‘Tis a toss up whether it was the proliferation of ale houses, providing refuge from the squalor, the rotting fish, dead dogs and suicidal humans, or the presence of Wynkyn de Worde’s hand cranked printing press in the churchyard of St Bride’s that could churn out a cheap pamphlet or two.
The open sewer that was the Fleet river may have been tarmacked over, but somehow the stench never quite left the area. For 500 years, ‘man with gossip’ has beaten a path to the street, secure in the knowledge that someone, somewhere, would print his tale.
The Guardian, or more properly, the Manchester Guardian was the first to hold its nose, and depart for cleaner pastures, back in the 1960s. Followed by Reuters, 40, years later, the only news organisation that lay claim to being ethical and unbiased. There had been a time when you wouldn’t dare refer to yourself as a ‘proper’ journalist unless you had trained at the BBC or Reuters.
The Lutyens designed Reuters building turned into a trendy and lethally expensive restaurant for Goldman Sachs employees who inhabited the Old Daily Express offices, at least until penury, a comparative term in banking history, forced them to sell up. The Guardian was replaced by a key cutting emporium.
Much of the activity was actually carried out off Fleet street, in the myriad lanes criss crossing it. Shoe Lane and Bouverie street were as famous for the traffic jams they caused as the output of their inhabitants – The Sun and the Evening Standard. Vast reels of newsprint, piled high on heavy lorries, would block the street for hours on end – news would filter back through the traffic that the ‘bloody printers’ were working to rule again. Murdoch grew tired of their rules eventually and moved his entire emporium to Canary Wharf.
That in turn sounded the death knell for Mac’s cafe, venue for the endless fast-paced game of dominoes played by the blind compositers. Trained by the RNIB to read the metal font by touch, or deal with the tangle of wires that was a GPO switchboard, their memory and sensitivity of their fingers outpaced any sighted human being. Where do the unsighted find employment now? Does anybody know?
The bookbinders, illuminators, cartoonists, pamphleteers, scriveners, tanners, stationers, papermakers, marblers, journalists and essayists, reviewers and editors, drunks and stringers that enabled many a pub landlord to retire in grand style to Benidorm have all gone. It was said at one time that you could walk from one end of Fleet Street to the other in a downpour without getting wet, if you went from one pub to another fast enough…
The Birmingham Post, the only paper to heed the government’s call and produce a source of news during the great strike of 1955 has gone; its roost turned into a Pawnbroker’s. Mac’s? That became a Starbucks. Greasy spoons and vast lumps of bread pudding, spiced within an inch of its life, hold little appeal for the skinny latte crowd at Goldman Sachs. Try asking one of its clients what the # symbol means. They will say ‘Simple, that’s a hashtag’. Those old boys with their dominoes could have told you that it was a font shorthand for libre pondo, a measure of weight. The ‘Stab in the Back’, watering hole for the Mirror crowd, might well be nicknamed the ‘Stab in the gut‘ now……a Pizza emporium for those with cast iron constitutions. Even the ‘Gentlemen Ranters‘, the web site aka ‘the last pub in Fleet street’ gave up trying to persuade their ageing colleagues to contribute their memories.
You could have thought that Fleet Street, as was, had completely perished.
However, one last newspaper that you may never have heard of, had continued to run their London office in fleet Street. The Sunday Post. In the 1950s, when the newspaper was confined largely to Scotland, sales of the Sunday Post were so high that it was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the newspaper with the highest per capita readership penetration of anywhere in the world.
The BBC is reporting today that ‘the Dundee-based Sunday Post, closes its London office on Friday’.
Not strictly true. But that is what passes for journalism today. It’s ‘near enough’. Copy and paste. Copy and paste.
What has happened is that the last two London based journalists for the paper, Gavin Sherriff and Darryl Smith, have been made redundant.
D. C. Thomson, publishers of the Sunday Post are keeping the offices on for their advertising staff – but you have to go to an old school journalist to find that out.
‘Guinness Book of Records’? Ah yes, used to be proudly based at 107, Fleet Street. Ensuring that outrageous claims were corroborated and truthfully reported. That has now turned into furnished ‘serviced offices’ where you can attempt to impress your clients with your sumptuous offices – on a shoestring…
Exaro had a foothold in number 107 Fleet Street, until penury forced them out.