Cobbled street uncovered beneath York Theatre Royal stage

13 Apr 2015 @ 9.25 pm
| History

The cobbled street under the stage. Photographs: York Theatre Royal
The cobbled street under the stage. Photographs: York Theatre Royal
All the time they have been treading the boards, actors at York Theatre Royal were unknowingly walking above a cobbled street.

And it’s a real one, not a set created by the theatre’s talented designers.

The under-stage street was uncovered this week as part of the work to redevelop the building. Experts from the York Archaeological Trust knew it was there, so it was an exciting moment when the road was exposed.

It dates from the post-medieval period and the theatre was built over it in the 1700s. The cobbles and stone used in the street’s surface are also remains from the 12th century St Leonards Hospice.

Wells, cigs and pipes

Another smoking find… tobacco tins
Another smoking find… tobacco tins

This is only the latest discovery by the archaeologists who have joined builders from William Birch as the £4.1 million renovation moved into its third week.

Another historic feature is the well underneath the stage. Actor Blair Plant told YorkMix how he’d be lowered down into the well and splash around in the water when he worked as part of the theatre’s stage crew.

Research has now confirmed that the well dates from medieval times, as does the stone block wall and gateway at the back of the stage.

Before the smoking ban, theatre goers used to like nothing more than to light up as they watched a performance. Early to mid-20th century cigarette packets have been recovered from directly under the stage.

Small clay pipe fragments have also been discovered in a cobble layer.

Ben Reeves from York Archaeological Trust said:

It’s an exciting opportunity for us to dig in this part of the city. Potentially the excavation will tell us about the development of the theatre, St Leonard’s Hospital precinct and the lanes which are thought to converge in the excavation area under the north-east corner of the stage.

Theatre Royal timeline

1734 Thomas Keregan and his wife establish the theatre on a converted tennis court in Minster Yard
1744 His wife builds what was then known as the ‘New Theatre’ on the present site
1769 Tate Wilkinson pays £500 for a Royal Patent, and, accordingly, it was renamed the Theatre Royal