Blog Archives

Romeo & Juliet mural marks the site of original Shakespearean theatre (before the Globe)

Shoreditch street art commemorates where the tragic love story was first performed back in the 16th century.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Romeo and Juliet mural on New Inn Broadway in Shoreditch

When it comes to checking out street art in Shoreditch, you’ll be spoiled for choice. However, one of the district’s most striking murals has a special historic significance. One particular building on New Inn Broadway features a mural depicting Romeo and Juliet… on the very spot where the play was first performed.

Long before The Globe was built on Bankside, William Shakespeare (1564-1616) used to tread the boards in the East End. In 1572, the Mayor of London cracked down on plays being performed within the City of London in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Plague. As a result, theatre companies started performing just outside the jurisdictions of the City. The Theatre was built in 1576 on the site of the Holywell Priory, which has been demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries a few decades earlier. It was started by actor and theatre manager James Burbage (1530/5-1597) and his brother-in-law John Brayne (1541-1586). At the time, Shoreditch was notoriously rough and was surrounded by brothels, gambling dens and rowdy taverns. The Theatre was built in a polygonal shape, included three galleries and a yard and was said to have cost £700 to build.

The Theatre owner Burbage was a member of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men theatre company, with a certain actor and playwright from Stratford-upon-Avon as one of his colleagues. The LCM was formed in 1594, when Shakespeare had already been making waves in the theatre scene for at least two years. The troupe started performing Shakespeare’s plays exclusively. Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was performed for the first time at The Theatre, estimated to have been written around 1591-1595.

New Inn Broadway © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

Juliet is seen leaning over her balcony looking for her Romeo

After 22 years of entertaining Londoners, The Theatre came to an end following a dispute between the late Burbage’s son Richard (1567-1619) and the site’s landowner Giles Allen. In a desperate bid to protect their playhouse, Richard and his brother Cuthbert enlisted the help of some associates to dismantle The Theatre in December 1598. The timbers were believed to have been hidden nearby in Bridewell, before being taken over London Bridge to Bankside when the weather improved. Timbers from The Theatre were used to build The Globe in 1599.

For centuries, the site of The Theatre was lost until it was rediscovered by Museum of London archaeologists in 2008. They found remains of brick and stone polygonal footings of the gallery, along with seeds and fruit pips and broken beer vessels from the Elizabethan period. Just north of the Romeo and Juliet mural we see today, a building is being erected to house offices and a permanent exhibition about The Theatre.

Today, a Romeo and Juliet mural adorns a modern three-storey office building on the site of The Theatre. The top of the piece features the heroine Juliet in a blue gown, looking down from her balcony for her Romeo, who gazes up adoringly at her from two storeys down. One of Juliet’s passages from Act 2, Scene 2 of the play is featured: ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea’; ‘My love as deep the more I give to thee’; and ‘The more I have for both are infinite’. Fans of the play will recognise it from Romeo and Juliet’s post-Capulet ball discussion when they make plans to marry after meeting that evening. The mural was commissioned through the Global Street Art Agency in June 2018.

  • New Inn Broadway, Shoreditch, EC2A 3PZ. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street or Old Street.

For more London history and architecture posts, click here.

Find out about Middle Temple Hall, location of the first performance of Twelfth Night.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Did you know there’s a piece of the Berlin Wall in London?

Berlin Wall London © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2019

A piece of the Berlin Wall stands in Lambeth

This year marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. From 1961 to 1989, a guarded concrete barrier divided West and East Berlin. During its 28 year life span, over 80 people died trying to cross the wall. Finally, on 9 November 1989 the wall started to come down and was destroyed by Berliners, uniting the city once again. I was at primary school when the wall fell and remember my impassioned teacher telling us about this historic moment during assembly, which I was a bit too young to understand.

Various pieces of the Berlin Wall survive today. In the gardens of the Imperial War Museum in London, there is a piece of the wall complete with original street art. It features the words ‘Change Your Life’ in a giant mouth by graffiti artist Indiana (Jurgen Grosse). The 3.64 metre high section comes from near the Leuschnerdamm in the Kreuzberg district and was acquired by the Imperial War Museum in 1991. It is believed the slogan ‘Change Your Life’ may be from the German poem Archaischer Torso Apollos (Torso of an Archaic Apollo).

  • Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, Lambeth, SE1 6HZ. Nearest station: Lambeth North.

For more London history and architecture posts, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Explore the street art of Croydon at the RISEfestival 2018

Street art meets conservation in Louis Masai’s new exhibition Missing

© Louis Masai

Louis Masai painting his yellow legged frog in downtown Los Angeles
© Louis Masai

A new exhibition is coming to London which blends art and awareness. British artist Louis Masai is showcasing his latest collection which depicts endangered animals. Each piece will focus on a specific continent by depicting an animal from the region whose future is in doubt amidst fears they could vanish from our planet.

Masai is known for his patchwork animals, which are created for both canvases and exterior walls. The artist uses paint, sculpting and murals to express himself and highlight the 6th mass extinction and climate change. The choice of patchwork is significant as it implores humans to pay more attention and take action to fix the planet instead of tearing it apart.

The new exhibition, ‘Missing’ follows on from Masai’s 2016 tour of the USA, ‘The Art of Beeing’, which consisted of 20 murals of threatened species in 12 cities across nine states. Each piece from this latest exhibition features paintings created from Masai’s large murals around the world.

© Louis Masai

The endangered White Rhino from Sub Sahara Africa
© Louis Masai

‘Missing’ will be an immersive exhibition, with sounds and scents of the endangered animals’ environments replicated. An animatronic penguin on a leaking oil drum has been created specially for the show, while a painted elephant will lie surrounded by an AK47 and empty shells to remind us of the price of the Ivory trade. There will also be three different sculptures of Masai’s signature bee, which has been under threat in recent years.

Describing his new collection, Masai said: ‘Climate change is in full effect, with one of the major factors being the ‘6th Mass Extinction’. Species are becoming extinct or missing in our biodiverse world. This is a real issue that we face as humans, and as an artist, I feel it’s my duty to draw attention to this issue. Through my work I hope to remind people of the urgency we face, highlighting our place amongst creatures who are a critical part of our delicate ecosystem.’

  • Louis Masai: Missing will run from 25 – 27 May 2018 at The Crypt Gallery, Euston Road, NW1 2BA. Nearest stations: Euston or Euston Square. Open 12pm-6pm. Free entry. For more information, visit Louis Masai’s website or the Crypt Gallery website.

For a guide to what’s on in London in May, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

‘They shall not pass’: Fighting the fascists on the Battle of Cable Street mural

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

A huge mural depicts the Battle of Cable Street, which took place in October 1936

We’re currently living in a time of great political turmoil on both sides of the Atlantic, with effects from Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency likely to be felt for years to come. While it’s understandable to feel despair right now, remember Londoners in the past have gone through similar tumultuous times and have managed to come out the other side. In the past year, it seems like more Londoners are expressing their anger over political issues and taking to the streets to protest. However, back in October 1936, ordinary Londoners ended up clashing with police in a historic battle.

In between the two World Wars, politician Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) founded the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1932 after becoming disillusioned with the Labour party. His speeches were so controversial, it was predictable that BUF meetings often ran into trouble with Communist and Jewish groups so Mosley enlisted the infamous ‘Blackshirts’ for protection.

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2017

The mural depicts faceless police officers clashing with working-class East End Londoners

On 4 October 1936, the BUF planned to march through the streets of East London – particularly antagonising as the area was renowned for its large Jewish population. Ignoring their better judgement, the government declined to ban the march and instead requested the police escort the fascists. Outraged by the BUF’s plans, various groups of Jewish, Irish, socialist, anarchist and communist groups decided to put up roadblocks in a bid to stop the march. An estimated 20,000 demonstrators turned up, chanting ‘they shall not pass’, and were confronted by 6,000 police officers, who were under orders to let the BUF march as intended. The ensuing clash between the groups involved protestors fighting back with anything they could get their hands on, including furniture, sticks and rocks. Meanwhile, Mosley’s BUF finally realised what an ill-advised idea it had been and retreated to Hyde Park. Around 175 people – protestors and police – were injured, while 150 demonstrators were arrested. The battle influenced the passing of the Public Order Act 1936, which required political marches to obtain police consent and banned the wearing of political uniforms in public.

Decades later, the historic clash was to be commemorated on a huge mural on the side of St George’s Town Hall on Cable Street. Artist Dave Binnington was commissioned to depict the battle on the 3,500 square feet section of wall, beginning his work in late 1979. It was initially hoped the mural would be completed by the 44th anniversary of the battle in October 1980, but the sheer scale and other technical problems led Binnington to realise it was a bigger task than he estimated. In May 1982, part of the mural was vandalised with far-right graffiti, which prompted a tired and disgusted Binnington to resign from the project. Two months later, artists Paul Butler, Ray Walker and Desmond Rochfort got together to complete the mural, with the top section fulfilling Binnington’s original designs and the vandalised lower portions covered with a modified design. The mural was finally unveiled in May 1983 by Paul Beasley (leader of Tower Hamlets Council) Jack Jones (former General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union), Tony Banks (Chair of the Greater London Council Arts Committee) and Dan Jones (Secretary of the Hackney Trades Council).

Unfortunately in the intervening years, the mural has been vandalised several times, but was restored in October 2011 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street. Visiting today, it’s an overwhelming and powerful piece of art. The sheer scale and details of the mural will keep many visitors lingering at it for quite some time. The 1930s setting is clear through the style of painting, while the flying milk bottles and broken windows really epitomises the unexpected explosion of violence.

  • The Cable Street mural is on the side of St George’s Town Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL. Nearest station: Shadwell.

For more of Metro Girl’s history posts, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Exploring Dulwich’s street art with the Dulwich Festival

Meeting Of Styles Festival: London’s largest street art festival returns this Bank Holiday weekend

Meeting Of Styles UKThis bank holiday weekend, the capital’s largest graffiti and street art festival is returning to London. Taking over the Nomadic Community Gardens in Shoreditch, the Meeting Of Styles festival will feature three days of live street art painting, music, food and drinking.

A garden oasis and the walls leading to it from Brick Lane will be transformed with over 50 artists collaborating. Budding street artists – young and old – will also have the chance to learn some skills at workshops. Meanwhile, there’ll be plenty of music from the likes of Ghosttown & the lyrical genius Dabbla, DJs Maj Duckworth, Sugai & Super Scratch Sunday, Blabbamouf and Trackside Burners.

Providing the refreshments will be a Rockwell House pop-up bar. The in-garden Roving Café will be serving hot food, cakes and fresh coffee, while the Dry Rub Club will be grilling and marinading on the BBQ.

Also on site will be a mini market of stalls selling art and clothing, including Meeting Of Styles merchandise and EndOfTheLine apparel. By Monday, the Nomadic Community Gardens will be hosting their monthly party with the surrounding walls now complete.

  • Meeting Of Styles takes place from 27-29 May 2016 at the Nomadic Community Gardens, Brick Lane, 1 Fleet Street Hill, Shoreditch, E2 6EE. Nearest station: Shoreditch High Street. For more information, visit the Meeting Of Styles website.

For a guide to what else is on in London in May, click here.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Stik hits the South Bank: Street artist brings colour to Hungerford Bridge

Stik South bank © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stik mural under Hungerford Bridge at the South Bank

© Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Each stick person was individual with their expression and clothing

While I love the South Bank, few would disagree with me that the brutalist architecture and concrete isn’t the most visually appealing. Those passing under Hungerford Bridge as they walk from Jubilee Gardens to the Southbank Centre would be hard pressed to ignore the mud coloured walls surrounding them. Earlier this month (2-4 August 2013), the Southbank Centre hosted a three-day Urban: Celebrating Street Culture festival, which included DJs, breakdancers, street artists, skaters, free runners and poets doing their thing.

I attended on the first day and was fortunate enough to see street artist Stik in action creating a mural along a particularly drab piece of wall under the bridge. At the point I saw him, he had created a string of his white stick people against a yellow backdrop. When I returned a few days later, they had acquired outfits and different expressions.

Speaking about the South Bank, Stik was quoted as saying: ‘The South Bank has already made a commitment to having a great deal of artistic freedom for street artists and graffiti artists to come and express themselves on their premises. It’s become part of the institution of street art.’ I applaud the Southbank Centre for allowing Stik to create street art on the site and I hope it remains all the walls for the foreseeable future.

Stik South bank © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stik starts off by creating plain stick people…

Stik South bank © Memoirs Of A Metro Girl 2013

Stik in action creating the mural during the Urban: Celebrating Street Culture festival


For another Metro Girl post on art on Hungerford Bridge, read A different kind of street art: Painter on Hungerford Bridge.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Taking a walk down memory lane at 8 Bit Lane, Shoreditch