London’s a city of time travel. It can plunge you back centuries through a street name, a churchyard or a row of forgotten houses. When I researched my novel Unlawful Things, one of the places I wanted to see was Norton Folgate, just beyond Bishopsgate in East London. Before Shakespeare’s Globe raised its flag on Bankside, Norton Folgate was the place to be.
It was the home of The Theatre and The Curtain, the earliest purpose-built theatres, located outside the city boundaries. These play-houses were purposely built in the ‘liberties’, where ale-houses, brothels and other places of dubious entertainment could carry on their business, undisturbed by the authorities.
Christopher Marlowe, whose legacy I explore in the novel, lived for a time in Norton Folgate, in lodgings he shared with fellow-playwright Thomas Kyd. It was on Hog Lane (now Worship Lane) that Marlowe was arrested for murder, after getting into a street brawl with the inn-keeper William Bradley. While no trace remains of the Elizabethan theatres from that era, Norton Folgate retains plenty of 18th century buildings and street plans. With neighbouring Spitalfields, it is one of those nooks of the city that seems to attract more than its share of cultural heritage.
So I was distressed to learn via the excellent Spitalfields Life blog of plans to demolish dozens of buildings on this Conservation Area site, to replace them with the faceless and boring plazas and blocks that blight so much of our town. It doesn’t surprise me to learn that the doughty guardians of the East End, led by the Spitalfields Trust, are gearing up a magnificent campaign in defence of the liberty. In the spirit of Christopher Marlowe and all outlaw theatricals, we should resist the march of the money men. I urge you to sign up to the campaign.