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Magpie Alley detail of c. 1550 map
Fleet Street is named after the river Fleet that flows from Hampstead Heath down towards the Thames, although for most of its way it is hidden underground as it became so polluted and clogged up over the years that it was no longer navigable. In the eighteenth century it was covered over in sections, except for the first part on Hampstead Heath, so that no water can now be seen for most of its course. Fleet Street and the area around it has been associated with publishing since Wynkyn de Worde, William Caxton’s apprentice, set up business near Shoe Lane at the sign of the Sun in the year 1500 or 1501.

Wynkyn de Worde's device

Wynkyn de Worde’s device
Source: www.martinfrost.ws

More printers and booksellers followed and from 1702 so did the newspapers, starting with the Daily Courant, followed by, among others, the Morning Advertiser, the Daily Telegraph, and the Daily Express. Bouverie Street, leading from Fleet Street to the Thames, was the home of the News of the World for a while. The newspapers have all moved out of the City to larger premises on the Isle of Dogs or in Wapping, but a memorial to the hustle and bustle of the publishing days can be seen in Magpie Alley.

You need to go slightly off the beaten track, but it is well worth having a look. From Fleet Street, turn into Bouverie Street (opposite number 160, Bouverie House) and walk down towards the river. Please note the great view of the OXO building across the river you have from here. Keep an eye out for Magpie Alley on your left.

Magpie Alley entrance (from Google Maps)

Magpie Alley entrance (from Google Maps)

The alley leads to Whitefriars crypt (see here), but now I just want to draw your attention to the tiled wall of the alley which tells the story of the association of Fleet Street with publishing and printing through the ages.

Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley
Magpie Alley

Alan Brooke has written a booklet: Fleet Street. The Story of a Street (2010) with a wealth of information if you want to know more about the street.

You may also like to read the post on the Daily Express building or the one on Ashentree Court and Northcliffe House.

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