London. One of the most infamous, historic cities in the world. Visited by thousands and thousands of tourists every year. It has its attractions that we all know: The Tower, St Pauls Cathedral, the London Eye. But you’re planning a trip and you’ve already trodden the well-worn tourist path and you want something different. But what?

 

Might I offer a suggestion? Despite the twin ravages of the Great Fire and the Blitz there are several remainders of London’s past, little gems hidden off the beaten track. So how about walking in the steps of William Shakespeare and spending a day looking at the few remaining places where we know Shakespeare actually performed, visited or worshipped? Here are five places where you might begin such an odyssey.

 

Middle Temple HallMiddle Temple Hall – Situated in the Temple complex just off of Fleet Street, which is almost like an old village located in the very heart of London. Middle Temple Hall is the ceremonial hall of the Inns of Court and has been for many centuries. And Shakespeare has been here. Definitely. How do we know? Well, the first ever performance of Twelfth Night was here on 2nd February 1602. Visiting times can be odd. It’s closed throughout August when the Courts are out of session but it generally open the rest of the year unless being used for a function. I’m told that the best time to go is between 10am and 12pm. Worth a visit for the history, and the gorgeous hammerbeam ceiling.

 

St Helen’s Bishopsgate – Situated just off Bishopgate, close to Liverpool Street Station, St St Helen's BishopsgateHelen’s is one of only eight medieval churches to survive the Great Fire of London. It’s unusual because it has a double nave, owing to its previous incarnation as part of a nunnery. It has an unusual feature, a Nun’s peephole from where sick nuns could watch the Elevation of the Host and stack up heaven points. But what has this got to do with Shakespeare? Well, he appears on the parish roles for this church in 1597 meaning he lived locally and this was the parish church that he attended. The church is generally open on weekdays, go round to the side office and knock and someone will let you in. Worth a visit for the many fine Medieval and Reformation era monuments.

 

St John’s Gate, Clerkenwell – Situated just outside the City of London in Clerkenwell, St St John's GateJohn’s Gate is the 15th Century Gatehouse into what was the Priory of St John, the home of the Knights Hospitaliers. The priory was partially destroyed in the Peasants Revolt of 1381 and then dissolved at the Reformation. And the Shakespearian connection? Well, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I the gatehouse was the home to the office of the Master of the Revels. That means that every time Shakespeare finished a new play he had to bring it here, to St John’s Gate, to get it licensed for performance so we know he must have visited many, many times. Worth visiting because we know  that at some time in the early 1600s Shakespeare must have walked up to that very gate with a certain sense of trepidation, clutching the manuscript of Hamlet.

 

The George Inn, Southwark – Please indulge me here with my one teeny cheat. The George, situated on Borough High Street in Southwark, is the only remaining example of a The George Inngalleried inn in London. Before the construction of specialised playhouses, players would have performed in the courtyards of such buildings, the audience gathered upon the balconies. They might also have performed at inns during their winter lay off, when the playhouses were closed. So, while this version of The George was rebuilt after fire in the 17th century, we know Shakespeare went to the original George Inn. Worth a visit because it gives us an idea of the kind of place that our Will would have socialised after a performance.

 

Southwark Cathedral – situated close to London Bridge, Southwark Cathedral is one of Southwark Cathedral the oldest church buildings in London. Upgraded to a cathedral in 1905, in Shakespeare’s time it was St Saviours, another former priory church. Not as famous as its Wren-designed cousin across the Thames, Southwark Cathedral is a hidden gem. The church was considered to be the Player’s Church owing to its location on Bankside, close to the playhouses. And Shakespeare? It was more than likely his parish church at certain periods in his London life and it has one sad connection. Will’s brother, Edmund, followed him to London and onto the stage but his career was short lived, he succumbed to the plague in 1607. Unusually, his funeral was held in the morning when traditionally they were held of an afternoon. The reason for the change? Plays were always performed at two in the afternoon so an exception was made so the players could attend the funeral. There is a monument to Shakespeare and a stained glass window featuring many of his characters in the church. Worth a visit for the beauty of the building and the knowledge that on New Year’s Eve, 1607, Shakespeare sat mourning his younger brother here.

 

And there you are, five places where you can walk in the steps of Shakespeare.

 

During the summer months you might want to wrap up your day by taking in a play at the reconstructed Globe Theatre on the South Bank or by visiting the Exhibition there.  And if you have another day to spare how about a trip to Hampton Court where Macbeth had its very first performance before King James I in 1606?