Picture of an Elizabethan Theatre

Newington Butts Elizabethan Theatre

  • Interesting Facts and information about Newington Butts Elizabethan Theatre
  • People and events - Newington Butts Elizabethan Theatre
  • What was their purpose?
  • What did they look like?
  • Archaeological evidence and examples.

Picture of an Elizabethan Theatre


Newington Butts Theatre - Elizabethan Amphitheatre
The Newington Butts amphitheatre was located in Southwark and situated over one mile from the River Thames. Very little is known about this theatre, but it was believed to have been in use from 1580. It was, located on the site of an archery training field - which were called Archery Butts. Members of the Privy Council complained of "the tediousness of the way". It is assumed that a theatrical entrepreneur of the age used this cheap land to build the Newington Butts amphitheatre. Philip Henslowe, a close associate of Edward Alleyn, is known to have spent money on building work for this theatre.


It is also known that the Admiral's men acting troupe played at Newington Butts in the late 1590's. When food riots broke out in Southwark on June 23, 1592, the Privy Council closed Newington Butts and many other theatres around London.

The Archery Law 1363
The importance of archers grew in importance in Medieval England because the whole of the English population was involved in Medieval Warfare. In 1252 the 'Assize of Arms' was passed which decreed that every English man between the ages of 15 to 60 years old were to equip themselves with a bow and arrows. The Plantagenet King Edward III took this further and decreed the Archery Law in 1363 which commanded the obligatory practice of archery on Sundays and holidays.


The Archery Law "forbade, on pain of death, all sport that took up time better spent on war training especially archery practise". The development of different weapons, in particular the cannon and gun, this requirement of Englishmen was abated freeing the archery 'Butts'  for other types of buildings.

The Newington Butts Amphitheatre - Elizabethan Theatre
The known facts about the Newington Butts, which was used as one of the massive amphitheatre venues for early English Elizabethan Theatre, are as follows:

  • London Location of the Newington Butts - Southwark
  • The Newington Butts was opened in c1580
  • The theatrical entrepreneur involved with the Newington Butts was Philip Henslowe
  • The Newington Butts was one of the 12 massive amphitheatres, including the Globe Theatre, which were built around the City of London

In 1574 the City of London started regulating the Inn-yard activities.  The Theatrical entrepreneurs fought back and started to build purpose built wooden theatres such as the Newington Butts. It was styled on the open air Roman amphitheatres providing a classical connection and an air of respectability to the Theatrical profession. The Newington Butts was extremely quick to build, approximately 6 months, requiring only cheap building materials it therefore increased profits for the theatre at least five-fold.

Description of The Theatre amphitheatre
The Newington Butts was described as an Elizabethan Amphitheatre which was octagonal or circular in shape having between 8 and 24 sides. The open air arena of the amphitheatre was called the 'pit' or the 'yard'. The stage of the amphitheatre projected halfway into the 'pit'. The Newington Butts had a raised stage at one end which was surrounded by three tiers of roofed galleries with balconies overlooking the back of the stage.

Facts and Information about the Amphitheatre styled Elizabethan Theatres
Interesting general facts and information about the amphitheatre venue such as the Newington Butts:

  • Audience capacity of an Elizabethan amphitheatre was between 1500 and 3000
  • Building materials used in the construction of early Elizabethan Theatres were timber, nails, stone (flint), plaster with thatched roofs
  • The 'Box ' and the 'Box Office' - Playgoers put 1 penny in a box at the Elizabethan theatre entrance. At the start of the play the admission collectors put the boxes in a room backstage called the box office.
  • The Entrance to the theatre - Usually one main entrance. Some later theatres had external staircases to access the galleries 
  • The owners of the theatre were called the 'Housekeepers'
  • There was no heating in the Elizabethan Theatre. Plays were performed in the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter
  • Lighting in the Elizabethan Theatre - Natural lighting as plays were produced in the afternoon. However there was some artificial lighting mainly intended to provide atmosphere for night scenes
  • Toilet Facilities? None . People relieved themselves outside. Sewage was buried in pits or disposed of in the River Thames
  • Size of Elizabethan Theatre - Up to 100 feet in diameter
  • Shapes of the Elizabethan Theatres - Circular or Octagonal in shape having between 8 and 24 sides
  • The height of the raised stage was 3 to 5 feet and supported by large pillars or trestles
  • Stage dimensions varied from 20 foot wide 15 foot deep to 45 feet to 30 feet
  • Only very rich women, who often wore masks, or women of dubious morals attended the amphitheatres
  • Musicians - Music was an extra effect added in the 1600's
  • A selection of ropes & rigging would allow for special effects, such as flying or dramatic entries
  • The floor of the Stage was made of wood, sometimes covered with rushes. Trap doors in the floor would enable some additional special effects such as smoke

The Newington Butts
The Newington Butts was used as a venue for Elizabethan plays, replacing the Inn-yard venues. The  purpose built Elizabethan Amphitheatres in London such as the Newington Butts were used during the summer months and transferred to the indoor playhouses during the winter.


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