Fleet Street

London’s Fleet Street is to the U.K. press as New York’s Wall Street is to the USA stock market. Just as the very name Wall Street conjures up images of TV screens flickering above a throng of wildly gesticulating and loudly shouting suits, so does the mere mention of Fleet Street prompt pictures of buzzing newsrooms and reams of papers rolling off the printer.

Old newspaper buildings in Fleet Street
Old newspaper buildings in Fleet Street

Wynken de Worde, an ex-apprentice of William Caxton, began the long tradition of Fleet Street publishing in 1500 when he established his printing press in this ideal location, halfway between Westminster and the city. Writers followed the printing industry into the area; among them were Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, and Boswell. Literary Clubs sprang up, like the Apollo Club, one of London’s first, founded by Ben Jonson in the mid 1600s. In March, 1702 Fleet Street’s first newspaper, The Daily Courant appeared. Scores of others followed. By the end of the 1800s most national newspapers were based in the area and for a century it was one of the most interesting corners of London. The clubs, pubs and restaurants and cafes that grew around the industry buzzed with stories, breaking news and gossip. Although Fleet Street had ceased to be the engine room of the British press by the end of the last century, its legacy remains and its presence still lingers.

Many of it old Fleet Street buildings still stand today. Ye Old Cock Tavern at 22 was frequented by Samuel Pepys, Shakespeare and Marlowe, Johnson, Dickens and Tennyson at its original site at 190. It later became a haunt of T.S. Eliot. El Vino wine bar, at 47, where GK Chesterton worked (and drank) prodigiously, was the favourite of the newspaper world during Fleet Street’s heyday. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, at Wine Office Court off Fleet Street was patronised by Dr Johnson, and Oliver Goldsmith. It was home to the Rhymers Club which numbered W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde among its members, in the 1890s. Dylan Thomas later drank here.

With its long history, Fleet Street is now something of a Tourist mecca. Ghosted signs on buildings tell of the newspapers that were once housed here, like the Dundee Press next to St Dunstan’s church.

The press presence, too, is still strong in the area. With the Royal Courts of Justice at the Strand end of Fleet Street, journalists and photographers hover constantly for stories and shots. They congregate still in the pubs, the bars and the cafes. They are still part of the fabric of this place and even though their papers and their presses have moved away and their offices are housed elsewhere, their industry still goes by the name of the street where it all began –  Fleet Street.

Temple

One of the great things about London is that just seconds away from the cacophony, the crowds and the chaotic traffic of the modern city there are so many peaceful havens, survivors from past centuries, untouched and timeless. One of the loveliest of these is the old and tranquil Temple, which runs between bustling Fleet Street and the roaring highway along the Thames. 2058

The Chapel at Temple
The Chapel at Temple

The Temple, which dates back to the time of Edward I, was named after the Order of the Knights Templar, who lived here during the 12th century. It is made up of Inner Temple and Middle Temple which, along with Gray’s and Lincoln’s, form the four Inns of Court, the traditional hubs of London law.

Inner and Middle Temple are divided by Middle Temple Lane which, until it was cut off by buildings, ran from Fleet Street to the River. The temples consist now of a labyrinth of little courts and alleys hemmed in by magnificent halls and dotted with fountains, memorials, fragments of garden, ancient trees and vast front lawn.

Some of London’s oldest and most historic buildings are here among the lanes and courtyards of the Temple. The Middle Temple Hall, in Middle Temple Lane, at Fountain Court was opened by Queen Elizabeth I in 1576. The Temple Church has served as a Lawyers’ chapel since 1608.

Some of England’s great leaders have been members of the Temple, like Sir Walter Raleigh, who belonged to the Middle Temple. Many of the giants of English literature  lived and worked here, including Henry Fielding, Doctor Johnson, William Thackeray, Havelock Ellis, John Buchan and Anthony Hope, who conceived the idea for the Prisoner of Zenda on his way back across Fleet Street after a victorious case in the  Courts of Justice.  Charles Lamb, son of a law clerk, was born in Inner Temple in 1775 and a fountain, with the inscription “Lawyers were children once”, marks his memory. Oliver Goldsmith died and was buried here, in Temple Church in 1774. The premiere of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was staged in the middle Temple Hall in 1601 in his Henry VI, Part 1, Plantagenet and the Earls of Suffolk, Somerset and Warwick choose the roses for the counties of Lancashire and York from the Inner Temple garden.

And of course, many great legal minds were shaped and many momentous legal prosecutions and defences were forged in the Temple. They still are. Today, as it has for centuries, Temple houses the offices and apartments of London’s great lawyers. Its church still ministers to them and its ancient libraries and halls are still in use.

Temple is beautiful, sheltered, quiet and uncrowded. It is wonderful place to retreat, ramble and reflect – one passage leads to another, one court opens to one more and every plaque, stone and statue holds another story.