Fleet Street is named after the Fleet River, one of the many rivers that now flow beneath London’s streets to the Thames.
Running eastwards from the Strand towards Ludgate Hill and St Paul’s, Fleet Street was once synonymous with Britain’s national daily and Sunday newspapers.
The association began in 1500 when William Caxton’s assistant, Wynkyn de Worde, moved his printing presses from Westminster and set up opposite Shoe Lane. Fleet Street soon became the haunt of many important literary figures.
The playwrights William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were once patrons at the old Mitre Tavern, now No. 37 Fleet Street. Samuel Pepys and Dr Samuel Johnson drank at the Devil’s Tavern, at No. I , and Dr Johnson was also a regular of the most famous of Fleet Street’s taverns, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. Parts of this building, set on the corner with Wine Office Court, date back to 1667, when the tavern was rebuilt after the Great Fire. It is one of the few pubs in London to have retained the 18th century arrangement of small rooms with fireplaces, tables and benches. Dr Johnson’s association with ‘the Cheese’ made the tavern a place of pilgrimage for many 19th century literary figures including Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
The first newspaper, ‘The Daily Courant’, was issued from Fleet Street in 1702. Journalists made the most of Fleet Street’s convenient location near the City and Westminster, where most major stories originated.
Fleet Street remained the centre of London’s publishing industry until the late-20th century. However, in 1985 News International suddenly transferred its production of the Sun and the The Times to Wapping, ending the restrictive ‘Spanish practices’ of the London printers and, with new technology, made it easy to produce the papers away from the centre of the London.
The printing presses that once stood below the newspaper offices in Fleet Street were abandoned as the other newspaper organisations moved out to Docklands and sites south of the river.
Most of the newspapers left their offices in Fleet Street and only Reuters remains, at No. 85. UPDATE: Reuters now re-located as well, no newspaper business now left in Fleet Street
Daily ExpressThe stately, grey Daily Telegraph building, at No. 135, is now occupied by finance houses. The black glass and chrome Daily Express building, at Nos. 121 – 128, dating from the 1930s and England’s first glass-curtain structure, stands next door.
Even with the newspapers gone, St Bride’s, one of Wren’s churches, is still thought of as the printers and journalist’s church. The church is the venue for memorial services to departed journalists and many are remembered by plaques on the walls.
El Vino’s wine bar at the western end of Fleet Street opposite Fetter Lane, still remains the haunt of journalists and lawyers.