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Elizabethan Inn-Yards

Picture of White Hart Inn Yard

Picture of White Hart Inn Yard

What were Elizabethan Inn-Yards?

The Elizabethan Inn-yards were a fore-runner to Elizabethan Theatres - such as the Globe Theatre. Elizabethan Inns were always popular. Not only did they provide alcohol but they also provided rooms and lodgings for the Elizabethan traveller.

The above picture of the White Hart Inn-yard illustrates a typical inn-yard detailing the courtyard and the balconies and rooms. Travelling minstrels and troubadours often entertained in these inns. Elizabethan acting troupes travelled the country and sought lodgings at inns or taverns and before long entrepreneurs, like James Burbage, started to produce plays at inn-yards - a popular and profitable idea. Burbage would negotiate with the tavern owner, or vintner, in order to stage a performance at the inn. The plays attracted more customers so everyone shared in the profit. During the Elizabethan era the usual form of transport was on horseback, so all of the major inns had large cobblestone yards. A large number of these inns were located in the capital of England in London, the centre of Elizabethan trade. The courtyards of these inns were where the first plays in England were performed - and the name 'inn-yard' was born. Alternative venues were in the houses of noblemen, town squares or, in extreme circumstances, just on open ground - especially at local fairs.

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Inn-Yards
The following interesting facts and information provide a fascinating insight into Elizabethan Inn-yards:

  • Inn-yards provided the ready built venues for the first Elizabethan commercial theatre
  • Performances were held in private Inns
  • The plays provided an exciting and inexpensive form of entertainment
  • A small fee was charged to playgoers as they entered the inn-yard
  • An additional fee was added on if they wanted to go up to a balcony level.
  • The Audience capacity was up to 500 people
  • All of the major inns had large cobblestone yards
  • There was gambling and there was even bear baiting in some of the Inn-yards
  • The plays were performed in the cobblestone yards
  • The stage was constructed on moveable platforms supported by Trestles
  • The temporary stages were erected by the actors
  • Elizabethan Inn-yards were at their peak between 1576 - 1594
  • Some Inn-yards were eventually converted to Playhouses

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Inn-Yards
The following table details the names of some famous Elizabethan Inn-yards - follow the links to detailed information about each one of these inn-yards

The Bull Inn, London Inn-yard 
The Bell Savage Inn, London Inn-yard 
The Cross Keys Inn, London Inn-yard
The Bell Inn, London Inn-yard
The White Hart Inn, London Inn-yard 
The George Inn, London Inn-yard

The Decline of the London Inn-Yards
The London Inn-yards declined for the following reasons:

  • The plays held at the inn-yards attracted hundreds of people
  • The vast number of people included undesirables, including thieves, harlots and pickpockets
  • There were disturbances and fights
  • Local people, especially those in London, which had an air of anonymity unlike the English villages, complained to officials
  • Puritans especially disliked any form of entertainment especially when then caused disturbances and encouraged the drinking of alcohol
  • In 1574 the City of London started regulating the Inn-yard activities

The London Inn-Yards were restricted and 'The Theatre' is born.
The activities at the London Inn-yards had been restricted and this caused considerable concern to James Burbage who was making a considerable amount of money from the plays being performed at the London Inn-yards. This, no doubt, prompted him to make the decision to create a purpose built building designed specifically to produce plays. He achieved his goal in 1576 by building 'The Theatre' in Finsbury Fields, Shoreditch, London. It was designed in the style of a Roman open-air amphitheatre, with three tiers of galleries and a covered stage. It was prudently built outside the boundary of the City of London Wall - and out of the clutches of the City of London Officials. The Inn-yards were the first venues for performing Elizabethan plays and are therefore extremely important to the history of the Globe Theatre.

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