This post explores the many places in London that we know Shakespeare lived, and includes an interactive map at the bottom of the page.
Whilst Stratford-upon-Avon is the one-industry Shakespeare town, foreign visitors don’t often go to London to discover Shakespeare, other than perhaps taking in a performance at the Globe Theatre. However, most of Shakespeare’s working life was spent in London, and though it can be quite difficult to find traces of Shakespeare in London, he’s still there – in spite of whole areas having been redeveloped after The Great Fire of 1666 and the severe bombing they endured in WWII.
William and his youngest brother Edmund went to seek their fortunes in London in the late 1580’s, both initially working as actors.
The first record we have of William Shakespeare in London is of him living in Bishopsgate in 1596. No-one knows how long he resided there but he was definitely living in the parish of St Helens, as according to the parish records he was assessed on goods valued at £5 and taxed 5 shillings. We don’t know the address but if you want to breathe in the air of Shakespeare’s home you would walk around the area of Leadenhall Street and St Mary Avenue in Bishopsgate.
By 1598 the playwright had moved and was living somewhere within a minute’s walk of the building site that was to become the Globe Theatre, a project near to Shakespeare’s heart as he was a shareholder in the company and its most prominent writer. He was lodging somewhere in the tiny area known as the Liberty of the Clink, which surrounded the notorious prison of that name. We know that because Shakespeare was a serial tax dodger, and there is a record of his latest case being referred to the Bishop of Winchester. The only area of London where the Bishop had jurisdiction was the Liberty of Clink, so we know that Shakespeare was living there at the time. If you want to take that in you will walk eastwards along Bankside towards London Bridge and you will pass the prison on Clink Street and you will also not be able to miss the original site of the Globe right beside it. Shakespeare lived very near there in 1598.
In 1604 Shakespeare was living in Silver Street, St Paul’s in an upstairs room in the house of the Mountjoys, a French Huguenot family. And he had been living there for quite a while as in that year he testified in a bitter and complex court case between the landlord, wigmaker Christopher Mountjoy, and his son-in-law, Stephen Bellott, who was suing him concerning the marriage dowry. Shakespeare appeared as a witness in the case. Mountjoy and his wife and daughter, and Stephen Bellot were all friends of Shakespeare, who had played a part in matchmaking the couple. Shakespeare swore under oath that he had known both the parties for ten years.
The Mountjoy house was destroyed in the Great Fire and the whole area was flattened in the Blitz. The area has since been redeveloped and, alas, there is no Silver Street. But if you want to look for it you will find it on the corner of London Wall (A1211) and Noble Street, just north of St Paul’s Cathedral, near St Mary Staining Church. Walk around there and you will be treading the ground Shakespeare trod for several years.
Shakespeare bought a property in 1613. It was the Gatehouse, a house on the northeastern corner site of Blackfriars Theatre’s large site.
The Blackfriars was one of the theatres with which the writer was associated. He bought the house from Henry Walker for £140. He never lived there and we don’t know what his intentions were: we do know, though, that he rented it straight back to Walker. Perhaps he was ill: he left London the following year and died two years later, leaving the property to his daughter, Suzanna.
If you want to see the site where the house stood walk eastwards along Victoria Street then turn left at St Andrew’s Hill. You will soon come to the Cockpit pub which is built on the site of Shakespeare’s Gatehouse. If you have a drink there you will be in the very space where Shakespeare once stood.
William’s brother Edmund Shakespeare fathered a son, Edward, born four months before his death in 1607 at the age of 27. At that point we see Edmund in the burial records of St Saviour’s Church in Southwark: it is thought that Shakespeare paid the 20 shillings for his funeral – a decent amount at the time – which included ‘a forenoone knell of the great bell.’