The world loses a stage as Globe is buried for ever

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The original site of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in south London is to remain buried and all archaeological excavations prevented on the advice of English Heritage, the government's advisory body on preserving the nation's heritage.

The empty building above the remains of the original Globe is to be converted into luxury flats.

The decision to stop further research on the Elizabethan theatre, the famous "Wooden O", will appal Shakespeare students and academics around the world.

Archaeologists and academics were planning excavations to determine the position, shape and size of the stage that Shakespeare worked on. This cannot now go ahead.

Mark Rylance, the artistic director of the nearby new Shakespeare Globe Theatre, the reconstruction of the original which will be opened by the Queen this summer, said yesterday he was stunned by the decision. He is writing to the Virginia Bottomley, the Heritage Secretary, who has rubber- stamped the decision, and John Gummer, Secretary of State for the Environment.

Though his theatre, modelled on the assumed look of the original Globe, employs academics and archaeologists to continue research into the original Globe to determine more about the building, its stage and setting, neither he nor any of the academics was consulted.

Yesterday Zoe Wanamaker, the award winning actress and daughter of the late American director Sam Wanamaker who devoted much of his life to seeing the new Globe built, was close to tears as she stood outside the fenced off site of the original Globe, surrounded by historians, academics and archaeologists who also wanted to express their dismay publicly.

The decision by English Heritage to refuse permission for excavations was taken at the end of last year, but the organisation, headed by Sir Jocelyn Stevens, did not publicise it. Now Southwark borough council, acting on English Heritage's advice, has given planning permission to a private property company to convert the empty Grade 2 listed building, Anchor Terrace, that stands above the original Globe, into luxury flats.

Acting on English Heritage advice, Southwark refers in its planning permission to "the permanent burial and commemoration" of the Globe.

The end to excavations and research into the theatre where Shakespeare worked and his plays were performed will have resonances far beyond Britain.

Ms Wanamaker said: "This is a complete shock. Virginia Bottomley should be very embarrassed by this. Archaeologists, academics, all of us should be furious. This is a bureaucratic decision which has slipped under the net without anyone really noticing. It's a betrayal of our heritage. And there's no real reason for it."

Mr Rylance added: "English Heritage has recommended that the original site of the Globe Theatre be buried permanently. It seems an odd way to preserve the heritage. What's buried down there is like oil or gold to us. The knowledge down there is like gold. The Globe is a unique source of information.

"We want to do keyhole surgery through the basement of Anchor Terrace by drilling down. We wouldn't disturb anything."

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said yesterday: "We are not saying the remains should be buried permanently. The remains are extremely fragile to excavate and they lie beneath a listed building which would require demolition. This does not mean they could not be excavated at a future time when there are improved techniques."

Mr Rylance and his advisers deny that further excavations would mean demolishing the building above.