In 1702, England’s first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, appeared on Fleet Street. This was quickly followed by more and more publications, until the street’s name had become a synonym for the English press. The name of the street is derived from the river Fleet, a major traffic route in the Middle Ages, which flowed along here until it was built over in 1765 (it now runs invisibly beneath the surface). Until the mid-1980s, the buildings along Fleet Street echoed with the thunder of the printing presses; today, however, nearly all publications have moved out of the city center, notably to the Isle of Dogs, where there’s room to implement new printing technologies. Still, a number of newspapers, publishing houses and press agencies have retained their city offices here. The Daily Telegraph headquarters, for example, are opposite St. Bride’s Church, which due to its location is the press’s place of worship. It houses a small museum dedicated to the history of Fleet Street.
That this area has traditionally been a forum not only for the labors of journalists, but also for the work and discussions of sundry literati who convened in its pubs and coffeehouses, is reflected in the sobriquet the Street of Ink. The Cheshire Cheese, a cozy, authentically restored pub from the 17th century, is supposed to have been frequented not only by Dr. Johnson and his friend and biographer James Boswell, but also by Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.
A little way down Fleet Street towards the Strand, on the right, are Gough Square and Dr. Johnson’s House. No. 17, a wooden gate with later masonry above it, is the entrance into the legal district of The Temple. On the first floor of this house, which dates back to before the Great Fire of London, you can visit the Pepys Exhibition, dedicated to the outstanding 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys. In his diaries Pepys gives a detailed description of the course and consequences of the Great Fire; they also constitute a fascinating insight into the society of the time, and into Pepys’ own love life.
Go through the gate and you will come to two of London’s four venerable Inns of Court, the Inner and the Middle Temple. The two others, Gray’s Inn and Lincoln’s Inn, are on the other side of Fleet Street. Formerly the principal schools for the study of the law, the Inns still determine who is admitted to the bar and are the examining bodies for law, although most law students now study elsewhere. Each Inn has its own chambers, gardens, refectories and classrooms. The Inner and Middle Temples share a church, the Temple Church, which was built by the Knights Templar in 1185 and restored by Wren in 1682. Famous former students include Charles Dickens, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Thackeray.
Returning to Fleet Street, you’ll see the Temple Bar Memorial on your left. This dragon-topped stone monument marks the boundary between the City and Westminster. This is the point where the Queen must halt when making official visits; the Lord Mayor awaits her there and gives her official permission to proceed. An arched gateway once stood here, with spikes on which the heads of executed criminals were impaled as a gruesome attempt at deterrence.