diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 27, 2005

Reviewing the Fleet
Fleet Street


London grew up around the twin centres of Westminster and the City, and medieval Fleet Street helped to link the two together. Initially the street led down from Aldwych into the Fleet valley to a wide ford across the (still navigable) river, but by 1197 a stone bridge had been built to span the waters. From here the road ascended Ludgate Hill, climbing through Ludgate into the City (close to St Paul's Cathedral).

I thought I'd show Ludgate Hill rather than Fleet Street in today's photograph because the view's better. In fact this view of St Paul's from Fleet Street is one of London's few protected views, and all modern skyscraper development is restricted along this particular line of sight. Richard Rogers's new Leadenhall Building, for example, has to taper towards the top so that it can't be seen from Fleet Street when it's topped out in a few year's time. It's just a pity that the buildings on either side of Ludgate Hill are so ugly.

Here's a map of the local area:
Fleet Street's association with the printed word began when William Caxton's apprentice Wynkyn de Worde set up a press at the eastern end of the street in the late 15th century. Newspapers moved in from the 18th century onwards, this location being perfectly situated between London's political and financial centres, until the very name 'Fleet Street' became synonymous with the national press. Most imposing of the various newspaper offices were those of the Daily Telegraph (pillared stone monolith) and Daily Express (black glass and chrome). With the advent of digital publishing all the UK's newspapers have now relocated elsewhere, notably eastwards towards Docklands, and presumably takings at local Fleet Street pubs are considerably lower as a result.FARRINGDON STREET
Former site of the Fleet Market
Some of the narrow lanes leading off Farringdon Road have names which echo the area's dockside past. Old Seacoal Lane and Newcastle Close are reminders that coal barges from Tyneside once sailed up the River Fleet as far as Ludgate. For many years this was also an industrial area. Above the Fleet you can still find Limeburner Lane, and over the road is Stonecutter Lane where masons satisfied London's growing need for paving slabs.

On this corner in 1702 was born the Daily Courant, England's first daily newspaper. This single sheet of newsprint, published by Edward and Elizabeth Mallett, aimed to provide news 'daily and impartially'. The Courant ceased production in 1735, which is why you can't wrap chips in a copy today.
FLEET STREET
Aldwych, Westminster
LUDGATE CIRCUS
Former site of the Fleet Bridge
LUDGATE HILL
St Paul's Cathedral, City
St Bride's Church towers (or rather spires) high above the eastern end of Fleet Street. The first church on this site was built in the 6th century, named in honour of Irish nun St Bridget. The medieval church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London (the flames "rushed like a torrent down Ludgate Hill", according to one observer, then leapt the river in the strong east wind). Sir Christopher Wren's replacement is famous for its layered steeple (the tallest he ever built), which is said to have inspired a local 18th century pastrycook to design the first wedding cake. Wren's masterpiece had to be rebuilt after the destruction wreaked by a firebomb during the Blitz, although thankfully the steeple survived pretty much intact.
[Read a complete history of St Bride's here.]
NEW BRIDGE STREET
Former site of the Fleet Canal
Four concave fa├žades surround Ludgate Circus, constructed in the mid 19th century to form an elegant circular crossroads. The roadway here has since been raised, giving the illusion that surrounding shops are sinking. There were also once two pedestrian islands in the centre, each complete with its own obelisk, but now there's just a giant (faded) yellow box junction.

The view up Ludgate Hill is much improved since the removal of a railway viaduct, which since 1874 had carried trains from Holborn Viaduct past Blackfriars and across the Thames to South London. The line was buried underground in 1990 as part of the Thameslink Snow Hill Tunnel project. [link to abandoned station here]


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