Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A walk down Fleet Street

Due to a slightly delayed meeting in London I had a chance to take a walk down Farringdon Road and Fleet Street. This won't be of any great interest to most people but I promised my good friend John over in Canada that, next time I got the chance, I'd take a camera to show him some of the sights.

The classic image of Fleet Street is probably something like the above, full of horse-drawn carts and thrumming with activity. Well, it's the same today, minus the horses, although the traffic hardly moves any faster than it did 110 years ago.

Pausing briefly to take a look at our map...

... we start our journey at Farringdon Station (top centre). This first shot is looking down Farringdon Road towards Holborn Viaduct...

... which is the bright red bridge seen more clearly in the following photo.

My main reason for starting in Farringdon Road (apart from the fact that that's where the underground station is) is to visit Fleetway House...

... which, sadly, looks nothing like it used to. This is where all those comics from the 1920s through to the 1960s were produced. Compare and contrast the original building...

... with the building that is now on the site...

Rather sad, really. However, to the left of both the pictures above, you can see the edge of no. 26 which is still almost identical to the upper photo, which was, I believe, taken in the mid-1920s.

Anyway, let's move on. About 30 yards further down Farringdon Road is the junction with Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. Turning right into Fleet Street and crossing the road, you find the first of a number of historic pubs, the Punch Tavern, renamed thus because this was where the satirical magazine Punch was founded.

A few yards up the road is The Old Bell, originally built to house the masons who rebuilt St. Bride's Church after the Great Fire.

St. Bride's itself is a pretty difficult building to get a good photo of and this was the best I managed. The tower was built by drunk masons from the nearby pub... or was it Sir Christopher Wren? Google will give you the answer.

A little way up the road is the King & Keys, another famous Fleet Steet pub which used to be the haunt of journalists from the News of the World building next door.

We're now entering Penny Dreadful territory as many of the old publishers had offices and store fronts on or just off Fleet Steet. Edward Harrison, publisher of Black Bess, was in Salisbury Court...

Bretts was at 147 Fleet Street and Emmetts at 145 Fleet Street... and also at 145 Fleet Street is yet another famous pub, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese...

William Cate, the printer, was in Bouverie Street, as were the papers the Daily News, the Star, the News Chronicle and publishers Robert Hale.

Bit blurry, that one.

Since we started with the biggest English publisher of comics (way back in Farringdon Road), we now reach Scotland's finest, the London offices of D. C. Thomson which they have owned for something like 100 years. The titles of famous Scottish newspapers and magazines adorn the sides of the building and, next door, you can see the name of Thomson Leng Publications Ltd.

Not many people nowadays will realise that the building was the fictional site of the shop run by Sweeney Todd, the demon barber. Mind you, mention Kall Kwik to some people and it has the same terrifying effect.

Next door is the church of St. Dunstan-in-the-West which also features heavily in the story of Sweeney.

Our journey down Fleet Street ends at the Temple Bar memorial.

Phew! One day I'll have to go back with a list of old publishers and explore Bolt Court, Fetter Lane, St. Bride's Avenue and other famous addresses from the distant days of publishing history.

By the way, John, there was a disappointing lack of Jolly Dogs, Wild Boys and Boy Brigands; no chimney sweeps or Artful Dodgers... and when I was in Baker Street later in the day there wasn't a consulting detective to be seen.


  1. Thanks for your evocative picture tour of fabled Fleet Street, Steve. I think I spotted the ghost of an unfortunate penny-a-liner in one of D. C. Thomson's windows.

  2. One eensy-weensy correction to your tour, Steve. Heading south down Farringdon Street (ie, towards the Thames), you don't turn left into Fleet Street but right. You turn left (ie, east, towards St Paul's and the City) onto Ludgate Hill.

    Lovely tour though! (And could you consider extending it slightly further west and left into Arundel Street, where Marvel UK had their base in the '80s and '90s..?)

    Yours quibblingly,
    Alan W

  3. Oh, the memories! And the sadness. The first part of your walk -- from Farringdon station, under the Holborn Viaduct (where there was a small newsagents/booksellers) to Farringdon Street -- was one I did daily when I worked at Fleetway House. And yes, that new building is a monstrosity. Words like sacrilege come to mind and I'm almost glad not to be there . . . though, of course, with the help of good folks like yourself and our treasured collections of old publications, we can always try to be. I add my thanks.

  4. Thanks to all for commenting (on and off blog). Alan correctly points out that it's a right turn, not left, into Fleet Street. I did take a photo looking up Ludgate Hill just as a bus cut across the front of a taxi and ripped the front bumper off it.

    Just to assure readers: the Bouverie Street sign is blurry because of the distance it was taken from and has nothing to do with the fact that it was four pubs into the tour. Honest.

  5. Great to see/read this. Just discovered my great grandfather lived at 30 Farringdon Road and had an office in Fleet st. His name was George William Pepys-Goodchild and Samuel Pepys was an ancestor so searching for all info. Think I'll pop over that way and go for a drink in a pub where he would have gone. Very exciting!

  6. Tad confused about Fleetway House, Steve. The lovely old building you found a photo of, with its six arches was trimmed back to three. The monolithic 6-floor New Fleetway House being partially built on the site swollowing another building to its right (both being inhabited by IPC in the 1960s/1970s before Charles Barker Advertising took over New Fleetway House).
    BUT (OLD) FLEETWAY HOUSE IS STILL THERE. What the daft buggers have done is call that new 9-floor monolith on the right Fleetway House, but it ain't (Old OR New!). I guess it should be called New New Fleetway House to prevent confusion!
    (Came across this because I've just reached the 1970s on my somewhat autobiographical website,, if I may mention it.)



Click on the above pic to visit our sister site Bear Alley Books