The Reconstruction of the Globe Theatre

by Peter McCurdy

Fabrication and Erection fo the Frame

In 1992 Peter McCurdy went to select oak timber for the first two bays of the frame, some of which came from the famous Forest of Dean. As the Globe reconstruction is a long-term monument, compared with the original which was built as a speculative building for entrepreneurs, it was agreed that the timber frame should be entirely of English oak, although the possibility of using softwood for some seating and other secondary elements was discussed.

Once felled the wood was converted and delivered to MeCurdy's workshops in Stanford Dingley where the first sections of the theatre were set Out full size. As the availability of funding drove the rate of progress of the project, this meant that normally only two or four bays could be worked on at any one time, a fact which allowed McCurdy's workshops to accommodate the necessary sections of the structure.

As experienced by Peter Streete and his carpenters back in 1599, McCurdy & Co. was working with unseasoned, green timber which was not square. Carpenters throughout time have had to evolve systems for setting out their buildings and for marking joints which take account of the fact that they are working with material which is not square, this being one of the principal differences between timber framing and cabinet making. Furthermore every scribed joint is unique identified with a carpenter's numeral as seen on historic timbers.

For practical and cost reasons McCurdy & Co. begin most operations using modern tools, although virtually everything is finished by hand. The Company also has a policy of setting out and dimensioning the structure using 'rods', both in the workshop and on Site, which as well as being the traditional method is also least likely to cause errors in reading measurements. This is particularly important in a circular building where any errors could accumulate into a disaster where both ends meet.

Initially in January 1992 McCurdy & Co. was asked to make the first two demonstration bays in the basement of the site. Nearly a year later, after the concrete slab had been laid, at piazza level, McCurdy & Co. was ready to begin erecting the first four bays on their permanent Site. The timber was to be erected onto brick plinths, using replicas of a brick found on the site of the Rose Theatre. Once the bricks had been laid in their lime mortar McCurdy began the crucial task of setting the sills on which the timber structure would be supported. As the structure was all prefabricated off-site it was vital that the sills should be set absolutely level as there would be no further opportunity for correction at the erection stage.

The primary timbers of the structure were actually erected and positioned using fairly sophisticated modern technology such as tower cranes and scaffolding. This was to ensure that the building would be put up as professionally and safely as possible without compromising the final result. McCurdy & Co.'s historic knowledge was vital in this stage of work as there is an implied sequence in the way that a complicated structure, such as the Globe, must be both fabricated and also erected. This also dictates the way that things go together. However this ideal sequence was complicated by the fact that the programme of work on site had also been dictated by other factors such as, availability of funding and the timing of events to mark Shakespeare's birthday. McCurdy & Co. was therefore asked to build the first four bays in pairs, either side of what would eventually be the stage, which was not the logical sequence and led to a few practical hiccoughs in terms bf jointing up later bays.

The Globe is the first major building erected in central london, since the Great Fire of 1666, to have a thatched roof. This has quite naturally caused much debate over the necessary fire engineering and proofing measures which have had to be incorporated in the final design. This was resolved between Pentagram and the fire authorities, with some minor design modifications by McCurdy to the roof and the bays were duly thatched.

Plastering began in May 1994 and again this involved a significant amount of research into materials and techniques used in contemporary buildings. The final choice was a mixture of lime, sand aggregate and either cow or goat hair, which was applied to the laths with no cement or setting agent.

After completing work on the fifteen bays of the auditorium McCurdy & Co. worked on the Stair Towers, the Stage and Tyring House and secondary items such as the floor structure and staves for the lath and plaster infill The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford provided the model for the design of the raked seating and the balusters were made on a traditional pole lathe and tureed from riven oak.

Sam Wanamaker's original dream of building a faithful and authentic reconstruction of the Globe Theatre has grown into a major project called the International Shakespeare Globe Centre. This complex of inter-related buildings which spread across the one acre site at Bankside is intended to serve the world's keen interest in the performance of Shakespeare and has become a new tourist attraction for London. The focus is of course the Globe Theatre itself but also on site is an Education Centre; an audio-visual Archive & library; the Inigo Jones -an elegant indoor private theatre, built to the great architect's surviving design, which will be used for concerts, poetry readings, 17th century plays, lectures and recitals; a small Cinema and Lecture Hall running regular film and television programmes and fmally a Grand Piazza.

The Globe Theatre was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen, on 12th June, 1997 though sadly both Sam Wanamaker and Pentagram's architect, Theo Crosby, died without seeing the results of their hard work and enthusiasm. The Globe Theatre has since staged a full season of performances and has also become a highly successful tourist and visitor attraction.


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