. Burford "to answear the complaint of the inhabitants of Shoreditch for casting six tuns of filth . into the common shoare near the Curtaine Playhouse." (fn. 10)
It would, however, appear to have been in a sorry condition some years previously, for in the indenture of 1st July, 1611, accompanying the transfer of Curtain Close to Edward Morris (fn. 11), it is referred to as "all that large mesuage or tenemente, built of timber and thatched, "now in decay, called the 'Curtaine,' with a parcell of ground adjoyning thereto, wherein "they use to keepe stage playes, now or late in the tenure or occupacion of Thomas Greene."
Very little is known of the plays which were performed at the Curtain. In 1598 the Lord Chamberlain's company of players, of whom Shakespeare was one, was acting there, (fn. 12) and we have the contemporary evidence of John Marston that, about this time, Romeo and Juliet was performed there. It is also said (fn. 13) that Ben Jonson acted in the building, and it is practically certain that it witnessed the production of his principal comedy, Every Man in His Humour. (fn. 14)