From the History of Fleet Street

Student’s Project

Fleet Street, former home for the British newspapers, remains a methonym for the British national press.   

Fleet Street, synonymous with printing and journalism for many years, was for centuries the home of the newspaper industry.

Fleet Street is a road in central London. It is named after the River Fleet, one of the many rivers that now flow beneath London’s streets to the Thames.

Fleet Street is one of the oldest streets in London, having been established in the time of the Romans as an important thoroughfare route.

The street connected the City of London to Westminster in Middle Ages. It was known as Fleet Bridge Street, and in the early 14th century it became known as Fleet Street.

Publishing started in Fleet Street around 1500 when William Caxton’s apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, set up a printing shop near Shoe Lane.
William Caxton was the first English person to work as a printer and the first person to introduce a printing press into England.
Wynkyn de Worde produced nearly 800 books from his offices. Until 1695, London was the only city in England where printing was permitted by law.

From 1500s onwards, several publishing and printing shops began locating themselves on Fleet Street to serve the legal offices in its neighbourhood.

From Tudor times Fleet Street was the haunt of booksellers, writers, and printers. The printing industry flourished here over the next 200 years but it was not until the beginning of 18th century that the first daily newspapers were published.

The first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, was established there in 1702. It began publishing from rooms above the White Hart pub in Fleet Street. It was more like a leaflet than a newspaper as it was just a single page with two collumns.  The Times, which was published in Printing House Square to the east, followed in 1785, under the name Daily Universal Register. The street became the hub of the news industry of Britain.
Since the 19th century Fleet Street has been called the ‘river of ink’ or ‘street of ink’ due to its associations with the newspaper industry.
Almost all major news companies had their presence in Fleet Street. Fleet Street was the home of the British press until the 1980s. Most of the major national papers were located here. The offices of the ‘Daily Telegraph’, ‘Daily Express’ and ‘Reuters’ were just some of the ‘big names’.
Since the digital printing revolution, all the major newspapers relocated their offices and printing works during the 1980s. The Times and The Sun moved to Wapping. The Guardian went to the Isle of Dogs, and the rest went to London’s Docklands. News agency Reuters remained until 2003. The “last jounalists” left in 2016.

Though the news industy has moved away from Fleet Street, even today the street is called the spiritual home of British journalism. The term ‘Fleet Street’, meaning the newspaper industry, still continues in use.

There is a tradition that every British journalist gets married in St. Bride’s Church (the Christopher Wren’s Church) in Fleet Street. St Bride’s association with the newspaper business began in 1500, when Wynkyn de Worde set up a printing press next door. St Bride’s church is known as the journalist’s church. A special service is still held in the church each year, attended by top newspaper chiefs.

Pubs on the street once frequented by journalists remain popular. Fleet Street pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, is among the oldest in London.

There were lots of taverns and pubs in Fleet Street. This tavern culture is linked to Fleet Street’s role in literary heritage. The playwright Ben Johnson, poet and pamphleteer John Milton, and famed authors Mark Twain, Alfred Tennyson, P.G. Wodehouse and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were all regulars. Revered lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson is also said to have spent a great deal of time in the Cheshire Cheese tavern when he lived in Gough Square – a statue of his most famous cat, Hodge, sits outside his house, just around the corner from the tavern. Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, is also recorded as having once been fined two shillings for attacking a friar in the street.

Fleet Street has a significant number of monuments and statues along its length, including the dragon at Temple Bar and memorials to a number of figures from the British press, such as Samuel Pepys and Lord Northcliffe. The street is mentioned in several works by Charles Dickens.