Where is it?
Fleet Street runs from the end of Strand to Ludgate Circus junction. Despite being only about 550 metres long, it packs in a lot.
What’s the story?
The street takes its name from the river Fleet, one of London’s ‘lost’ rivers which still trickles along in tunnels beneath Farringdon Street and New Bridge Street, perpendicular to Fleet Street where it joins Ludgate Hill.
Originally the river formed the natural western boundary of the Roman city of Londinium. From the early years of the 16th century, Fleet Street became a hub for printing and publishing, which at the beginning of the 18th century moved in to newspapers. By the 20th century almost every building on Fleet Street belonged to a national newspaper with both the writing and printing taking place on the street, spawning the name ‘ink street’. Even though all of the newspapers began moving out in the 1980s, “Fleet Street” is in the UK still used as a byword for the newspaper industry.
How do I get there?
As Fleet Street literally runs from Strand, you could get the No.15 bus (mentioned in the Strand post), or alternatively use Blackfriars Station. Temple or Chancery Lane stations are within easy walking distance. If you’re travelling from further afield, there’s a City Thameslink station on Ludgate Hill with ‘real trains’ that come in from Brighton and Gatwick in the south, parts of south east London and Bedford, Cambridge and St Albans to the north.
What’s it like now?
Some of the newspaper heritage is still visible with names of newspapers lingering on buildings, but the historic identity of ‘ink street’ is long gone, and has become a generic business street. As a main thoroughfare between Westminster and the City it does get super busy (particularly at peak times), many of the buildings are interesting to look at, particularly above eye level and heading east you are afforded a lovely view of St Paul’s cathedral at the top of Ludgate Hill.
Where would I stay?
I do occasionally meet people who stay in and around Fleet Street, which I think is an interesting choice. Firstly, you’d be incredibly well placed between the main sites of Westminster to the west and St Paul’s cathedral and the Tower of London to the east. It is a business district, so during the week, the pubs in particular would be packed, but on the weekend, it’d be dead and you’d find many of the shops don’t bother opening. I’ve met people to do a private walk at the Apex Temple Court Hotel on Fleet Street and they did say that almost every other guest was a business man or woman staying for work reasons. There is a Premier Inn close by just behind St Bride’s church but if you’d rather be close to St Paul’s cathedral there’s the King’s Wardrobe secreted away in a lovely little courtyard or the recently renamed Leonardo Royal Hotel. Budget travellers will be thrilled to learn that there’s a YHA Hostel on Carter Lane in a building formerly occupied by St Paul’s cathedral choristers.
What’s of interest?
City of London Dragon
If you begin at the east end of Fleet Street where it meets Strand, you are standing at Temple Bar which marks the boundary between Westminster and the City of London. It was a later western extension of the original Roman city, and as such had a gate, known as ‘Temple Bar’ because it began life as a simple bar across a gate close to the Temple church. The city gates were largely removed in the 18th century due to congestion problems, but Temple Bar survived, and with its own intriguing history can now be found between St Paul’s cathedral and Paternoster Square.
The City of London boundaries are now marked by dragons (There are 13 of them) and this one was erected in 1880 with sculptures of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in niches either side. The Dragon (sometime referred to as a Griffin) is the symbol of the City of London, holding a shield with the cross of St George and a small sword of St Paul; the coat of arms of the City of London.
To your right, you’ll find the myriad of passages leading down to the river, which are the precincts of Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns of Court and the wonderful Temple Church, mentioned in the Strand post.
Dr Johnson’s House
Tucked away on Gough Square is one of London’s small house museums; Dr Johnson’s House. Much of the area was destroyed during WWII but No.17, despite being damaged (still visible) was spared demolition largely on account of the fact that it was where the first definitive dictionary was compiled in 1755 by the larger than life character that was Samuel Johnson. His quote “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” adorns the introduction to almost every book about London ever written. If you’d like to learn about Johnson, his contemporaries like David Garrick or the former slave Francis Barber who became Johnson’s man servant and heir to his fortune, or just about life in 18th century London, then it’s well worth a visit. Also say hello to the statue of Johnson’s cat Hodge who sits proudly on a dictionary at the opposite end of the square.
St Bride’s Church
A number of churches around London have secrets which you only find out about if you go in and explore. St Bride’s on Fleet Street is no exception. Following the familiar pattern of many of the City churches, St Bride’s was a medieval church burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and then bombed in WWII. St Bride’s was completely gutted but lovingly restored and is known as the ‘Journalists and Printers’ church’. In the north east corner, you’ll discover an altar adorned with photos of journalists who have died whilst reporting in war zones.
I encourage you to head down in to the crypt where you’ll find cases filled with artefacts that have been found on the site, dating back to the Roman period, and exhibition boards detailing the history of the Fleet Street printing industry.
If you wander over to the small chapel at the far end, you’ll see reflected back in angled mirrors on the ceiling, the remnants of a Roman pavement, hidden beyond a medieval wall. If you join one of the church’s weekly Tuesday afternoon tours, you’ll even get to see the thousands of bones piled up in the ossuary next door. Not for the squeamish.
I almost forgot. Perhaps the most famous thing about St Bride’s is their spire and its distinctive tiered design which is said to have inspired a local baker to create the first tiered wedding cake. For this reason, many people simply call it ‘the wedding cake church’.
If you walk up Ludgate towards St Paul’s cathedral there are a number of little lanes and alleyways off to your right in an area that once belonged to a large Dominican Monastery, whose monks wore black. The area, a pub, a station and a bridge are now all known as ‘Blackfriars’. In 1613, the Globe Theatre on Bankside burned down during a performance of Henry VIII. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men (the theatre troupe Shakespeare belonged to) decanted to the old Blackfriars Monastery and built an indoor candle-lit playhouse whilst the Globe was being rebuilt. You’ll still find ‘Playhouse Yard’ there today. William Shakespeare bought a house close by (the deed of which still exists) just three years before his death. You’ll find a plaque commemorating the fact on St Andrew’s Hill on a building on the other side of Ireland Yard from a pub called ‘The Cockpit’.
St Paul’s cathedral
Like a number of ‘places of interest’ I’ve mentioned, a short paragraph clearly does not do St Paul’s cathedral justice. There’s been a church dedicated to St Paul on the same site since the year 604. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and finished in the first decade of the 18th century after the previous building (known as Old St Paul’s) burned down during the Great Fire of 1666.
The cathedral reaches 365ft tall (one for foot for each day of the year) and remained the tallest building in London for just over 250 years until it was usurped by the Post Office Tower (now the BT Tower) in 1963. Despite now being way down the list of London’s tallest buildings, St Paul’s cathedral remains a protected view and remains visible from a number of vantage points around London.
Horatio Nelson’s tomb has pride of place in the crypt directly beneath the dome and the cathedral has hosted the funerals of the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill and more recently Margaret Thatcher, not to mention the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana in 1981. Like Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s cathedral is first and foremost a place of worship, but aside from regular services there’s so much to experience. If your legs will allow, climb to the top of the dome (2nd biggest in Europe after St Peter’s in Rome) for incredible views across London, learn how the building survived the intense bombing in the area during WWII and much more.
A short walk from St Paul’s cathedral, you’ll find postman’s park in the former church yard of the wonderfully named church of St Boltoph without-Aldersgate. In 1900 a small section of the garden was given over to a memorial dedicated to ‘Heroic Self-Sacrifice’ with the names of people who died in the act of saving another person’s life. The tablets are beautifully rendered, incredibly moving in their simplicity and featured prominently in the film ‘Closer’ based on the play of the same name by Patrick Marber.
Just north of St Paul’s cathedral is an area called Smithfield, which for the last 900 years has been a meat market. However, all that is about to change as the Museum of London, an absolutely brilliant museum about the history of London is preparing to move in to the Victorian meat market buildings. The area is on the verge of a huge amount of change, but it’s a fascinating area. Scottish patriots or fans of Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’ might like to pay a visit to the spot where William Wallace was executed in 1305. Close by is the beautiful medieval church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, originally part of an Augustinian priory in 1123 and has been used as a film location for films such as ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves’, ‘Shakespeare in Love’ and many more.
On the other side of the market is a genuine bona-fide hidden gem in the form of Charterhouse, a 14th century priory that was largely rebuilt in the 16th century. The rambling assortment of buildings sit within a 7-acre plot hidden away from the world and is a retirement home. However, they recently opened a small museum and provide tours. If you can, I highly recommend visiting this unique, living breathing piece of London history.
There are a large amount of pubs in the area, and not only that, put pubs that are historically interesting like Ye Olde Mitre, just off Hatton Garden. However, as we’re supposed to be focusing on Fleet Street, here are a few on that street alone.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Often, if establishments put the words ‘Ye Olde’ at the beginning of their name, it means they’re not old, but would like to be. However, a look at the sign over Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’s threshold on Wine Office Court which reads ‘Rebuilt in 1667’ plus the list of Monarch’s that have reigned since it was rebuilt, beginning with Charles II would suggest you’re dealing with the real thing. You are.
Stepping in to Dr. Johnson’s local is a to step back in time. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you’ll notice sawdust on the floor, low ceilings, a brazier burning in the ‘gentleman’s bar’ and the feeling that it probably hasn’t changed that much since the fictional character of Charles Darnay entered in Charles Dickens’ novel ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. Be sure to head down two floors to the cellar bar, but be careful not to bang your head on the way down, or up.
The Tipperary is a saloon bar style Irish pub on Fleet Street and claim not only to be the first Irish pub outside Ireland but the first to serve Guinness in England.
The Old Bell
Standing on the site of an earlier pub, The Old Bell (which I exuberantly labelled Ye Olde on my map) was apparently built by Christopher Wren after the Great Fire for the masons working on the adjacent St Bride’s church.
The Punch Tavern
Occupying the site of a former 19th century gin palace, the Punch Tavern received its current name after employees of the nearby Punch magazine who were frequent patrons.
There are just two walks to roundup up after this weekend due to a rather wet Saturday afternoon, a couple of people who evidently left their hotel without waterproofs and a guy who just didn't turn up.
On Saturday morning, the weather was fine though. Laurie and Ben were down in London to see Bruce Springsteen play at Wembley that evening so I can try and kid myself that I was a sort of warm up act for Bruce Springsteen. I get quite a few people who are over in London for a few months or a year working and have that healthy appetite for exploring the city, which people who have been here for longer, or are from England often don't. Anyway ... Ali was one such person, over from the States and brought along Jared, her brother who was visiting.
Here they are standing in front of Dr Johnson's House, the 300 year old townhouse, where the first definitive English dictionary was compiled.
It was the Queen's Official birthday on Saturday, so Trooping the Colour had been taking place that morning down in Westminster and a short while after the above photo was taken, we saw the 'fly past' where by a number of planes ranging from a WWII bomber, helicopters, to fighter jets and the Red Arrows flew across London and over Buckingham Palace. Jared felt it was a little excessive for one persons birthday, but then again, maybe it's a bit excessive to have two birthdays in the first place.
For Sundays east London walk, there was a rather splendid group, which included Elodie over from Germany who was back for the second time, Barbara and Andrew visiting from Scotland and a number of others who had read about my walks in the Guardian article last week about 'pay what you want' tours.
Here they are standing in the middle of Arnold Circus, England's first Council estate, built at the end of the Victorian era.
Veteran walker - Elodie
Most American - Ali & Jared
Most likely to have an in depth knowledge about the price of sugar - Archie
Most likely to respond positively to the question 'Are you a clown?' - Sandra & Elodie
Most Scottish - Barbara & Andrew
Most medical knowledge - Laurie & Ben
I managed to squeeze in four walks last weekend, but (as ever) forgot to take a picture of one of the groups, a lovely bunch of international liver specialists ... as you do. So, on Saturday morning Scott & Bailey, Tania & Chandra (who all stayed for the afternoon walk) were joined by Daniela. Here they are with Dr Johnson's House behind them, where the first definitive English dictionary was compiled in 1755.
We also managed to sneak in to the Inner & Middle Temple area which stretches from Fleet Street down to the Thames as we happened to be standing outside the gate just as someone went in. Very sneaky.
Daniela left us at St Paul's where the walk finishes, and after lunch the rest of us carried on over the Millennium Bridge to Bankside, and as Scott and Bailey had never visited Borough Market before, stopped for a quick look around before continuing back over London Bridge to the Monument. Here they are in Borough, and yes, it did rain quite a bit, so the umbrellas were pretty handy.
On Sunday, Bailey and Scott came back for more (these guys were unstoppable) and were joined by Marcia and Dui from Rio who had been forced to buy coats as they apparently don't need them in Brasil.
Girl with the most boy-like name - Bailey
Best Kevin Spacey impersonation - Scott
Best moustache - No Winners
Most collective knowledge of livers - Sunday afternoons group (no photo I'm afraid)
Most Brazilian - Marcia & Dui
Saturday mornings walk got off to a flyer with a reasonably biggish group, who hailed from New York, Ireland, Canada, France, Scotland, England and Tel Aviv via London. Here they are outside Samuel Johnson's house, where the first definitive dictionary was complied, after a nine year slog in 1755.
Although Gough Square where Dr Johnson's house can be found was largely demolished during WWII, the house is now a museum, so why not visit it, if you're in the area.
In the afternoon, I was joined by Rufus and Philip for a walk from St Paul's cathedral to the Monument via Borough Market. Philip, who was visiting from Germany seemed mildly infatuated with Renzo Piano's pointy building, The Shard just south of London Bridge, so it seemed entirely appropriate that I should try and take a photo of them with Europe's tallest building in the background.
I completely forgot to take a photo of Sundays east end group. There were ten of them in all, and on my way to meet them, spotted one of street artist Ben Wilson's tiny paintings, which he paints on to pieces of chewing left discarded and squished on the street. This one is a brilliant depiction of Old Street roundabout, so the first thing we did, was go and check it out.
Youngest - Robyn (12 years old)
Best sunglasses - Nella
Best Moustache - No winners
Most colourful name - Gideon Greenspan
WeekDay Wanders in May
Aside from doing my regular 'pay what you want' weekend walks, I also do weekday walks if people enquire and would like me to do a special walk for a group. They don't have to be any of the three I do on Saturdays and Sundays and actually, the walks I've done just recently have all been completely different.
An epic stroll through the City of London - Peter, Liesbeth and Ezra were over for a few days from Holland, and were very kindly put in touch with me via Dutch blogger in London right now who not surprisingly writes about what she would do if she was in London ... right now. I put together a few suggestions for walks based upon various things they wished to see and they chose a walk that began in Covent Garden, moved down the Strand, taking in the 12th Century Temple Church, nipped in and out of the streets around Fleet Street, then after a brief stop off at St Paul's Cathedral cut through the City of London, through Leadenhall Market and down to the Tower of London. Here they are standing by the statue of Hodge, the beloved cat of Samuel Johnson who was responsible for compiling the first definitive English dictionary in 1755. Samuel Johnson compiled the dictionary, not his cat ... as far as I'm aware.
Fire of London walk - Just last week, I was asked to do a walk that followed the path of the Great Fire of London, a catastrophic event that occurred in 1666 and in just four days burnt down a vast swathe of the City of London. We began at the Monument, just a short distance from where the fire began in the bakery belonging to Thomas Farriner (or sometimes Farynor) and walked through the City towards Bank and then up to St Paul's Cathedral, which was engulfed in flames on the third day of the fire. Here you can see the group with the new St Paul's Cathedral in the background, the masterpiece of Sir Christopher Wren, who was responsible (along with a lot of help) for rebuilding the City after the fire.
A Westminster Wander - On Monday I had the pleasure of taking a school group on a walk around Westminster. We met in Trafalgar Square, then headed down Whitehall past the spot that was used as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film, saw Banqueting House which was the real location for the execution of King Charles I in 1649, had a few photos taken with Horse Guards on their horses and ordinary guards without their horses, then nipped through St James's park to Buckingham Palace (which is currently hidden behind a recently erected temporary stadium for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations) then past St James's Palace and up to Piccadilly. Here they are outside the Royal Academy of Arts where I left them in time for the next activity on their schedule.
So there you have it. If you'd like me to do a weekday walk at some point, then let me know. The next regular weekend walks are on the 9th & 10th June.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.