The Globe Theatre in London burned to the ground during a performance of Henry VIII.
The Globe Theatre was situated on the southern side of the River Thames near today’s Southwark Bridge. It was owned by shareholders who were actors in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men whose lease had expired on their previous venue. On 28th December 1598, while the landowner was celebrating Christmas, they dismantled the old building and transported its timbers across the river to construct the Globe. Completed in 1599, the three-storey amphitheatre had an open-air standing space at its centre while the surrounding galleries were roofed with inexpensive but highly flammable thatch.
The play All is True, which was later referred to as Henry VIII was staged at the Globe in 1613. In the play the king attends a ball at Cardinal Wolsey’s house, and his arrival was heralded on stage with the firing of a cannon. A number of contemporary accounts record that during a performance on 29 June the cannon situated close to the roof misfired and set fire to the thatching.
Sir Henry Wotton recorded how the blaze ‘kindled inwardly, and ran round like a train, consuming within less than an hour the whole house to the very ground.’ The account goes on to describe how one man whose breeches were set on fire extinguished the flames by pouring a bottle of ale over himself.
The Globe was rebuilt with a tile roof, and it continued operating until 1642 when it closed as a casualty of Parliament’s ban on theatrical plays. The entire structure was demolished a few years later to make way for tenement housing yet, despite the Restoration overturning the theatrical ban in 1660, the Globe was never rebuilt. A modern reconstruction opened in 1997 near the original site.