Above: City Plaque on the low retaining wall of the churchyard of St Olave, Silver Street.
You may already be aware that the evidence for William Shakespeare’s life is remarkably small. For someone so famous you would think that every minute part of his life is very well documented but that simply is not the case.
Most of his plays were first performed in London and, indeed, they were written while he lived and worked in London but details of where he lived in London are also quite elusive. One of the streets he lived in was Silver Street, which has all but vanished due to bomb damage during the Second World War. It was a short street and contained a church – St Olave, Silver Street. Like Shakespeare himself, there is little historical evidence for the church either. There is no good print of the church, in fact there is no mediocre or even a bad print to be seen. The church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (1666) and not rebuilt. Its little churchyard continued in existence beside Silver Street until the 1940s, suffering considerable damage during the bombing to the churchyards and to all the surrounding streets.
After the Second World War the street called London Wall was realigned and widened into a dual-carriageway. Silver Street then had no houses left standing and so the little street ceased to exist. Being consecrated ground, it was not possible to build on the ancient churchyard and so it was laid out as a little garden which is still there.
During the 20 or so years that Shakespeare lived in London there is no record that he ever bought a house. Obviously he must have had lodgings and the only house that he can be precisely traced to is one that stood in Silver Street.
Above: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing the street layout that had not changed since Shakespeare had lodged in one of the houses.
Shakespeare lodged at the house of Christopher and Mary Mountjoy which stood at the corner of Silver Street and Monkwell Street. He was there in 1604. He probably wrote ‘Othello’, ‘Measure for Measure’ and ‘King Lear’ in that house. The Mountjoys were probably Flemish immigrants. They were both specialists in making fanciful head-dress – known as ’tires’. Mary was a tire-woman to Queen Anne.
These facts have been known for a long time but, in the way that London goes about its almost unbelievable history, nobody thought to record one of the only known sites where the great man is know to have lived. Nobody until now. On Thursday 21 April a City Plaque was unveiled to record the fact. The plaque has been mounted on one of the little walls surrounding the churchyard of St Olave. Four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death we have at last got round to commemorating this important location.