Fleet Street

Category: Buildings

Fleet Street is a famous street in London, England named after the River Fleet. It was traditionally the home of the British press, up until the 1980s. Even though the last major British news office, Reuters, left in 2005, the street’s name continues to be used as a metonym for the British national press.

Fleet Street began as the road from the City of London to the City 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 mediæval walls of London; at the west end is the Temple Bar which marks the current city limits, stretched to that point when the land and property of the Knights Templar were acquired.

To the south lies the complex of buildings known as The Temple, formerly the property of the Knights Templar, which houses two of the four Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. There are many lawyers’ offices in the vicinity.

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, the world’s first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was published in Fleet Street from premises above the White Hart Inn.

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, it evolves into Ludgate Hill. The nearest tube stations are Temple, Chancery Lane, and Blackfriars and it is very close to City Thameslink station.

Fleet Street is a location on the London version of the Monopoly board game.

The term Fleet Street is also used to indicate that a journalist is a member of the generation that worked on newspapers prior to their move away from its vicinity, and is synonymous with a bibulous, collegial tradition characterised by such figures as Paul Callan and Brian Vine. Gossip was exchanged over liquid lunches at such hostelries as El Vino, now a haven for lawyers of the Rumpole school. Liquid dinners were equally familiar, editors often dining in the Grill of the Savoy Hotel, returning about 10pm to see the first editions of their papers roll off the presses. These were then transported by road to railway stations to catch the night mail expresses to far-flung corners of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

A significant mythology has accreted around Fleet Street, its characters, their scoops – and imaginative expense accounts. The most durable of these concern, however, stories that were not printed, usually on account of Britain’s strict libel laws. Few of the novels referenced below constitute exaggerations, the truth being, in the untiring cliché of the sub-editors on the back benches, “stranger than fiction”. According to journalistic lore it was not the editors who constituted the heart of Fleet Street, but the diary writers and gossip columnists, whose stories would often make the front page: the exploits of the late Diana Princess of Wales provided frequent examples of diary stories transmuted into news and even news features.


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