Lawsuits and Leases at Newington Butts Playhouse

Following Laurie Johnson’s introduction to the area, we are thankful to Sally-Beth MacLean for some archival insight into Jerome Savage and the playhouse in our second feature on the Newington Butts Playhouse (with MS images courtesy of The National Archives and Canterbury Cathedral Archives)…


The early playhouse at Newington Butts continues to elude new documentary revelations about its origins and management during almost two decades of existence, though we must all be looking forward to Laurie Johnson’s forthcoming book-length, in-depth study of this early theatre. Meanwhile, William Ingram’s chapter, ‘A Playhouse at Newington: Jerome Savage, 1576,’ pp 150-81 in The Business of Playing, published in 1992, continues to be an authoritative source for evidence uncovered about the actor, Jerome Savage, and the innovative playhouse he opened at Newington on a 10-acre property known as ‘Lurklane’ by 1576.

mapnewbutts_closeup .png

1/ Extract from 1681 map of Walworth manor, reproduced courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, Canterbury Cathedral Archives: Map 19. The site of playhouse identified by Laurie Johnson, Shakespeare’s Lost Playhouse: Eleven Days at Newington Butts (Routledge, forthcoming 2018).

Archival records for its opening decade range from the pragmatic notices of fines for inadequate cleansing of the nearby drainage ditch in the Surrey and Kent Commissioners for Sewers’ Court Minutes (LMA: SKCS/018), to a few Privy Council orders attempting to control playing in the area, and, most tellingly, a 1577 Court of Requests case, Savage v. Honingborne, that lays bare conflict between Jerome Savage, sub-tenant of the property; the lease-holder, Richard Hickes; and his son-in-law, Peter Honingborne. Neither defendant disputed the basic fact that Savage had been granted a new 30-year sub-lease on the property at Lurklane on 25 March 1576 (the actual document has not been found). What emerges from the various testimonies is that Hickes and Honingborne had apparently attempted to evict Savage from the property by claiming that he had failed to pay his rent by the agreed due date. Just as controversially — even duplicitously — Honingborne was identified by both defendants as Savage’s landlord although proof was lacking of any transfer of the lease to Honingborne by Hickes before the issue of the new sub-lease to Savage.

The Bill of Complaint submitted by Savage and Peter Honingborne’s reply to the suit are readily available, thanks to Herbert Berry’s transcription of both in English Professional Theatre, 1530-1660 (pp 322-6) but the reply of Richard Hickes, is not. Part of the REED collection for the Surrey including Southwark dramatic records will include full transcriptions from the case so I can offer a preview of Hickes’ reply here below, normalized but not modernized. Images of the original MS at The National Archives are provided below as well, by kind permission.


Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8

mb 1 (17 May)


The answere of Richard Hickes defendant to the Bill of Complaint                                                 of Ierome Savage Complanante


The saide Defendant saiethe that the said Bill of Complainte against him exhibited for the moste parte of the matters therein Conteyned as concerne this defendant is vncerteyne vntrewe and insufficiente in the Lawe ashe thincketh to be answered vnto not Conteyninge any matter of substaunce or effecte Worthie to troble this honnorable Courte with all and is set fourth and devised by the complanant as he beleaveth rather of Crafte envye and mallice to entrape tharge[1]and vexe this Defendant then for anie good ground or Cause of sute Neverthelesse if this defendant by the order of this Honnorable Courte shalbe Compelled to make anie further answere vnto the said vncerteine and insufficient Bill of Complainte Then the Advantage and excepcion to the incertenty and insufficyencye of the saide Bill vnto this Defendant at all tymes hereafter saved for answere and declaracion of the truthe of suche thinges Conteyned in the said Bill as concerneth this Defendant materiall to be answered vnto he saiethe That as towchinge the messwage with Thappurtenaunces in Newington in the Countie of Sussex[2] wherein the saied Complainant saieth that he nowe dwelleth which as he saieth he had of one Thomas Thomson whome he supposeth a farmer in the possession of the saide premisses This Defendant knoweth noe suche thinge But in truthe this defendant saiethe That one Richard Thomson as this Defendaunt remembreth had and held one messwage or Tenement nere Newington Buttes in the Countie of Surrey as tenaunt to this defendant And this defendant further saiethe that after the departure of the saied Richard Thomson beinge a silkewever as this defendante remembreth The said Complanant occupied the saide messwage or Tenemente and he so havinge the occupacion of the saide house sought by all meanes that he could to obteyne of him this defendant to whom the premisses was by the Cheif Landlord of the premisses graunted for manie yeares yet to come a lease for Thirtie yeres of the saide messwage or Tenemente And the same Complainant thinkinge and entendinge as it seameth as he hym sealf hath saied to entrape the said Defendant beinge a simple and plaine delinge man whom the Complainant as well therein as in other thinges hathe greatlie abused did cause to be inse^rted in the said Indenture of Lease a Covenaunte whereby this defendant did stand bounde that he had full power right and aucthoritie to Demise and graunt the said messwage, or tenement and other the premisses in the saide Indenture of Lease graunted in suche sort as in the saide Deed is expressed. And the same Complaynaunt givinge but Tenn Poundes for such his lease procured the saide Defendaunt beinge simple and givinge over muche Credite to the feyer wordes of the saide Complanant to seall a Bonde of a Hundered Poundes to performe the covenauntes And in trewth as it semeth the same Complanant ment to make this Defendant forfecte his bond ymedyatlie after the sealinge thereof Which saide Indenture of lease graunted by this defendante to the saide Complainant was vppon divers Condicions that is to saie That if the yerelie rente of ffiftie Three shillinges and ffower Pence thereby for the premises reserved should be behinde vnpaied in part or in all by the space of ffourteane Daies over or after anie feast or terme of paymente in the saide Indenture of lease lymited and beinge Lawfullie asked. Or if the saide Complainant his executours administratours or assignes should breake or make defaulte in performaunce of anie Covenaunte article or Agremente in the saide Indenture mencioned which on his and their partes or on the behouf of anie of them were or ought to be performed by the trewe entent and meaninge of the saide Indenture. That then and from thensfourth the saide demise and lease should cease be fullie determined and of none effecte And that then and at all tymes after it should be lawfull to and for this defendant his executours and assignes into the saide tenement and other the premisses with Thappurtenaunces wholie to reenter And the same as in his or there former estate to have againe retaine and reposses. And the saide Complanaunt his executours and assignes and all others occupiinge the same premisses And the saide Complanant his executours and assignes and all others occupiinge the same premisses[3] from theise vtterlie to expell amove and put out forever Anie thinge in the saide Indenture of Lease conteyned to the Contrary notwithstandinge As by the said Indenture of Demise more at large maie appeare, After which saide lease to the saide Complanant made this defendant beinge before that by obligacion vnder his hande and Seale lawfullie lawfullie[4] and Iustlie indebted to Peter Honningborne one of the defendantes in the saide Bill of Complainte named in the some of ffiftie Poundes for the payment whereof he this defendaunt stoode bound to the saide Peter Honigborne by the saide obligacion in one Hundereth markes And for none payment thereof beinge sved at the comon Lawe by the saide Peter Honingborne and the matter redye to come to tryall by Nisi prius this Defendant fell to Composicion with the saide Peter Honingborne And for satisfacion thereof amongest other thinges this defendant did graunt aswell the revercion of the premisses as the revercion of Two other tenementes in the parrishe of Saint Olaves in Southworke in the Countie of Surrey by this defendant before that demised to one Thomas Cranage Ioynte to the saide Peter Honingborne for Divers yeres yet to come wherevnto the saide Complanant Consented and did acknowledge the saide Peter Honingborne as his Landlord as this defendant hathe bene Credeblie enformed And as this defendant hath gathered by the Complanantes owne wordes By vertue whereof the said Peter Honingborne was possessed thereof accordingly And afterwardes as this defendant hath herd the saide Peter Honingborne the ffowertenth Daie after the ffeast of Thanuncyacion of our Ladie Saint Marie the Virgin in the xixth yere[5] of the raigne of our Sovereigne Ladie the Queenes Maiestie that nowe is made his demaunde for the rent dewe at the feast aforesaide and for none payment thereof reentered And by reason of suche demaunde made the Complanantes lease voide as this defendant thinckethe And also this defendant hath herd it Credably reported that the said Peter Honingborne with workmen accordinge to a Convenaunte and proviso conteyned in the saide Lease Came to the premises to viewe the reparacions thereof which was to him denied and the Dore shutt against him which was another Cause whereby the lease should be voide And the saide Peter Honingborne hath tolde this defendant that he hath ben evill vsed and threatened by this said Complanant who make the great Bragges and saiethe he cane procure greate freindes to Countenaunce his matter And to force the saide Peter Honingborne to yeald to him as is said And yet in trewthe the saide Complanant is a Verrie lewde fellowe and his Cheifeste Manner of lyvinge is by playinge of interludes and for his lewde and loase life hath ben presented to the ordenarie and is Comaunded by the Ordenarye as is saide to avoide the parishe which his lewde behavor wolde sone make an honeste man wearye of so Wicked an Idell a Lyvinge tennaunte And so much the more bennefite the honest neighboures in that place doe so mislike his behavioure as they will not suffer him to Dwell there w{hi}ch he Cannot Convenyentlie doe bycause in truth the saide Peter Honingborne is in great need of a house And there fore meanethe to Dwell there him sealf And also the Complanant f<..>reth not greatlie thereof as it seamethe for he hathe sett a Bill on the Dore to sell his interest And this defendant also saiethe <…> he did not Practise anie meanes to defeat the Complanant of his Interest in the premisses but did graunt the revercion of the premisses Bona fide to the saide Peter Honingborne as is aforesaide And if the saide Complanant hathe given Cause of forfeiture of his Interest in the premisses this defendant cannot doe withall. without that. that anie other matter or thinge Comprehended in the saide Bill of Complainte apperteyninge to this defendant Materiall to be answered vnto and in this answere not sufficiently answered or confessed and avoided denied or traversed as this defendant beleaveth is trewe in manner and forme as in the saide Bill of Complainte is conteyned All which matters this Defendant is redie to averr and prove as this honnorable Courte shall awarde And soe asmuche as it evidentlie appearethe that there was or is noe iust Cause whie this Defendant showld be molested or trobled he praieth therefore to be dismissed. this Honnorable Courte with his resonable Cost and Charges by him wrongfullie susteyned

REQ 2266 whole2.jpeg

mb 1: full view of Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb 1, reproduced by permission of The National Archives.

[See below for further detailed images.]

Whether or not we believe that the defendant Richard Hickes was as ‘simple and plain dealing’ as he claims, the fact is that he was granted the 60-year lease of the 6 contiguous fields comprising 35 acres including the 10-acre property at Lurklane in 1566 by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury who held ownership of the parish of Newington in their manor of Walworth. The lease was redemised to him on 29 September 1573, with the additional stipulation that he maintain the common drainage sewer running alongside and any bridges over it. Jerome Savage, a principal player in the Earl of Warwick’s Men by the mid-1570s, had become Hickes’ tenant by 1576 and was named on 13 July that year as one of two responsible for cleaning the common sewer at Newington Butts. This is the period when Warwick’s Men were favoured at court, where they performed annually from 1575 to 1580, often twice during the Christmas/Shrovetide season. Apart from 1575, they are seldom recorded on the provincial road, however: could this be because they had established a base at Newington Butts where Savage was resident? If so, this would be very early residency for an acting company but we have no way of knowing more details unless Savage, for example, kept a diary still waiting to be found. If only!

In the midst of Hickes’ assault on Savage’s character and reputedly lax dealings with his landlord, there is the bragging remark quoted above that Savage could procure ‘greate freindes to Countenaunce his matter And to force the saide Peter Honingborne to yeald to him’, surely a reference to his patron, Ambrose Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, whose brother Robert, Earl of Leicester was even more influential and certainly an engaged patron himself. As Ingram notes, p 163, n 28: the lawsuit appears to have been dropped from the Court of Requests with no resolution to be found — ‘no further pleadings, and no interrogatories or depositions’ following Hickes’ answer of 17 May. And so it seems that Savage may have made no idle threat and, as the Sewer Commission records prove, he did remain in residence at Newington Butts until at least the end of 1578, when he is again named as responsible for his part in clearing the common sewer. The fact that his name does not surface again in the Sewer Commission records cannot be taken as proof that he left Newington in 1579, however. All we can say is that he was not fined again for neglect of sewer cleansing duty, nor, in fact, was anyone else on the property until 1591.

Warwick’s Men were still together until 1 January 1580, when they played at Whitehall, but the Dutton brothers are known to have left the company soon thereafter in favour of the Earl of Oxford’s patronage and an active touring life until the mid-1580s. The first known appearance of Oxford’s players in the provinces was at Cambridge in June 1580 but they are found earlier at the Theatre in April when their affray with the gentlemen of the Inns of Court landed two of their members in prison at the Marshalsea.

Can we assume that the theatre at Newington Butts became a base for the Duttons and their new company? I don’t think so. But were Savage and the remnant of Warwick’s Men still using the playhouse? They have not been found on the provincial tour road after their appearance at Whitehall in January 1580 unless an otherwise undated reward at Ipswich in the Michaelmas 1579 to Michaelmas 1580 fell into the latter part of that accounting year. John Tucker Murray recorded an appearance by Lord Ambrose Dudley’s men at Winchester in the 1581-2 Chamberlain’s Accounts, an entry that Andrew Gurr also included in his itinerary for the troupe. Chambers (ES, III, p 98) was more sceptical, noting that this ‘must be an error’ probably because Dudley had long been titled ‘Earl of Warwick’. By coincidence I now have access to microfilm of the Winchester Chamberlains’ Accounts for the Hampshire REED edition which Peter Greenfield is now finalizing for publication. A check of the original (HRO: W/E/103) proves that there is no such entry for Dudley’s troupe in 1581-2 although a remarkably similar entry with the same amount in reward was recorded in 1560-1. So Warwick’s troupe likely ended their career under his patronage sometime in 1580 when they seem to have disappeared from both provincial and royal court records.

What we can say is that other players continued to use Newington Butts, the first playhouse south of the Thames before the Rose opened in 1587. A Privy Council letter to the JPs of Surrey on 13 May 1580 proves that some unnamed players (only possibly the remnants of Warwick’s men) continued to perform there on ‘sundry days every week’ despite restrictions until Michaelmas in and about London.

There are more questions. When did Savage depart for London? He had relocated there before 1586 when a certificate of residence documents his home base in Cripplegate ward (TNA: E115/343/52). By 1590 Peter Honingborne is known from a lease in the Canterbury Dean and Chapter Register W to have achieved his goal — apparently frustrated in 1577 — to occupy the property at Newington Butts. Disappointingly, my recent research at TNA, the London Metropolitan Archives and the Canterbury Cathedral Archives yielded no great bingo moments beyond a small discovery at the CCA, transcribed below:


Canterbury Cathedral Chapter Act Book   Canterbury Cathedral Archives: CCA-DCc-CA/3

f 27v (original f 4v) (June)

Item yt ys agreyd that peter honybourne shall haue a lease of the resydue of the garden [adioyni] and groundes adioynyng to the playe house in newyngton not comprised in his former lease for xxjti yeres to begynne at michaelmas next and he to pay therefore yerely two shillinges

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3/ Canterbury Cathedral Chapter Act Book, f 4v, reproduced courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, Canterbury Cathedral Archives: CCA-DCc-CA/3.

The date of the chapter meeting on f 25 has been damaged by fire so the exact date in June is lost. This entry indicates that a prior lease for the property on which the playhouse stood (not traced) had been formally assigned to Hickes’ son-in-law, Peter Honingborne, therefore providing a definitive terminus ad quem for Savage’s occupancy. By a very early point in the 1580s, therefore, Peter Honingborne must have taken over his desired residence at Newington Butts but decided to run the playhouse, perhaps for a variety of acting companies rather than a primary troupe. Whether usage was only occasional or frequent we do not really know. Hickes alludes above to dislike of players in the Newington neighbourhood but it is evident that the playhouse survived Savage’s departure, whether voluntary or otherwise. Honingborne was no actor/manager but another letter from the Privy Council in 1586, fearing the spread of infection during the heat of the summer, specifies Newington as well as the Theatre in its aim to restrict playing. Until Henslowe surfaces circa 1590 in the shadowy narrative of Newington Butts, Honingborne therefore seems to have been the direct successor of the first entrepreneur on the site, Jerome Savage.


Sally-Beth MacLean


[1] tharge: for the charge?

[2] Sussex: for Surrey

[3] And the saide Complanaunt…premisses: dittography

[4] lawfullie lawfullie: dittography

[5] xixth yere: 1577

[Further images of TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb1]

REQ 2 266 8 mb 1 topleft .jpeg

mb 1, top left side of Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb 1, reproduced by permission of The National Archives.

REQ 2 266 8 mb 1 topright .jpeg

mb 1, top right side of Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb 1, reproduced by permission of The National Archives.

REQ 2 266 8 mb 1 bottomleft.jpeg

mb 1, bottom left side of Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb 1, reproduced by permission of The National Archives.

REQ 2 266 8 mb 1 bottomright.jpeg

mb 1, bottom right side of Court of Requests: Savage v. Honingborne et al TNA: REQ 2/266, item 8, mb 1, reproduced by permission of The National Archives.

2 thoughts on “Lawsuits and Leases at Newington Butts Playhouse

  1. Pingback: A slice of Christmas (b)log | Before Shakespeare

  2. Pingback: Christmas, Newyeares tyde: A summary of works done and attendance given, 2018 | Before Shakespeare

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