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Fleet Street is a street in the City of London named after the River Fleet, London's largest underground river. It was the home of British national newspapers until the 1980s. Even though the last major British news office, Reuters, left in 2005, the term Fleet Street continues to be used as a metonym for the British national press.
As early as the 13th century, it seems to have been known as Fleet Bridge Street, and in the early part of the 14th century it began to be mentioned frequently by its present name, spelled in accordance with the customs of those days. Fleet Street began as the road from the commercial City of London to the political hub of Westminster. The length of Fleet Street marks the expansion of the City in the 14th century. At the east end of the street is where the River Fleet flowed against the medieval walls of London; at the west end is the Temple Bar which marks the current City of London/City of Westminster boundary, extended there in 1329. At Temple Bar to the west, as Fleet Street crosses the boundary out of the City of London, it becomes the Strand; to the east, past Ludgate Circus, the route rises as Ludgate Hill.
The A4 road historically began at Ludgate Circus and the whole of Fleet Street was part of the route. However the A4 today begins at Holborn Circus, runs down Fetter Lane and then the western part of Fleet Street. It then continues west into Westminster.
The street numbering runs consecutively from west to east south-side and then east to west north-side.
In the high Middle Ages senior ecclesiastics had their London palaces in the street, place-names surviving with this connection are Peterborough Court and Salisbury Court after their respective Bishops' houses here; apart from the Knights Templars' establishment the Whitefriars monastery is recalled by Whitefriars Street and the remains of its undercroft have been preserved in a public display area.
Today three churches serve the spiritual needs of the three 'communities' associated with the area of the street: Temple Church for the Bar, St Bride's Church, remains the London church most associated with the print industry. St Dunstan's in the West supplements these as the local parish (as opposed to guild church) and is the London home for the Romanian Orthodox church.
To the south lies an area of legal buildings known as the Temple, formerly the property of the Knights Templar, which at its core includes two of the four Inns of Court: the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. There are many lawyers' offices (especially barristers' chambers) in the vicinity. At the junction with Strand, are the Royal Courts of Justice and the Central Criminal Court on Old Bailey is also only a few minutes walk from Ludgate Circus.
As a principal route leading to and from the City, Fleet Street was especially noted for its taverns and coffeehouses. Many notable persons of literary and political fame used to frequent these, and a few, such as Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, have survived to this day, in name at least.
Many famous men are associated with Fleet Street, either by living there or in one of its many side streets, or by being regular frequenters of its taverns. Amongst these include Ben Jonson, John Milton, Izaak Walton, John Dryden, Samuel Johnson who both lived and compiled his Dictionary in the coincidentally named Johnson Court, Edmund Burke, Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Lamb. John Senex owned a map store on Fleet Street. Wynkyn de Worde was buried in St. Bride's in 1535. In 1633, the church saw Samuel Pepys baptised, there is a small museum display about him in Prince Henry's Room the gatehouse of the Inner Temple.
From 1690 the Royal Society was based in Crane Court.
The eastern part of the street was destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which ended near Fetter Lane and the special tribunal of the 'Fire Courts' was held at Clifford's Inn to arbitrate on claimant's rights following this.
Fleet Street is now more associated with the investment banking, legal and accountancy professions. The Inns of Court and barristers' chambers, many of which are down alleys and around courtyards off Fleet Street itself. Many of the old newspaper offices are now their London headquarters; e.g. Goldman Sachs is in the old Daily Telegraph and Liverpool Echo buildings of Peterborough Court and Mersey House. C. Hoare & Co, England's oldest privately owned bank, has had its place of business here since 1690. Child & Co, at 1 Fleet Street, now a wholly owned subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland claims to be the oldest continuous banking establishment as founded in 1580.
An informal measure of City takeover business employed by financial editors is the number of taxis waiting outside such law firms as Freshfields at 11pm: a long line is held to suggest a large number of mergers and acquisitions in progress.
Publishing started in Fleet Street around 1500 when William Caxton's apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, set up a printing shop near Shoe Lane, while at around the same time Richard Pynson set up as publisher and printer next to St. Dunstan's church. More printers and publishers followed, mainly supplying the legal trade in the four Law Inns around the area. In March 1702, London's first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, was published in Fleet Street from premises above the White Hart Inn.
Almost all of the newspapers thereabouts have moved east to Wapping, Canary Wharf and south to Southwark in the 1980s and 1990s. The former offices of The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Express and the Reuters organisation are Listed Buildings in both exteriors and parts of interiors.
The London office of D.C. Thomson & Co., creator of The Beano, is still based on Fleet Street. The Secretariat of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association is also based at number 17. Since 1995 Fleet Street has been the home of Wentworth Publishing, an independent publisher of newsletters and courses. In 2006 the Press Gazette returned to Fleet Street, albeit only briefly. The Associated Press and The Jewish Chronicle remain close by. The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph have recently returned to the centre of London after having been downriver in Canary Wharf, but have not returned to Fleet Street.
In the adjacent St. Brides Lane is the St Bride Library, holding a specialist collection relating to the type and print industry.
Several other news or publishing-related organisations are clustered on or close to Fleet Street. The British Association of Journalists is based at 89 Fleet Street; the Newspaper Society is nearby on St. Andrew Street; KM Group is at 75 Shoe Lane; and at number 76 is the London International Press Centre, home to TradeWinds, the international shipping news magazine, the Cartoonists' Club, and the International Broadcasting Convention. Metro International, publishers of the free newspaper Metro, are at 85 Fleet Street, while Meteor Press is at number 17.
Other press and publishing related businesses and institutions in and around Fleet Street include The Wall Street Journal in Fleet Place, the New Law Journal, the Perseus Books Group, Bowker UK, Motor Cycle News, the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers, and the London Press Club.
On the wall of Magpie Alley, off Bouverie Street, is a huge mural depicting the history of newspapers in the area.
From the eastern end of the street towards the west can be seen various statues and monuments. At the north-eastern corner is a bust of Edgar Wallace, and then at number 106 set in an ornate niche a full-length representation of Mary, Queen of Scots the building originated as the London office of a Scottish insurance company, she has no connection with the area. Above the entrance to the old school-house of St Dunstan's is a statue of Queen Elizabeth I taken from the old Ludgate which was demolished 1766. This statue dated of 1586 is considered to be the oldest outdoor statue in London, there are few other claims that are older. In the porch below are three statues of ancient Britons also from the gate, probably meant to represent King Lud and his two sons. Adjacent to Queen Elizabeth is a bust of Lord Northcliffe, the newspaper proprietor, co-founder of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. Next to Lord Northcliffe is a memorial tablet to James Louis Garvin, another pioneering British journalist.
On the southern side of the street nearby memorials and monuments include the Temple Bar; in Inner Temple Gardens is a memorial to Charles Lamb. In Salisbury Court there is an obelisk which originally stood at the south-eastern corner of the street at Ludgate Circus commemorating Alderman Weightman, a Georgian Radical leader of the City, sometime Lord Mayor and MP; it was set up here after many years in storage to commemorate the 800th Anniversary of the Lord Mayoralty in 1989. A short distance further on is a magnificent George and Dragon fountain. On the main street at the corner of Bouverie Street is a plaque commemorating the clockmaker Thomas Tompion and in that street another plaque indicating the birthplace of Samuel Pepys. At number 87 is a bust of TP O'Connor.
The barber Sweeney Todd, traditionally said to have lived and worked in Fleet Street (he is sometimes called the 'Demon Barber of Fleet Street'). An urban myth example of a serial killer, the character appears in various English language works starting in the mid-19th century. Neither the popular press, the Old Bailey trial records, the trade directories of the City nor the lists of the Barbers' Company mention any such person or indeed any such case.
Michael Molloy: The Century (1990)
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