Fleet Street

2008/9 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Media

Fleet Street road sign
Fleet Street road sign

Fleet Street is a street in London, England named after the River Fleet. It was the home of the British press until the 1980s. Even though the last major British news office, Reuters, left in 2005, the street's name continues to be used as a metonym for the British national press.

History and location

Fleet Street in 1890
Fleet Street in 1890

Fleet Street began as the road from the City of London to the City of Westminster. The length of Fleet Street marks the expansion of the City in the 14th century. At the east end of the street is where the river Fleet flowed against the mediæval walls of London; at the west end is the Temple Bar which marks the current city limits, stretched to that point when the land and property of the Knights Templar were acquired.

To the south lies the complex of buildings known as The Temple, formerly the property of the Knights Templar, which houses two of the four Inns of Court, the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple. There are many lawyers' offices in the vicinity.

Ludgate Circus
Ludgate Circus

Publishing started in Fleet Street around 1500 when William Caxton's apprentice, Wynkyn de Worde, set up a printing shop near Shoe Lane, while at around the same time Richard Pynson set up as publisher and printer next to St Dunstan's church. More printers and publishers followed, mainly supplying the legal trade in the four Law Inns around the area. In March 1702, the world's first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was published in Fleet Street from premises above the White Hart Inn.

At Temple Bar to the west, as Fleet Street crosses the boundary out of the City of London, it becomes the Strand; to the east, past Ludgate Circus, it evolves into Ludgate Hill. The nearest tube stations are Temple, Chancery Lane, and Blackfriars and it is very close to City Thameslink station.

Fleet Street is a location on the London version of the Monopoly board game.

Fleet Street is also famous for the fictional barber Sweeney Todd who was an early example of a fictional serial killer, the character appears in various English language works starting in the mid-19th century. There are some records that show he actually existed.

Present day

Fleet Street in 2005
Fleet Street in 2005

Fleet Street is now more associated with the Law and its courts and barristers' chambers, many of which are in alleys off Fleet Street itself, almost all of the newspapers thereabouts having moved to Wapping and Canary Wharf. The former offices of The Daily Telegraph, drawn upon as a source by Evelyn Waugh in his comic novel Scoop, are now the London headquarters of the investment bank Goldman Sachs. C. Hoare & Co, England's oldest privately owned bank, has had its place of business here since 1690. An informal measure of City takeover business employed by financial editors is the number of taxis waiting outside such law firms as Freshfields at 11pm: a long line is held to suggest a large number of mergers and acquisitions in progress.

The French-owned international news and photo agency Agence France Presse is still based in Fleet Street, as is the London office of D. C. Thomson & Co., creator of The Beano. Since 1995 Fleet Street has been the home of Wentworth Publishing, an independent publisher of newsletters and courses. In 2006 the Press Gazette returned to Fleet Street. The Associated Press and The Jewish Chronicle remain close by. The Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph have recently returned to the centre of London after exile downriver in Canary Wharf.

Child & Co Bankers, one of the country's oldest private banks and owned by the Royal Bank of Scotland Group plc, is based at 1 Fleet Street.


The Fleet Street dragon
The Fleet Street dragon

The term Fleet Street is also used to indicate that a journalist is a member of the generation that worked on newspapers prior to their move away from its vicinity, and is synonymous with a bibulous, collegial tradition characterised by such figures as Paul Callan and Brian Vine. Gossip was exchanged over liquid lunches at such hostelries as El Vino, now a haven for lawyers of the Rumpole school. Liquid dinners were equally familiar, editors often dining in the Grill of the Savoy Hotel, returning about 10pm to see the first editions of their papers roll off the presses. These were then transported by road to railway stations to catch the night mail expresses to far-flung corners of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

A significant mythology has accreted around Fleet Street, its characters, their scoops – and imaginative expense accounts. The most durable concern, however, stories that were not printed, usually on account of Britain's strict libel laws. Few of the novels referenced below constitute exaggerations, the truth being, in the cliché of the sub-editors on the back benches, "stranger than fiction". According to journalistic lore it was not editors who constituted the heart of Fleet Street but diary writers and gossip columnists, whose stories would often make the front page: the exploits of Diana Princess of Wales provided frequent examples of diary stories transmuted into news and even news features.


The content of a Fleet Street newspaper is influenced by its proprietor, editor, journalists and columnists. Many of the owners achieved notoriety, notably Lord Northcliffe, Lord Beaverbrook and Robert Maxwell, all of whom used their papers to support their political agenda, an approach still employed by some present day proprietors. Generally newspapers are run on more business-like lines today, with some expectation of profit, or at least manageable losses. Ownership was long considered an honour for which the proprietor was expected to pay: with it came influence, and if exercised responsibly, an honour usually followed.

A number of great editors are still recalled and their dictates followed long after being summoned to the "great newsroom in the sky" as one obituarist put it. They include Arthur Christianson of the Daily Express and Sir John Junor of the Sunday Express. Of living editors the brief reign of Janet Street-Porter at the Independent on Sunday is still the subject of many anecdotes, some of them true. Each editor is supported by department heads such as the foreign editor, news editor, picture editor and chief sub-editor, all of whom attend the morning conference to determine the day's news agenda. Rule number one of Fleet Street journalism is that "The Editor's decision is final". Unless, of course, the proprietor intervenes, as Rupert Murdoch is recorded by his biographers as doing on a number of occasions.

By consent the elite of journalists are its foreign and war correspondents, of whom there are many fewer than formerly. There is also a highly paid category of experienced writers, the "firemen", who are dispatched to crisis venues to report, these days often via satellite telephones. The stock of political editors stands lower than hitherto, having been the subject of both political and academic criticism for becoming too close to government press officers, notably Alastair Campbell. The latter are accused of manipulating the political news agenda - "spinning" - by feeding stories, sometimes slanted, to certain favoured newspapers and sympathetic correspondents thereon. Some of the most highly paid journalists are the diary editors and show business reporters, whose contacts are highly valued. Crime correspondents rank lower in the hierarchy along with sports reporters, and are remunerated accordingly.

Certain reporters have achieved legendary status, their adventures still recounted admiringly. They include Bill Deedes, immortalised by Evelyn Waugh, the Anglo-Indian gossip columnist Nigel Demptster, who purported to be an Australian, fellow diarist Jan Reid who claimed to be the grandchild of Queen Victoria, the Daily Express's New York correspondent Brian Vine, known as "El Vino", showbiz interviewer Paul Callan who slept, inter alia, with his little black book containing the private telephone numbers of Cary Grant and the Pope, and profiler Geoff "The Hatchet" Levy.

Columnists are not necessarily journalists, some being TV personalities like Terry Wogan, retired police chiefs, or politicians who have failed to achieve the highest office. Examples of the latter would be the self-confessed "Champagne Socialist" Woodrow Wyatt and the unsuccessful Conservative leadership candidate Michael Portillo. Each newspaper will also usually have as columnists one perky blonde housewife, and a polemicist tasked to take a contrarian view on the week's events, plus an agony aunt to advise readers on their sexual problems, preferably in explicit detail.

There is a Fleet Street tradition of retaining a corpus of outside experts to pontificate on major issues. Among the most frequently employed are military historians like Corelli Barnett and Nigel West whose speciality is security and intelligence. Leading academics like the historian Niall Ferguson and the philosopher Roger Scruton are valued for their ability to summarise both sides of an argument and reach a persuasive conclusion compatible with newspaper's standpoint - all within a thousand words.

Editorial policy

Unlike the United States where national newspapers do not exist in the European sense, and the liberal or conservative perspective of some major newspapers is not openly declared, Fleet Street has enjoyed the diversity of over a dozen national daily and Sunday newspapers with differing political stances. Indeed these newspapers are quite open about their biases: a reader of The Guardian would be well aware of the liberal sympathies of its editorials, that of the Daily Telegraph of its support for Conservative policies. Other right-leaning papers include the Daily Mail and more recently the Daily Express, whereas The Independent is considered to follow a more politically correct line. The Daily Mirror aligns itself with the trades unions and Labour Party-supporting working classes. The positions adopted by the Times and, more surprisingly, the Financial Times have in recent years been centre-left and generally supportive of New Labour. The policy of the Daily Sport was characterised by one commentator as "pro-nipple". The Sunday versions of these papers follow the editorial line of their daily sister.

Fiction and drama about Fleet Street

  • A. N. Wilson: My Name is Legion (2003).
  • Amanda Craig: A Vicious Circle (1996) (about a fictitious British newspaper tycoon and the world of publishing in general).
  • Michael Wall: Amongst Barbarians (1989) (Similar to Lily d'Abo in My Name Is Legion, a white British working class couple takes money from a tabloid in order to be able to help their son).
  • Howard Brenton and David Hare: Pravda (1985) (about a Rupert Murdoch-like character).
  • A. N. Wilson: Scandal (1985) (About how a political scandal is created by the tabloid press).
  • Michael Frayn: Towards the End of the Morning (1967) (a comic novel about failed and failing journalists in a 1960s newspaper)
  • Evelyn Waugh: Scoop (1938) (about a thinly disguised British Newspaper, The Daily Beast, and one of its contributors who is sent to an African country at war called Ishmaelia, based upon the author's experiences in Abyssinia)
  • Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler: Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Fleet Street is the setting of the operatic musical, which is fictitious, though possibly based on a true series of incidents.)
  • Pete Townshend: " Street in the City" (song)
  • The Day The Earth Caught Fire: A 1961 science fiction film, starring Janet Munro and Leo McKern where concurrent Russian and U.S. nuclear tests alter the Earth's orbit, sending it spinning towards the Sun. Much of the impending disaster is seen from the perspective of staff at the Fleet Street office of the Daily Express.
  • John Davidson: Fleet Street Eclogues (1893) and A Second Series of Fleet Street Eclogues (1896).
  • Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities: (Setting of the Tellson's Bank is on Fleet Street).
  • The opening sequence of Children of Men is set on Fleet Street. The protagonist, portrayed by Clive Owen, leaves a café which then explodes in act of terrorism.
  • The fictional villain Sweeney Todd lived on Fleet Street.


  • Fritz Spiegl: Keep Taking the Tabloids. What the Papers Say and How They Say It (1983).
  • A. N. Wilson: London: A Short History (2004).
  • Alan Watkins: A Short Walk Down Fleet Street.

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