( Originally Published Early 1900's )
FLEET STREET is, in a sense, the most famous thorough fare in London. It was a street before the Strand as such came into existence ; for although it was extra muros, being divided from the City by Lud-gate, its proximity to the heart of things made it from very early days important both as a highway and, to some extent, as a place of residence. Of course, when the Romans occupied London, or Augusta, as it was then termed, the site of Fleet Street was little more than a rough road running through open country. Just outside Lud-gate flowed the Fleet Stream or Ditch, as it was later to become and to be termed, and from this stream Fleet Street took its name, although at an earlier day it was generally known as Fleet Bridge Street, on account of the bridge which carried the roadway over the stream, and at an earlier date still as the Strond (because, obviously, it touched the banks of the Fleet) —a name later to be applied to that extension of the thoroughfare which we know by the name of the Strand.
At various times remains have been found which help to rehabilitate these early days of Fleet Street's history, and among such relics was the stone pavement which Stow describes as having been discovered, near Chancery Lane, in 1595, only four feet from the surface of the ground, supported on piles, which may, perhaps, have been connected with that early burial-place of the Roman soldiers, who are said to have been interred in the Valium (now Fleet Street), near the Praetorian camp at Ludgate.
Such Roman remains were also discovered in the Strand, notably in the famous Roman Bath,' and some buffalo heads, and a stone coffin containing human ashes preserved in a glass vase, in the foundations of St. Martin's in the Fields.
In this connection, the following remarks of Stow have a special interest, as what he observed no doubt dated from these early days :
" On this north side of Fleet Street, in the year of Christ 1595, I observed that when the labourers had broken up the pavement, from against Chancery Lane end up toward St. Dunstan's Church, and had digged four feet deep, they found one other pavement of hard stone, more sufficient than the first, and therefore harder to be broken, under which they found in the made ground piles of timber driven very thick, and almost close together, the same being as black as pitch or coal, and many of them rotten as earth, which proveth that the ground there, as sundry other places of the City, have been a marsh, or full of springs."
Later relics have also been unearthed in this neighbourhood, notably the tall one-handled urn of the fourteenth century which was dug up opposite Bride Lane, Fleet Street, in 1856 ; and the stone bridge, dating from Edward III.'s reign, found covered by rubbish, to the east of St. Clement's Danes, in 1802, which, it has been assumed, was the identical bridge built by the Templars, at the royal command, to facilitate traffic along the then marshy thoroughfare intercepted by streams flowing to the river.
In process of time houses and shops began to arise along the once countrified road a road which even in the year 1325 was described as " Fletestrete in the suburb of London " ; until in 1543, as may be seen by Wyngaerde's " View," it was relatively quite a thickly populated place boasting a number of important houses, several churches, and dignified by the presence of the Temple and its ample grounds. By that time, indeed, the whole area south of Fleet Street, lying between the Fleet Stream and Middle Temple Lane, was covered with buildings, the most important of which was the royal palace of Bridewell, whose south and east frontages, respectively, immediately overlooked the Thames and the Fleet Stream. Between its grounds and those of the Temple, the space was occupied by the Grey Friars ; so that, on the river side, these three important collocations of buildings alone filled up the long stretch of ground with which the present Fleet Street runs parallel.
On the north of Fleet Street, however, the ground was far less thickly covered, and here the houses were chiefly confined to those lining the roadway, although Chancery Lane which, by the bye, is called Chauncellers lane in 1339 is seen to be built over on each side, and even the outline of Lincoln's Inn Fields, which was then but an open space largely affected by beggars and those ` Feuters' who gave their name to Fetter Lane, is indicated, together with the chapel of Lincoln's Inn founded by Gilbert de Fraxineto and his thirteen Black Friars in 1221.
Fleet Street, under its earlier name of Fleet Bridge Street, is mentioned in 1228, when one Henry de Buke slew a certain Le Ireis le Tylor here, and fled to Southwark for sanctuary ; and it would appear that its present designation was not given it till the beginning of the fourteenth century, when (in 1311 1) we come across a mention of it under the name of Fletestrete.
Five years after this date, there is mention, in the Calendar of Post-Mortem Inquisitions, of a fine of 30s. levied on tenements in Fleet Street " which were of John de Evefelde," while in 1333, a " rent pertaining to Fleet " is referred to as arising from certain tenements of Roger Chauntelere by Sholane (Shoe Lane). A more interesting entry appears in the Calendar of Patent Rolls, under date of Oct. 17, 1265, where there is a " grant to John de Verdun, of those houses in the street of Flete late (the property) of John de Flete " ; which shows that the name had, so early as this, been appropriated as a family designation.
Another early reference to property in Fleet Street occurs in the Patent Rolls, where, dated July 20, 1321, is the following " Pardon of the trespass of Hugh de Strubbi in bequething without licence of Edward i., to Sarra his wife for life all that tavern with eight shops standing round, which he had in the parish of St. Bride, Fletestrete, and that house with 2 shops which he inhabited there, and 8s. of quit rent receivable from the tenement of Stephen de Auverne, situated between the said Tavern on the east and the Flete river on the west "—this latter being evidently at the west end of what is now Ludgate Hill.
In 1324 we find a grant by Parliament to the Prior of St. John of Jerusalem of two forges in Fleet Street. These forges were originally placed on either side of
In this year five members of the royal household were arrested for burglary in Fleet Street.
St. Dunstan's Church, but at a later date, notably in 1381, they appear to have been destroyed by the followers of Wat Tyler. We learn by the Parliament Rolls 1 that in 1383 the then Prior prayed for a remission of the rent of 15s. which had been paid for these forges. It was not, however, till two years later that his petition was granted, and then only on condition that the ground on which they had stood should be thrown into the street, and the rent made good to the Exchequer by the Sheriffs of London. 2
Among the early references to Fleet Street, it is interesting to find a notice of some of the shopkeepers in Plantagenet times. Thus we read that one of them, in 1321, supplied Edward u. with " Six pair of boots with tassels of silk and drops of silver gilt, price for each pair, 5s.," 3 and, skipping two centuries, that Catherine of Aragon dealt at a shop having the sign of ` The Coppe in the same thoroughfare.
It may seem curious to many people that the jurisdiction of the Lord Mayor and Corporation should have extended beyond the natural western boundaries of the City, at Ludgate, to Temple Bar ; especially as, by the Charter of King Edgar, all this neighbourhood, including " London Fen," and extending to what is now Farringdon Street and Bridge Street, was included in the bounds of the city of Westminster. But by a decree dated 1222, settling the long-standing dispute as to ecclesiastical franchise between the City and Westminster, the eastern boundary of the latter was placed at 'Ulebrig,' or Ivy Bridge, in the Strand, or where Cecil Street now runs. There thus remained the large area covering part of the Strand and the whole of Fleet Street, unappropriated, or roughly that portion situated in the ward of Farringdon Without, for the parish of St. Clement's Danes was largely held by the Knights Templars, and the Savoy by the House of Lancaster. It is therefore supposed that the City must have received jurisdiction as far as Temple Bar when William i. granted it the Charter ; or if not, then later when Domesday Book was compiled. The fact, however, of subsequent disputes seems to prove that it held its power over this outlying portion of its domains on rather uncertain and questionable tenure, and it does not appear that its jurisdiction was regularly recognised till it was once for all defined under the Stuarts.
Fleet Street is situated in the ward of Farringdon Without. This division was originally known as Ludgate and Newgate Ward, but in 1279 it was purchased from its then possessor, Ralph le Fevre, by William de Farendon, from whom it takes its present name. William de Farendon or Farndone, as it is sometimes spelt was a person of importance in his day, for besides being a goldsmith of repute, he was a member of Parliament, a Sheriff in 1281, and filled the office of Lord Mayor no fewer than three times. It was, according to Noble, either he or his son, Nicholas,1 who became the possessor of Fleet Street Ward, which had been hitherto held by Anketill de Auverne, and this was incorporated in Farringdon Ward. This large division comprised at that time the separate wards now known as those of Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without ; but even so early as 1393, the area had become so important and thickly populated that it was then divided as it remains to-day. Noble gives a list of some of the more notable men who from time to time held the office of Alderman of Farringdon Without. Fabyan, famous for his Chronicles, was one of these ; Milbourne, whose almshouses preserve his name, another ; Judde, who founded the school at Tonbridge, yet another ; while Heywood, from whom springs the noble House of Bath ; Cockayne, the first Governor of the Irish Society ; Keeble of Aldermary ; Mico, who built the Stepney Almshouses ; and members of the great banking houses of Child, Hoare, Gosling, and Price, may be set down together with such famous names as those of Beckford (Richard, a relative of William), Wilkes, and, chiefly of local interest, Waithman.
It is interesting to know that Farringdon Ward Without returned six members to the Common Council from 1347, till 1639 when the number was raised to sixteen. In 1590 it subscribed £804, 10s. towards the subsidy raised for Queen Elizabeth, of which St. Dunstan's parish collected £264 and St. Bride's £136. No fewer than 1264 men, out of the 10,000 raised by the City of London at the time of the Armada scare, came from this ward. In 1742, Noble tells us, there were 4298 houses in it : 670 in St. Dunstan's ; 1052 in St. Bride's ; 210 in Whitefriars ; and 67 in Bridewell.
It is difficult to trace the residence of important people other than the great ecclesiastics whose Inns were a prominent feature in Fleet Street, before the sixteenth century, although it is probable that some of those mentioned above lived in it ; but at least one name has survived which is well known that of Paston, whose family letters give us such a complete and vivid picture of life in the Middle Ages. The Sir John Paston of the fifteenth century had his town house in Fleet Street, and among the " Letters " are several references to it. Thus, under date of April 30, 1472, Sir John writing to John Paston tells the latter that " Thys daye Robert of Racclyff weddyd the Lady Dymmok at my place in Fleetstreet " ; again, among a list of Sir John's Deeds is an entry referring to " a boxe with evydence off my place in Fletstrett " ; while we find John Paston addressing a letter to Sir John in 1469 " to my master, Sir John Paston in Flett Street " ; and finally, under date of July 29, 1465, we have, in connection with the famous lawsuit with which this family was for so long troubled :
" Responsiones personalites factae per Johannem Paston, in domo habitationis venerabilis mulieris Elisabethae Venor in le Flete vulgariter nuncupat infra parochiam Sanctae Brigidae Virginis, in suburbeis civitatis London situata."
On the other hand, several notices of less highly placed individuals of a later day have come down to us, simply because such persons were a nuisance to their neighbours, and have become enshrined in the records of ` presentations ' or inquisitions. One of these was a Mrs. Thimblethorpe, who was dwelling in Fleet Street in 1619, and was " much suspected by subtile meanes to be a troublesome woman, and of an ill disposition amongst honest and quiet neighbours " ; not a very serious indictment, indeed, but one of which parochial authority had to take a mental note. Five years later a presentment appears against one James Walmsley and one William Summers, their misdoing consisting in " annoyinge of divers inhabitants in Fleet Street, and the white-fryers by killinge of dogges for hawkes, and also keepinge them long alyve howling and cryinge, and after they have kil'd them, theyr blood and filthe groweth soe noysome that yt will be very dangerous for infection yf yt be suffered." In those days, when the plague broke out on the slightest provocation (the visitation of 1625 carried off in two months, from St. Dunstan's parish alone, no fewer than 533 persons), it was wise to take precautions even against the careless disposal of offal.
In my book on the Strand, I have alluded to the various efforts made for the better upkeep of that thoroughfare. Much which was then done west of Temple Bar was undoubtedly attended to east of that boundary ; and indeed we find, in 1540, statutes being passed ordering certain streets subsidiary to Fleet Street to be paved with stone, among them being Chancery Lane, Shoe Lane, and Fetter Lane ; and three years later these improvements were extended to Wych Street, Holywell Street, the Strand from Temple Bar to Strand Bridge, Water Lane, Butcher's Row, and Fleet Street itself. I imagine that this most important of all the thoroughfares had been originally better made, and that this was the reason why its improvement should post-date those carried on in its tributary streets.
To our modern ideas, the thought that at the end of the sixteenth century London, in this then more or less outlying quarter, should have suffered from over-building, seems in the nature of the grotesque ; but so it was, for in 1580, on a representation from the Lord Mayor, a royal proclamation prohibited further building in London or its vicinity (Fleet Street and the Strand being thus indicated), and the reasons given for this injunction were the difficulty of governing so large a concourse of people ; fear of that ever-recurring curse — the plague ; and the supposed impossibility of providing so large a number of inhabitants with the means of sustenance. There must have been a sudden in-crease of building at this time, although Agas's "Plan" of 1560 shows few additions in the matter of houses to what is indicated in Wyngaerde's " Panoramic View " of seventeen years earlier ; nor does Norden, in his " Plan " of 1593, note such an increase as would seem to justify so drastic an order as that mentioned. When, however, we turn to Faithorne's " Map " of 1658, we find not only the ground on the south side of Fleet Street covered with houses,' as well as the site of the Grey Friars and the grounds of Bridewell Palace built over (the palace being already used for alien purposes), but the whole of the north side of the thoroughfare, as far as Holborn, quite densely packed with tenements of all kin ds and sizes ; and one wonders how far even a royal proclamation (for we know James I. issued one, if not more, of the same tenor as that of Elizabeth) was capable of restraining the ever-increasing growth of a rich and prosperous city.
When the Great Fire devastated London, it extended almost to St. Dunstan's Church, so that the west part of Fleet Street fell a victim to the flames. The rebuilding which then took place, although not, unfortunately, on the ample lines recommended by Wren, undoubtedly improved the thoroughfare ; but, at the same time, much that was picturesque, in the way of old gabled houses and other landmarks, disappeared. If we compare the plans of Faithorne and Ogilby (1677), we shall see that, besides rebuilding on systematic lines, the authorities set back the street just east of St. Dunstan's and made of Fleet Street a thoroughfare that was, for that period, wide and ample. Indeed, such as it was in the time of Charles II., so it remained, as we can see by Rocque's " Plan " of 1741-45, till the middle of the eighteenth century ; and, except for rebuilding, and here and there the setting back of certain insignificant portions, such its outlines remain to the present day. The advent of the Law Courts and the formation of Ludgate Circus have, of course, greatly altered the appearance of its extreme limits ; while the removal of Temple Bar and the substitution of the ridiculous Griffin has taken from it its most picturesque landmark and added its most useless feature.
From the Domestic State Papers I cull two references which show that even in the gay, careless times of Charles ii. such matters as street improvement were not treated with indifference : thus, under date of March 21, 1667, we find that " the Lord Mayor and officers, entrusted to order the new buildings in London, have taken away from the site on which some of the houses in Fleet Street stood, as much (ground) as will make the part towards Ludgate as broad as the other part." If Wren's and Evelyn's splendid schemes could not be carried into effect, it is at least evident, by this extract, that the municipal authorities did what they could towards the betterment of this part of London.
The other entry has reference to an early attempt to police the City during the time that the Great Fire was raging, for, under date of Sept. 3, 1666, we have a " List of the 5 posts : viz. Temple Bar, Clifford's Inn Garden, Fetter Lane, Shoe Lane, and Cow Lane, at which constables of the respective parishes are ordered to attend, each with 100 men, during the fire of London. At every post are to be 30 foot with a good careful officer and 3 gentlemen who are to have power to give 1s. to any who are diligent all night ; these men to be relieved from the country tomorrow ; five pounds in bread, cheese, and beer allowed to every post."
At such a time as that during which the fire raged in London, and lawlessness was not easily kept within bounds, one can understand that such special measures as these were necessary ; but at an earlier day, even under normal conditions, the watchmen formed often but an indifferent means of preserving order, and there is a record of how three of them on one occasion were so roughly used as to be more or less permanently injured. This record is in the form of a Petition to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen, of John Appleby, John Guppy, and Thomas Bond, who describe themselves as " three poor watchmen of the parish of St. Bride's, Fleet Street, and who, being called forth on Thursday night (April 1570) to aid the sheriffs in quieting a broil in Fleet Street, were all wounded, and. are likely to be cripples for ever." They pray for relief for themselves and their families.
I have mentioned the Great Fire as having destroyed the best part of Fleet Street. Indeed, little remained of the thoroughfare untouched by it. It was on the third day of the conflagration that Pepys saw the flames " running downe to Fleet Streete," and at five o'clock in the afternoon it had reached the Conduit which stood near Shoe Lane. On it came, until it gained the Temple on the south side, and within a few paces of St. Dunstan's on the north, The brick walls of the former proved sufficient to stop, practically, its further progress, and I suppose it providentially died out of its own accord at the third house from the church, for two old buildings dating from an earlier day, Nos. 184-185 Fleet Street, were remaining down to 1869 as proof of their escape. An heroic attempt to stay it in Whitefriars was made by Lord Manchester and Lord Holles in ordering the destruction of a number of houses in that quarter ; but the wind was so strong that the flames could not be intercepted even by these drastic measures, measures which were, however, attended with better results in the precincts of the Temple, for when the fire was considered over, certain wooden houses by Paper Buildings were set alight by some sparks, and had not the Duke of York ordered the immediate blowing up of the adjacent premises, the whole of the Temple might have been destroyed.
There was formerly an inscription on the Temple Exchange Coffee-House, next to the Temple, indicating the spot at which the conflagration was finally extinguished.
On the first outbreak of the fire, guards were ordered to be stationed at certain points, to prevent, if possible, the spread of the flames, and also to protect property, furniture, etc., brought out of the houses for safety.
Noble, in his Memorials of Temple Bar, has collected certain interesting data concerning these posts, of which I avail myself here. Three documents are preserved in the Record Office bearing on this subject. The first of these is entitled " The several posts to bee attended by the severall constables, Sept. 3, 1666."
There were five of these posts,' each consisting of thirty foot-soldiers and an officer, a constable and one hundred men, " one gentleman and to choose two more," and a superior officer was expected to visit the posts and see that all was in order. The rations allowed were " five pounds in bread and cheese and beere to every post ; the gentleman to have power to give a shillinge to whom he sees diligent att night." The posts within the area with which I am dealing were stationed at Temple Bar and St. Dunstan's Church ; at Clifford's Inn Garden and Rolls Gardens up to Fetter Lane ; and from Fetter Lane to Shoe Lane. The second document is entitled " The posts assigned to bee attended in ye time of ye fire," by which we read that Lord Bellayes, Mr. Chicheley, and Mr. Hugh May,1 were the officers appointed to the Temple Bar Post, who were ordered " to appoint sub-commissioners for distributing biscuit and cheese at ye Kinges cost to those that work." It shows the importance attached to this position that men like Chicheley, who was the Crown Surveyor, and Hugh May, who was the well known architect and builder of the period, should have been app ointed to look after it. At Clifford's Inn Post, Sir Charles Wheeler held a similar post.
The third paper is endorsed " My Lord Oxford's Report upon his Rounde, Sept. 6. 1666, during ye time of ye fire." 2 By this interesting document we find that Lord Oxford, in going his rounds, observed some absentees from their respective posts : thus, although Mr. Chicheley was there, both Lord Bellayes (Bellasis) and Hugh May were absent from Temple Bar, and apparently there were no constables ; nor were any constables to be found at Clifford's Inn ; but to make up for this, Sir Charles Wheeler was at his post, together with Sir Godfrey Flood and Colonel Lovelace. But the supervision on the whole was satisfactory, and Lord
Oxford is able to report that " in all these places (he) found ye places where ye fire had bene well watcht with sentinells, and all care possible used by them yt were present."
We all know that after the Great Fire steps were promptly taken to rebuild that portion of London which had been destroyed ; that Wren and Evelyn and others produced plans for the re-edification of the City ; and that Hollar and Sandford were ordered to make pictorial records of the ruins. Wren's " Plan " is specially interesting to us here, for had its ample lines been followed, we should have had a Fleet Street 90 feet wide, and the thoroughfare would have extended from Temple Bar to Tower Hill ! In the centre of Fleet Street was to have been a circus, from which eight subsidiary streets would have branched off. Such a splendid scheme, of course, never emerged from its initial stage ; but when rebuilding did take place in this thoroughfare (Sir Jonas Moore was one of the first to receive permission to do this), certain improvements as to uniform frontages were carried out : some premises being brought forward to the agreed building line, and others set back. By an Act of th
e Common Council, dated April 29, 1667, Fleet Street was ordered to be widened " from the place where the Greyhound Tavern stood to Ludgate," and instead of the previous 32 and 23 feet, it was enlarged to a uniform width of 45 feet. Certain houses were, as I have said, set back, notably those of Dr. Barebone, Richard Marriot, the Green Dragon Tavern, etc., and these left St. Dunstan's Church projecting into the roadway, as it may be seen to do in eighteenth-century prints.
In 1670, when the streets were ordered to be properly paved, Fleet Street was the first to be attended to, and so much was then done to the thoroughfare in a variety of ways, that the Great Fire may almost be regarded as a blessing (as it certainly was in the matter of disinfection and general cleansing), notwithstanding the fact that in its course it swept out of existence so much that was picturesque and historic.
I have mentioned certain disturbances which took place in Fleet Street at the time of the Great Fire, and doubtless at a time like that, when the guardianship of the peace was for a time relaxed, many and grave disorders took place. But it is a fact that from a much earlier period Fleet Street was noted for its broils. The presence in it of a large number of taverns had much to do with this state of affairs, and the then defective means of policing the streets made it an easy matter for the lawless to perpetrate their daring deeds, and then to hurry off to the safe asylum of the contiguous byways and alleys, or to seek shelter in the wilds of Whitefriars.
In 1578, such incidents had become so frequent that, on April 27 of that year, the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls were directed to take steps for repressing frays in the City ; " even in the face of their owne lodging in Fleete Street," adds the Council order significantly.
In contemporary records we find plenty of in-stances proving the necessity for such steps. Here are two entries from Machyn's Diary :
1555. " The xxviij day of October in the mornyng was set up in Fletstrett, be-syd the well (St. Bride's Well), a payre of galaus, and ij men hangyd, for the robere of a Spaneard, (and they were) hangyng aganst the Spaneardes gate be-tyme in the mornyng, and so hangyng alle the day in the rayne."
1559. " The xx day of Aprell ther was a grett fray in be-twyn v and vj at nyght, betwyn servyng men and Flett-strete ; ther was one IX bones taken out of ys and a-nodur had ye nosse cutt off."
I could fill pages with similar extracts, taken from the Domestic State Papers and other sources, but they would only prove, what hardly requires proof, that in the spacious and turbulent times of the Tudors and their predecessors, life, in Fleet Street at any rate, had excitements that we wot not of. You might not incur the risk of being run down by a motor-bus or a taxi cab, but you stood a very good chance of being dirked or clubbed if you were dissipated enough to be out of doors after, say, nine o'clock in the evening.
The number of people who were ` presented ' for various offences was also large, as may be seen from the Parish Registers ; and Mr. Riley, in his Memorials of London, gives two very early and, as indicating rather curious surnames, interesting specimens. The first of these is dated 1311, and tells how one Dionsia le Bokebyndere presented a certain Welshman " for burglary in her house in Fletestrette in the suburbs of London " ; the second, dated 1337, informs us that Desiderate de Toryntone was taken, at the suit of John Baset, of Bydene, for a certain robbery committed upon him in the hostel of the Bishop of Sarum, in Fletestrette."
As we have seen, retribution was dealt out to such as had broken the laws, in the actual place, or near it, where the offence was committed. Thus we read of various executions in Fleet Street ; and not only in early days, for in the seventeenth century and later the custom was continued. Luttrell, for instance, records how, on " the 17th Dec. (1684) one John Hutchins, who killed the waterman in Fleetstreet, was hang'd on a gibbet erected near the place, but he absolutely denied the fact to the last " ; and other instances could be cited from the Diarist, and con-temporary authorities.
Nothing, perhaps, so markedly differentiates the Fleet Street of the past with that of today not its altered appearance, not its new buildings as the fact that it is now orderly where once it was disorderly, that it is now respectable where it was once the very reverse.
If we wanted one word by which to distinguish the prevailing characteristic of the thoroughfare for the last hundred and fifty years, that word would, I suppose, be ` Journalism.' Indeed, it is to-day so largely identified with journalism that its name is alone sufficient to denote the 'Fifth Estate.' Nor is this connection inappropriate ; for we know that Wynkyn de Worde, the great printer, worked at the sign of the ` Falcon ' (now No. 32 Fleet Street), near Temple Bar (on the south side of the street), from which house Falcon Court takes its name ; and that Richard Tothill had his printing-offices where Nos. 7 and 8 Fleet Street stood, in the reign of Edward vi. ; while Gorboduc, the earliest English tragedy, was also " imprynted at London in Flete Strete, at the signe of the Faucon, by William Griffith," who sold copies of the book " at his shop in Sainete Dunstone's Churchyarde in the west of London," in 1565.1
I shall have something to say in another chapter concerning the publishers, booksellers, and printers, as well as about the great newspapers whose premises add so much to the interest and activity of Fleet Street ; but besides the Daily Telegraph, the Daily News, the Daily Chronicle, the Standard, Punch, etc., the London offices of innumerable provincial journals are scattered up and down the thoroughfare in bewildering profusion; all, apparently, drawn to this spot by some magnetic influence with which the place is saturated. The connection of Dr. Johnson with the street would be alone, perhaps, sufficient to account for this, but more likely is it that its position 'twixt East and West, as it were, is a better reason ; or the presence here, in the past, of innumerable taverns and coffee-houses, in those days the emporiums of news of all kinds, may have started the tradition which is now so firmly established as to seem permanent.
These hostelries were at one time as great a feature of Fleet Street as are the newspaper offices of today. Here met all sorts and condition's of men to gossip, to read the news-sheets, to write letters or to indite dedications to lordly patrons ; just as to-day we may see people congregating in the offices of the Daily Telegraph or the Daily News, to scan the advertisements or to write letters to those whom Hope makes them believe will act as patrons, or at least relievers of their wants and necessities.
Of these centres of literary, as well as of bacchanalian, activity there has been practically no end. They were, and under more modern guises are, to be numbered as the sands of the sea. Some of them, like the celebrated ` Cheshire Cheese,' have preserved the external characteristics of an earlier day almost unaltered, and entering them from the rush and turmoil of Fleet Street, we seem to be thrown back into an earlier century when motors and taxi-cabs were not. In the chapter in which I deal with the taverns I shall endeavour to name as many as possible, and about a large number I hope to have some interesting facts and amusing gossip to record.
Publishers have to-day flitted elsewhere, but in the eighteenth century, and even earlier, many congregated here. For instance, Drayton's Poems were published, in 1608, " at the shop of John Smithwick, St. Dunstan's Churchyard, under the Diall " ; in 1653, The Compleat Angler was " sold by Richard Marriot in St. Dunstan's Churchyard, Fleet Street " ; Locke's Essay on the Human Understanding (the dedication of which was dated from Dorset Court believed by Cunningham to be Dorset Court in Fleet Street) was also first printed by Eliz. Holt for Thomas Basset at the 'George ' in Fleet Street, near St. Dunstan's Church, in 1690 ; while an advertisement among the Domestic State Papers tells us that Ambrose Isted of Fleet Street had on sale a new play called " Charles viii. of France, written by Mr. Crowne about 1661, and acted at the Duke of York's Theatre." Later, Edmund Curll had his shop " at the sign of the Dial and Bible against St. Dunstan's Church " ; Jacob Robinson his, " on the west side of the gateway leading down the Inner
Temple Lane " ; Lawton Gilliver, " at Homer's Head against St. Dunstan's Church " ; Mr. Copeland, " at the signe of the Rose Garland " ; Bernard Lintot at the 'Cross Keys,' next door to the celebrated 'Nando's'; and Tonson began his publishing business at a shop at the corner of Chancery Lane and Fleet Street ; while the well-known firm of legal publishers, Messrs. Butterworth, was established at No. 43 Fleet Street so early as 1780.
The shop of Jacob Robinson has a particular interest for us. It bore the sign of the ` Pope's Head,' and was situated just inside the Inner Temple gateway ; and over the shop Burke came to lodge on his first arriving in London, in 1750, when he kept his terms at the Middle Temple. Robinson's shop adjoined the Rainbow Tavern, and was numbered 16 Fleet Street, being situated between the ancient hostelry and the famous No. 17 Fleet Street, much of which yet remains.
If publishers have, for the most part, betaken themselves to other quarters of the town, several of the bankers whose establishments were once a feature of Fleet Street, still remain in their old quarters : for instance, Messrs. Child's Bank is to-day where it was originally established, " at the Marygold at No. 1 Fleet Street," in the time of Charles II. ; Messrs. Hoare have been " at the Golden Bottle," now 37 Fleet Street, since 1693 ; and Messrs. Gosling " at [No. 19] the Three Squirrels, over against St. Dunstan's," from the seventeenth century. With Messrs. Coutts and Messrs. Twining in the Strand, these represent those private banks which were once such a feature of English commercial life. The Bank of England has one of its West End branches close by the Law Courts, and in Fleet Street will also be found one or two of the joint-stock banks which have been the product of later days of industrial enterprise.
Although Fleet Street is, as a thoroughfare, older than the Strand, architecturally speaking it is, with the exception of the Temple buildings, of more recent growth ; for the Great Fire made such havoc with it that it had practically to be entirely rebuilt after that visitation. The consequence was that it did not exhibit, as did the Strand at a relatively recent date, those picturesque features or those buildings erected in most admired disorder, such as Butcher's Row and Holywell and Wych Streets, which at one time made it a byword as an artistic spectacle, and still more a byword as an exceedingly inconvenient highway.
In one thing, however, it rivalled, as it still rivals, its sister street, and that is in its byways and alleys, many of which, in spite of rebuilding, seem still to retain the appearance, and certainly the odour, of an earlier day. Like the Strand, too, Fleet Street has its two churches : St. Dunstan's, and St. Bride's whose glorious steeple remains one of Wren's most exquisite achievements in this direction.
No account of Fleet Street would be quite complete which failed to say something of the various ` shows ' for which the thoroughfare has been noted time out of mind. Theatres in the ordinary acceptation of the word it has never had, and very few music halls, although so early as 1670, John Banister, whom Pepys mentions as being violin to the King, attempted something of the sort, in Whitefriars, not without profit ; while, at a later date, there was inaugurated, in Bolt Court, a ` Dr. Johnson Music Hall ' which had very little success.
Indeed, the shows of Fleet Street rather appealed to the eyes than the ears. The exhibition of monsters, contortionists, fire - eaters, waxworks, and moving pictures were more to the taste of the Fleet Street patrons than the concord of sweet sounds, or music married to immortal verse. Ben Jonson refers to " a new motion of the City of Nineveh, with Jonas and the whale," being exhibited at Fleet Bridge ; and when he makes Knowell end a speech with the words, " here within this place is to be seen the true, rare, and accomplished monster, a miracle of nature," he is probably copying some such announcement seen by him, in front of one of the Fleet Street shows.
The eighteenth century was, however, the heyday of such things. Nothing seemed then to come amiss to the curiosity of the public. It was as happy in looking at the Giants striking the hours on St. Dunstan's clock as in inspecting a model of Amster-dam' thirty feet long,' or in regaling its sight on a legless child, measuring but eighteen inches, who was to be seen at a grocer's in Shoe Lane, at the sign of the ` Eagle and Child.' All kinds of wonderful and fearful animals attracted crowds, from a great Lincolnshire ox, nineteen hands high, to an old she-dromedary and her young one.
The ` Duke of Marlborough's Head,' by Shoe Lane, seems to have been a great centre of attraction ; for here, at various times, were exhibited a " moving picture " ; " the great posture-master of Europe " who " extends his body into all deformed shapes " ; and a certain De Hightrehight who, besides eating burning coals, satisfied a curious appetite by sucking a red-hot poker five times a day. Automaton clocks, and giants and dwarfs, proved great ` draws ' ; indeed, Fleet Street was quite noted for the latter. For instance, we read of an Essex woman, named Gordon, who though not nineteen was seven feet high, and might be seen at the ` Rummer ' in Three Kings Court ; of an Italian giantess who was still taller, and had been inspected by ten reigning sovereigns (!) at the ` Blew Boar and Green Tree ' ; of Edward Bamford, who died (1768) in Shire Lane, and who was seven feet four inches ; and of dwarfs : one of whom, a German named Buckinger, was only twenty-nine inches high, although, as he had no legs or hands, or anything, apparently, but body, the measurement does not go for much. He, however, could do so many things which the ordinary man is often unable to do, that he must have been worth seeing. Another pair of dwarfs, the so-called Black Prince and his wife (or princess), were three feet high, which is more understandable than a Turkey horse two feet high, which was exhibited with them.
Mrs. Salmon's Waxworks were, of course, of perennial interest to the Fleet Street seekers after such mild forms of excitement, until they were sold in 1812 ; and another exhibition appears to have had an almost equal celebrity, namely, Rackstraw's Museum of Anatomy and Curiosities, which was to be seen at No. 197 Fleet Street, from 1786 to 1798, followed at a later date by Edward Donovan's Collection of Natural History a venture which did not, however, prove a success.
Other shows and exhibitions could, of course, be mentioned, many of them standing the test of years ; but most of an ephemeral nature, and calculated rather to attract the idle than to give any permanent source of satisfaction to the more sober-minded. They have passed, as have so many more sights of Fleet Street, into oblivion, and as the presence of many of them indicated the inherent child that lies hid in most of us, so their successive disappearances showed that delight in novelty and change which is no less characteristic of human nature.
To such exhibitions ought, perhaps, to be added those political demonstrations of which the street had its full share : the Burning of the Rumps, of which Hogarth has left us such a spirited and excellent representation in his illustrations to Hudibras, and of which a contemporary says, " They made little gibbets, and roasted rumpes of mutton ; nay, I sawe some very good rumps of beefe," and the health of King Charles II. was drunk in the streets, some people doing it on their knees, and bonfires blazed when the ` Rump Parliament was dissolved ; the Burning of the Pope, an annual celebration dating from Elizabeth's reign and the violent anti-popish feeling which then obtained, and repeated on every 17th November, the day of her birth. Luttrell and other writers have many references to this ` show,' and there is a well-known print of the one which took place in 1679, giving a good view of Temple Bar, St. Dunstan's Church, and the adjacent houses on the north of Fleet Street.
The connection of the Green Ribbon Club with these celebrations has been mentioned elsewhere, as have also those Mug - House Riots, which if not exactly shows, were certainly exhibitions of a character which have happily passed with the century that witnessed them.
In the earliest days of London's history, while yet the City was the comparatively exiguous Augusta of the Romans, its walls on the west extended no farther than the spot now known as Ludgate Circus.
Just outside these walls, forming a double barrier of defence, ran the Fleet Stream, whose course to the main river followed what is now Bridge Street, below which thoroughfare it still runs in the form of a great sewer. This stream in those days rushed through open country, and had its source among the hills of Hampstead and Highgate, but then a bridge carried the road which, passing through Ludgate, became divided, its lower portion forming Watling Street, within the City walls. This road in its westerly direction was at that time known as the Strond, being so termed in Agas's " Plan," published about 1560, but has
for many years become famous as Fleet Street. Indeed, in the Liber Albus (1228) it is termed Fleet Bridge Street, but in the fourteenth century it was known as Fletestrete, and was then regarded as being in the suburbs of London !
The Fleet Stream is here our eastern boundary, but as we are concerned with so small a portion of it, it will only be necessary to remark that the name has been derived from the Anglo-Saxon fléotan =to float, although the rapidity with which it fell into the Thames, might have led us to suppose that its name had some-thing in common with the present signification of the word.
From very early days the stream was used for all kinds of purposes from the turning of watermills to the reception of refuse and offal of every description. Indeed, so early as 1307, we find by the Calendar of Patent Rolls that commissioners were appointed to survey " the water course of Flete which is said to be obstructed and straitened by mud and filth being thrown into it, and by the new raising of a quay by the Mastern and Brethren of the New Temple for their mills on the Thames by Castle Baignard (Baynard) " ; and, in 1357, imprisonment was threatened against anyone who should throw rubbish into the river. But such periodical attention as was paid to the Fleet Stream, seems only to have been of temporary use, for so much later as 1585 we find the Privy Council directing (on March 7) the Surveyor of the Queen's Works " to survey the Fleet Ditch, and to report upon the best means for its purification and removing the nuisances there " ; while, later in the month, the matt
er having been considered, a proposal was made for erecting larger floodgates, so as to admit of a barge, 18 feet broad, up the stream.
The stream seems to have been no better, not-withstanding these efforts, in the seventeenth century ; for during the reign of James I. it was said to require " cleanninge sweetelye " and to be " lying very noisome, offensive, and infectious " ; and according to the Cotton MS. (Titus B. p. 268, quoted by Noble) it was determined that " neere unto Bridewell be placed a standinge grate of tymber, with two gates or dockes to the ende, that the same may be opened only when leighters shall be to passe in or out, and presentlie shut againe." Even down to the eighteenth century, however, the insanitary conditions of the ` Ditch ' were notorious, and have been depicted by Swift, Pope, Gay, and others ; but this was when, by various encroachments, it had become lessened in extent and volume, for we are told by Strype that in the thirteenth century it was " of such breadth and depth that ten or twelve ships at once, with merchandise, were wont to come to the Bridge of Fleet, and some of them to Holborn Bridge."
When the first bridge was built across the Fleet Stream is unknown, although it must have been during the time of the Roman occupation, but in Stow's time there was here, according to his own words, " a bridge of stone, fair coped on either side with iron pikes ; on which, towards the south, be also certain lanthorns of stone for lights to be placed in the winter evenings for commodity of travellers " ; and he adds : " It seemeth this last bridge to be made or repaired at the charges of John Wels, mayor, in the year 1431, for on the coping is engraven Wels embraced by angels like as on the standard in Cheape, which he also built." This bridge fell a victim to the Great Fire, but was replaced by a much wider one ornamented with the arms of the City, etc., and extending to the breadth of the roadway.1 In course of time, to be precise on Oct. 14, 1765, this second bridge was removed, and the stream was arched over, although one of the original walls was for a time allowed to remain, according to Dodsley, to prevent people from falling into the ditch on the Bridewell (south) side.
Considering the close connection between journalism and Fleet Street that now, as it has for so long, obtains, it is interesting to remember that the Daily Courant, first published in 1702, and the earliest of London's daily papers, was printed for " E. Mallet against the Ditch at Fleet Bridge " ; while Stow tells us that the first knives ever made in England were manufactured by Richard Matthews on Fleet Bridge, in 1563. This spot was, indeed, a kind of landmark in the City : in early days it was one of the places where toll was taken for commodities brought into London from the west, and it seems to have been selected as a good situation, not merely for ordinary business, but for those ` shows ' which in the eighteenth century particularly were such a feature of London life. In 1700 an Act was passed for the establishment of a market here, but nothing was done towards this end till 1737, when, on Sept. 30, a market was opened here, and remained till the building of Farringd on Market in 1829.
Today the Fleet runs beneath Bridge Street in the form of an immense sewer,2 and instead of a headlong stream there is to be seen there but a conglomeration of traffic crossing it from Fleet Street to Ludgate Hill, or from Farringdon Street to Bridge Street ; but memorials of an earlier time still remain in the forms of the two obelisks, one of which, to John Wilkes, was erected in 1775 ; the other, to Alderman Waithman, who had his shop here, at the north-west end of Fleet Market, in 1833.1
Ludgate Circus, which now occupies the site of Fleet Bridge and its approaches, is a relatively modern improvement, having been begun in 1864, and completed some eleven years later. It is one of those betterments by which much superficial open area was gained for the City, and if it cannot be regarded as particularly ample or dignified, it is at least more or less adequate to even the present requirements of traffic.
Apart from the taverns, churches, and innumerable courts, alleys, and bystreets which are to be met with in Fleet Street, and to which I allocate special chapters, there are various landmarks which should be noticed in a perambulation of this historic thoroughfare. Commencing at the west end and for the moment resisting the temptation to discuss the annals of Temple Bar or the Temple 2 itself, whose gateway, designed by Wren, is the first interesting feature we come to in the Fleet Street of to-day, our attention will be attracted by No. 17, situated nearly opposite Chancery Lane, over the gateway of the Inner Temple.
This notable relic dates from the - year 1610, although I do not know that there is any good ground for attributing it to migo Jones as Noble does, unless the fact that that great architect was Surveyor to the Crown at this time and that the house was Crown property can be said to give foundation for the sup-position. There seems little doubt that it was certainly used, in the reign of James I., as the office and Council Chamber of the Duchy of Cornwall, and as " the Prince's Council Chamber " we find frequent mention of it in the Domestic State Papers and in other contemporary records, the earliest reference to it in this capacity being dated 1617. But it would seem that it must have had some connection with the Duchy of Cornwall, or at any rate with the Prince of Wales, before this, as the finely panelled room, with. its beautiful plastered ceiling, exhibits the device of Henry, Prince of Wales, whose feathers and cipher " P. H." are to be seen in it. Now Henry, Prince of Wales, died in 1612, and there are no records extant of the house being used for the purpose stated, till five years after that event, so that it would seem as if the place was rather occupied by that ill-fated Prince either as a lodging or for some other purpose. The office of the Duchy of Cornwall was, as a matter of fact, situated at various times in different places, and once, at least, warrants were issued by it from premises in Salisbury Court ; while the following entry in the State Papers does not necessarily prove that the house mentioned was No. 17 : " Our pleasure is that those of our subjects who seek to have defective titles made good shall, before Hilary term next, repair to our new Commissioners at a house in Fleet Street, where our Commissioners for our Revenue while we were Prince of Wales did annually meet " (1635). On the other hand, this house may have been identical with the one under consideration, and have been the same as the " Prince's Court of Wards " mentioned in a letter addressed to Mrs. Nicholls on May 1, 1620.
Some light seems to be thrown on the subject by the suggestion that the premises were erected by one John Bennett, on the site of a previous house owned by him, and bearing the sign of the ` Prince's Arms.' Bennett may have decorated his property to suit its name, and the fact that the Duchy of Cornwall office once occupied it may be merely fortuitous. Indeed, had this office owned the place, it seems more than likely that on Prince Henry's death, and the consequent creation of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales, the cipher of the latter would have been substituted for the " P. H." which still remains.
At a subsequent period Mrs. Salmon had her famous exhibition of waxworks here, and in her day the legend on the house ran : " Formerly the palace of Henry, Prince of Wales, son of James 1st." The word ` palace ' in this connection, whatever the Prince's connection with the place was, protests too much ; but it was hardly so daring a speculation as was that of a later tenant, who, regardless of historic accuracy, calmly put up a notice in front of the house, which read : " Formerly the palace of Henry viii. and Cardinal Wolsey." One wonders if this worthy had heard of the story of Wolsey and Sir James Paulet, when the former was tutor to Lord Dorset's children. He in some way annoyed Paulet, who caused him to be put in the stocks. Wolsey in after years, mindful of the insult, sent for Paulet and ordered him not to leave London without his permission. Paulet did, in fact, for some five or six years, reside in the gatehouse of the MIDDLE TEMPLE, during which time, according to Stow, he re-edified it, and with the hopes of appeasing Wolsey, set over the front the Cardinal's hat and arms. This, however, was the gatehouse of the Middle, riot the Inner, Temple, and it was adjoining the latter that No. 17 was, and is, situated. Mr. Philip Norman remarks concerning the Inner Temple gateway, that " from the first it was a freehold of the parish of St. Dunstan, in the west. At the same time, owing to the fact that it stood over the Inner Temple Lane and extended for some distance along its east side, the authorities of the Inner Temple had certain rights over it. Unfortunately, no early deeds of this house are forthcoming. Nor can much allusion to it be found until the eighteenth century. Long before this, however, there was a shop here, apparently forming part of the structure. Proof of its existence is found in the title page of Thomas Middleton's comedy, A Mad World, my Masters, a second edition of which, published in 1640, was ` to be sold by James Becket at his shop in the Inner Temple Gate.' "
I have referred to Mrs. Salmon's waxworks as being exhibited here. This show was originally situated in Aldersgate, and later was moved to a house " near the Horn Tavern " 2 (now Anderton's Hotel), where Mrs. Salmon, who had herself constructed the figures, died at the ripe age of ninety, in March 1760. After her death the collection was purchased by a surgeon of Chancery Lane, named. Clark or Clarke, who continued to exhibit them, as did his widow. In 1788, the figures were moved to 189 Fleet Street, later Praed's Bank ; and in 1795, when this house was demolished, Mrs. Clark took No. 17, then known by its old name of the Fountain Tavern. Mr. Norman thinks, with good reason, that during this time the Waxworks occupied only a part of the house and the Tavern the other portion. Later a Mr. Reed occupied the place, and still later Mr. Carter whose hairdressing establishment was situated here for upwards of seventy years.1
Farther east is No. 53 Fleet Street, an interesting site, for here Overton at the ` Golden Buck ' 2 sold his prints, Hogarth's among them, an undertaking specifically referred to by Gay in his Trivia.
Three doors farther on was another print-shop, where the notorious William Hone began, in 1812, to publish his pamphlets and bills, which caused " divers great numbers of persons to assemble and come together in front of his shop," and which, as he was not a freeman, landed him in the Law Courts.
The equally notorious Richard Carlile lived, in 1828, at No. 62, and here opened his " Lecturing, conversation, and discussion establishment " ; and a few doors farther east (at No. 67) once resided and had his shop, Thomas Tompion, the seventeenth-century watch and clock maker who attempted to make a clock for St. Paul's which should go for a hundred years without being wound. Thomas Mudge succeeded him at the ` Dial and One Crown ' opposite the Bolt-in-Tun Tavern. Mudge took into partnership one Dutton, and this firm made a watch for Dr. Johnson —the first he ever possessed, it is said. No. 67 Fleet Street was modernised, Noble tells us, in 1850, and was the last to fall a victim to the ` re-edifier.' At No. 98 lived the silversmith Joseph Brasbridge, who occupied his leisure by writing, and produced his Fruits of Experience, which formed an autobiography of its author.
Before returning on the other side of the street, I may incidentally mention that Robert Mylne, who built Blackfriars Bridge (begun in 1760 and finished in 1769), lived in a house he designed for himself, in 1780, in New Bridge Street, afterwards the York Hotel, and later demolished to make room for the railway station ; and that at No. 6 once lived Sir Richard Phillips, the well-known bookseller and author of that " Walk to Kew," inter alia, which is still to be met with, and is not without value.
The chief interest on the north side of Fleet Street lies in its courts and alleys, about which I shall have something to say in a subsequent chapter. There are, however, one or two sites which deserve mention, for one reason or another. The first of these to which we come is No. 106, for it was here, at the sign of the
Red Lion,' that John Hardham sold his famous ' No. 37 ' snuff, by which he had accumulated at his death, in 1772, no less than £22,000, Hardham, who was a friend of Garrick, to whom he left £5, the rest of his fortune going to his native town of Chichester, —lies buried in St. Bride's. " His little back parlour, "at 106 Fleet Street, " characteristically enough, was hung around with portraits of eminent performers, to whose styles of dramatic action and manner he could frequently refer in the course of his instructions to novices for the stage." He was 'numberer ' to Garrick at Drury Lane, i.e. one who counted the audience as a check on those who took the money at the doors.
At No. 138, the mathematical instrument makers first began their business in 1782, and at No. 161 was the shop of that bootmaker, Hardy, who was implicated with Horne Tooke ; while next door (No. 162), Richard Carlile, the free-thinker, whom we have before met at No. 62, on the opposite side of the street, was wont to suspend the effigy of a bishop in front of his shop ! Close by, between Bolt Court and Johnson's Court, Christopher Pinchbeck, who invented the metal known by his name, lived at the sign of the 'Astronomico-Musical Clock,' and was buried, in 1732, in St. Dunstan's.
Noble, to whom I am largely indebted for many of the interesting data concerning former residents in Fleet Street, thus speaks of Nos. 190 and 192. These two houses, says he, " have a somewhat curious history. Upon the site of No. 192 was born, it is said, Abraham Cowley, the poet, whose father was a grocer. In 1740 it was tenanted by a grocer, where the finest Caper tea was sold for 24s. ; Fine Green, 18s. ; Hyson, 16s. ; Bohea, 7s. ; all warranted genuine ! In 1787 the firm was 'North, Hoare, Nanson, and Simpson, grocers, at the " Black Moor's Head." ' Soon after, North retired, but being refused re-admittance into the old firm, opened an opposition shop at No. 190. Such was the celebrity of this old gentleman, that the trade of the old concern left it, and came to North's new shop ; upon which the partners joined him, and the famous old house at the corner ceased to exist." " The grocery firm," adds Noble (in 1869), " still flourishes at No. 190."
There remained till the closing years of the eighteenth century a fine old half-timbered house at the west corner of Chancery Lane, of which J. T. Smith made a drawing 1 in 1789 ; this house was once the shop of Izaak Walton, who held it from 1627 to 1634, when he removed to one which appears to have been on the site of No. 120 Chancery Lane.
Before dealing with the streets and courts which were entered from Fleet Street, it will be interesting to say a word about the old signs which at an earlier day made the main thoroughfare so picturesque. The largest of these signboards was that hanging before the Castle Tavern ; indeed, it is said to have been the biggest in London at the time, Signs are now only associated with public-houses, but in earlier days, before the numbering of houses and shops, the latter were distinguished by such indications ; the former being generally known by their proximity to some particular sign.
Not long ago there was an attempt made in Lombard Street to resuscitate this manner of marking the various banks, and, from the effect then produced, one can easily imagine what Fleet Street must have looked like when practically every place had a sign, if not two. The authorities, for various excellent reasons, do not allow such things to obscure light and air today ; but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a greater licence was permitted, with the result that the signs, to use Sorbiere's 1 words, " almost obscured the sun," and filled the streets with " Blue Boars, Black Swans and Red Lions, not to mention Flying Pigs and Hogs in Armour, with many creatures more extraordinary than any in the deserts of Africa."
The presence of signs in Fleet Street was not with-out its disadvantages, for, not to mention the freak of Denham and his friends, who one night painted them all black, they occasionally fell, causing not only destruction to property but loss of life, as occurred in 1718 with a signboard opposite Bride Lane, which brought down the brick-work of the house to which it was attached about the heads of the people in the street, four of whom were killed. In 1761 an Act was passed making it compulsory to set the boards flat against the premises, which accounts for that at the ` Devil ' being reset in this fashion.
Noble tells us that, in 1630, " the sign of the Crown hanging in the street " is mentioned specifically among the fixtures of the Crown Tavern, in Shoe Lane, thus proving that such things were regarded as of value. We know that in recent times signboards have been painted by such men as Morland, Ward, Leslie, and other famous artists ; and, naturally, to such works value is attached. The majority of Fleet Street signs, however, were executed in Harp or Harper's Alley, leading out of Shoe Lane, and Hotten tells us that one Van der Trout was the earliest of the signboard artists to settle in this spot, which soon became noted for such things.'
Another method of advertising their businesses was employed by innkeepers and tradesmen in the circulation of tokens. I have mentioned some of those which were issued from Fleet Street and the Strand, and in such works as Boyne's Tokens, and Burn's and Akerman's books on the same subject, more or less complete lists are given.
An object of interest which once occupied a prominent position in the centre of Fleet Street was THE CONDUIT, near Shoe Lane. This conduit not only supplied water to this end of the thoroughfare, but formed a feature in most of those pageants which, from mediaeval times to the days of the Stuarts, were such picturesque additions to London's gaiety. When Anne Bullen went from the Tower to be crowned at Westminster, the Conduit poured forth wine instead of water, and was decorated and surmounted with angels ; when Philip of Spain came to England to wed Queen Mary, a pageant took place at the Conduit ; while it was pressed into a like service when Elizabeth passed through Fleet Street on her accession in 1558.
The Conduit is frequently mentioned, in contemporary records, not only in such august connections, but also as a landmark, and as a spot where civic proclamations were ordered to be exhibited. It appears to have begun to be re-edified by Sir William Eastfield, Lord Mayor, in 1439, and finished, as the result of certain directions left by Sir William to his executors, in 1471 ; but it dated from a much earlier period, as, in 1388, the residents in Fleet Street were empowered by the civic authorities to erect a penthouse as a protection over the pipes of the Conduit, then described as being " opposite to the house and tavern of John Walworth, vintner," in order to obviate the damage caused by the overflowing of the Conduit, " which," we are told, " frequently, through the breaking of the pipes thereof, rotted and damaged their houses and cellars, and the party walls thereof, as also their goods and wares, by the overflow there from."
Stow describes the Conduit as consisting of a stone tower, decorated with images of St. Christopher on the top, and angels round about, lower down, with sweet-sounding bells, which bells, by an engine placed in the tower, every hour " with hammers chymned such an hymne as was appointed."
In 1478, the inhabitants of Fleet Street obtained a licence to make at their own expense two cisterns, one of which was to be erected at this conduit or ` Standard,' as it was termed, and the other at Fleet Bridge. And a record, dated the same year, tells us how " a wex chandler in Flete Street, had bi crafte perced a pipe of the condit withynne the grounde and so conveied the water into his selar ; wherefore he was judged to ride through the citee with a condit uppon his hedde." The man's name, it appears, was Campion, and the " condit on his hedde " was a small model of the building. In 1582, the Conduit was again rebuilt, and a larger cistern placed by it ; but Sir Hugh Middleton's great New River scheme, inaugurated in 1618, obviated the further necessity of the Conduit,, which was probably taken down about this period or soon after.
In the Plan of London issued by Ryther of Amsterdam in 1604, we get an excellent view of the Conduit, which was a building of considerable size and importance.
Annals Of Fleet Street:
Streets South Of Fleet Street
Streets North Of Fleet Street
Temple Bar And Some Bankers
Inns Of Court And Chancery Clifford's Inn
Churches Of Fleet Street
Taverns And Coffee-houses Of Fleet Street
Famous Men And Women Of Fleet Street
Fleet Street And The Press