Archaeologists have found what they believe to be the UK’s oldest playhouse, on the site of a housing development in east London.
The remains were found during excavations on a site in Whitechapel, and archaeologists now believe they are those of the Red Lion playhouse, which was built around 1567.
Existing documents from the period have led historians to regard the Red Lion as the earliest example of a purpose-built playhouse in Britain, however its whereabouts remained unknown.
Archaeologists from UCL Archaeology South-East have been working on the site since a timber structure was found there in early 2019.
Stephen White, who led the excavation, said the discovery of the "extraordinary" site marked a historic breakthrough in the search for the genesis of British performance spaces.
"After nearly 500 years, the remains of the Red Lion playhouse, which marked the dawn of Elizabethan theatre, may finally have been found.
"The strength of the combined evidence – archaeological remains of buildings, in the right location, of the right period – seem to match up with characteristics of the playhouse recorded in early documents. It is a privilege to be able to add to our understanding of this exciting period in history," he said.
The Red Lion was a precursor to other well-known Elizabethan playhouses in east London, such as the Theatre and the Curtain, both of which have been discovered in the past decade.
The Red Lion was built by John Brayne, who went on to create the Theatre, which was a home for an acting troupe that staged Shakespeare’s plays.
Archaeologists also found remains of what they believe to be the Red Lion Inn, adjacent to the theatre site, with beer cellars, bottles and tankards among the discoveries.
Emily Gee, Historic England’s regional director for London and the South East, said: “This tantalising find follows the exciting recent discoveries of the Theatre and the Curtain playhouses in Shoreditch, and of the Boar’s Head in Aldgate, which together have immensely improved our understanding of the beginnings of English theatre.
“We will continue to work closely with the developer to interpret these archaeological remains and display them so the public will be able to understand them within the finished development and appreciate the rich history of this site.”