The Reconstruction of the Globe Theatre

by Peter McCurdy

Preliminary Research

As soon as McCurdy & Co. was brought into the Globe team, to assist with their initial research Peter McCurdy began to draw on five familiar areas of information; contemporary panoramic views and maps, illustrations of other theatres of the period, documentary evidence - such as building contracts and accounts, examination of some of the stock of surviving buildings of a similar date and the Company's specialist understanding and knowledge of the carpentry methodology which was in use in England for between 600-700 years.

By analysis of an illustration by Hollar, showing London with the second Globe from the top of Southwark Cathedral, scholar John Orrell was able to propose the theory that the overall diameter of the theatre was 99ft. Consulting with McCurrdy's own knowledge of carpenters setting out procedures of the day, a final dimension of lOOft was established. Secondly, by looking at illustrations of the similarly dated Swan Theatre and Norden's view showing the first Globe, some idea of the interior arrangement of three levels of galleries and a stage with a projecting roof began to emerge. Some of these features such as courtyards and timber frame galleries can still be seen in surviving coaching inns, which as a building form were forerunners of the open air playhouse.

On the archaeological front unfortunately little could be gained, as the actual foundations of the original Globe lie beneath existing buildings. Likewise the remains of the nearby, contemporary Rose Theatre, were covered over by a large modern office block, the policy of the day being to leave the remans underground until such time as they can be excavated and conserved properly.

Documentary evidence was more helpful, as building contracts exist in full, giving precise instructions to the Master Builders of both the Fortune Theatre, also built by~P~tcr Streete, a year after the Globe in 1600 and also the Hope Theatre, built in 1613. These not only detail the depth of auditorium bays as 12' 6" from front to back and give the floor to floor heights of 12ft for the ground floor, lift for the first and ~ for the second floor but also give siees for some of the key timbers and iddleate the quality and type of materials to be used.

McCurdy & Co. regards examination of some of the stock of surviving buildings as a primary source of information, especially in the case of the Globe, bearing in mind the lack of other tangible evidence. By looking at other buildings of the same period in London, one can understand methodology, carpentry techniques and other skills in use by the City of London carpenters around this date. In addition to his extensive knowledge and records of historic timber framed buildings Peter McCurdy visited more than 50 further buildings making survey drawings and recording siees of timbers and jointing arrangements to build up an overall picture of the sort of timber details being used at that time by Peter Streete and his fellow builders in London.

In particular McCurdy's work on the design of the tyring or stage house and stage canopy involved trying to find similar examples of how to span the vast distance of more than 40ft, which is similar to that of Hampton Court Great Hall. Secondly, the design and construction of a polygonal building, like the Globe, presented interesting challenges in terms of the setting Out of the constructional details at key connections. McCurdy travelled throughout England and even Wales to examine a whole range of polygonal buildings ranging from chapter houses and dovecotes to market crossss and guild halls. Whilst a former royal hunting lodge built by Henry VIII in Epping lorest provided an exact model for the Globe Theatre stair towers.

After many months of preliminary research McCurdy was able to agree the basic dimensions, design and layout of the Globe with Jon Greenfield, the project architect from Pentagram Design. On plan the Theatre would be lOoft in diameter giving a circumference of 300ft made up from 20 sides or bays, each thee storeys high, thatched in Norfolk reed with lime plaster. In front of the tyring house the covered stage was to projeet into the centre of the circle, its canopy roof spanning an awesome 46ft and supported on only two round timber columns


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