England entered its â€˜Golden Ageâ€™ with the accession of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558. If it was the greatest era in English history then it was the greatest in Londonâ€™s too, and one man, a Londoner by adoption, made an outstanding contribution – William Shakespeare. Banned from putting on his plays in the City, he joined another playwright, Ben Jonson, in setting up a playhouse on the less salubrious south bank of the river opposite St Paulâ€™s Cathedral, alongside bear pits and brothels. The thatch-topped theatres-in-the-round, the Hope, the Rose and the Globe, live on only in the names of streets and alleys on Bankside, but a replica of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre opened its doors in 1996.
Under Elizabeth I, Londonâ€™s first planning laws were introduced to discourage speculative building, as the population shot up from around 50,000 in 1530 to 225,000 by the end of the 16th century. The laws were not successfully enforced and former monastic lands and gardens became choked with shoddy tenements. If Elizabeth was a hard act to follow, her successor, James I, at least made an educated choice in Inigo Jones as his Surveyor to the Kingâ€™s Works. Jones, in his interpretations of the Italian architect Palladioâ€™s purity of style, brought a unique vision to his designs for the Queenâ€™s House at Greenwich. The Banqueting House in Whitehall, in which London was first introduced to Portland stone, and the Queenâ€™s Chapel in St Jamesâ€™s remain to confirm the trail-blazing character of these major works. In Covent Garden he laid out the prototype of that typical urban feature, the London square, though this was savaged by the later intrusion of the market and the loss of its arcaded houses.
St Paulâ€™s church still dominates the western side of the square.
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