British History Online might not be the first place you’d think to look when researching Shakespeare, but London and the early modern period are two of the great strengths in BHO’s collection. We have an abundance of materials that provide excellent context for Shakespeare’s life and his writing. What was London like when Shakespeare lived there? How has Shakespeare shaped the London of today? What about Shakespeare and places across the rest of the country?
Senate House Library recently hosted a Shakespeare and place Wikipedia workshop, which prompted me to compile the following list of relevant BHO resources. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully a useful starting point.
John Stow’s Survey of London: Although John Stow famously does not mention any theatres or playwrights in his Survey of London, the Survey is a contemporary account of London, which makes it an invaluable resource for understanding the city where Shakespeare lived. The first edition of the Survey was published in 1598, with a second and much-modified edition published in 1603. The version of the text that is on BHO is a 1908 edition of this 1603 text, edited by C L Kingsford. In his Survey, Stow ‘walks’ through the City of London, parish by parish.
Survey of London: Not to be confused with its early modern namesake above, this project began in the late nineteenth century and continues today. It provides detailed architectural and topographical studies of the capital’s built environment. Volume 22 covers Bankside, including the playhouses.
Victoria County History: This project also began in the nineteenth century and continues to this day. It is an encyclopaedic record of England’s places and people from earliest times to the present day. Particular series that contain useful information about Shakespeare are the History of Middlesex and the History of Warwickshire.
Agas Map of London: The woodcut map of London, usually called the Agas map, represents London in the 1560s—slightly earlier than Shakespeare was in London, but it is a wonderful resource to get a sense of what the city was like in the 16th century.
Old and New London: This nineteenth-century account of the history of London is chock-full of useful—and sometimes imaginative—descriptions of famous Shakespearean sites. Volume 6 covers Southwark and the Globe.
The Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England Inventory volumes: The RCHME was established in 1908, with a remit to produce an inventory of English monuments and identify those which were worthy of preservation. It is a good resource for both monuments mentioned by Shakespeare and monuments to Shakespeare.
A Dictionary of London: This early twentieth-century text by Henry A Harben lists streets and buildings in the City of London and often signposts places that have been mentioned in Shakespeare plays.
Analytical Index to the Series of Records Known as the Remambrancia 1579-1664: This index covers correspondence between the central government and City of London officials. Includes descriptions of letters regarding plays, players and theatres.
Camden Record Society Old Series: The volumes of this series that we have on BHO cover medieval and early modern London.
Feet of Fines, London and Middlesex: Feet of fines are court copies of agreements following disputes over property. The disputes were mostly fictitious and were simply a way of having the transfer of ownership of land recorded officially by the king’s court. The records in this series relate to London and Middlesex for the period 1189-1570.
Historical Gazetteer of London Before the Great Fire Cheapside; Parishes of All Hallows Honey Lane, St Martin Pomary, St Mary Le Bow, St Mary Colechurch and St Pancras Soper Lane: Detailed property histories for five parishes in the central Cheapside area of London, from the 12th to the late 17th century. It includes accounts of the parish churches, and information about the people and buildings associated with the properties.
Topographical Dictionaries: A series of topographical dictionaries for England, Scotland and Wales, compiled by the publisher Samuel Lewis (1782/3-1865).