Archaeologists saved Shakespeare's Rose theatre – but planning reform could threaten future discoveries

An archaeologist stands in the remains of a 16th century London theatre in 2009. Image: Getty.

Before The Globe, there was The Rose: one of the first purpose-built theatres on London’s Southbank. William Shakespeare’s plays first gained sell-out success on the stage of The Rose.

But as other, rival theatre spaces emerged, it fell out of favour. It was abandoned by 1606, and eventually vanished underneath newer layers of London.

All seemed lost, until in 1988, when the owners of Southern House – an uninspiring 1957 office block on Rose Alley – gained planning permission to redevelop the site after agreeing to a routine two-month archaeological dig. In January 1989, near the end of the dig, The Rose was rediscovered, to the astonishment and delight of archaeologists, historians, thespians and theatre lovers.

It became the first Shakespearean theatre to be archaeologically excavated, revealing a classic 14-sided polygon structure, with galleries and an uncovered yard, where poorer viewers could stand in front of the stage. It remains one of the best-preserved and most informative theatre excavations. The Times described it as the “most exciting archaeological find since Tutankhamun”.

But the archaeologists soon faced a thorny problem: technically, because planning permission had already been granted, the construction of the new building could proceed without any further archaeological work.

Save the Rose

Understandably, the acting and theatre community wished to see The Rose preserved. Sir Laurence Olivier gathered support, and household names such as Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Judy Dench, Sir Patrick Stewart, Dame Peggy Ashcroft and Alan Rickman joined the “Save the Rose” campaign. American actor Dustin Hoffman even flew over from the US, to see The Rose excavations and lend his support.

The government could have halted the development and preserved The Rose, by declaring it a scheduled ancient monument – this would have put it on the same footing as Stonehenge. But given the cost of compensating the developer, it declined to do so.

Initially, small extensions were given to the archaeologists to continue excavations. Over time, more and more campaigners gathered outside the building site, culminating with an all-night vigil on 12 May 1989 to turn away building contractors. The campaign worked: a further six month excavation took place, and the new building was altered to allow The Rose to be preserved underneath, where it can still be visited to this day.

The Rose Theatre today. Image: The Rose Theatre Trust.

In the end, the developer and government spent an additional £11m on further archaeological research and redesigned the new building to accommodate the theatre. As many archaeologists pointed out, if an assessment had taken place before planning permission was granted, the developer could have made plans for the archaeological work and possible building alterations. The Rose was one of a number of sites to encounter this problem.

A year later the government introduced new planning guidance, which fundamentally changed the role of archaeologists. Under the new guidance (and its subsequent replacements), archaeology became part of the planning process. Site assessments by archaeological professionals prior to planning permission became the norm.

Still in danger

But today, the proposed Neighbourhood Planning & Infrastructure Bill could raise the same problems all over again. As part of a drive to build 250,000 much-needed new homes a year, the bill aims to “reform and speed up the planning process by minimising delays caused by pre-commencement planning conditions”. In particular, the Telegraph suggests that “archaeological and wildlife surveys” will be “swept away” once this law is passed. This could very well put archaeological sites in danger of destruction, or risk great costs to developers.

Archaeological organisations have mobilised, seeking confirmation of the government’s intentions. Already, a petition to parliament highlighting the danger to archaeology has gathered more than 13,000 signatures. Archaeological newsletters suggest that archaeologists feel they are being used as scapegoats for the housing crisis.

In fact, there are many other factors which have contributed to the UK’s housing shortage. In reality, less than 1 per cent of planning applications need archaeological work to take place – so getting rid of the guidance is unlikely to fast-track a vast swathe of projects. And doing this work before granting planning permission ensures that there are no expensive delays or surprises for the developer.

Many exciting archaeological discoveries have rewritten England’s story since the discovery of The Rose – the majority due to planning conditions. Indeed, another Elizabethan theatre – The Curtain in London – is currently being excavated. In this case, archaeologists got involved early in the planning process; evaluating the site, undertaking trial excavations and enabling the archaeology to take centre stage in the development.

Removing or watering down archaeology’s place in the planning process will undoubtedly lead future generations to ask once more – how was this situation allowed to occur?The Conversation

James Morris is a lecturer in archaeology at the University of Central Lancashire.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.


It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).

Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.