In the days when London had only one daily with a million readers it was calculated that at a certain time in its history the forests cut down for it would equal 17 Devons; today with its rivals it must have cut down forests as big as 17 Englands to spread its good and evil news. We must hope it is worth it.
Fleet Street has transformed the face of the nation and set millions of people reading and thinking. It has made a new world of learners and seekers after truth, but it has built up the curse of gambling in the world and fed it hour by hour. It has filled Fleet Street with tipsters and astrologers, fortune tellers and fortune hunters, and has made a kind of journalism which will pay a swindler coming out of goal £10,000 to tell his story to the public he has swindled.
It has made the Fleet Street Army the most remarkable company ever got together. Bishops and statesmen, writers and dreamers, pugilists and footballmen, half-wits and no-wits, film stars and actresses, freaks and clowns: the stupidest man ever born is worth as much in Fleet Street as the wisest. Any morning we wake the newest tomfool is in the smart stunt paper, ready for a million breakfast tables. Mice and men, it is all the same today.
‘London’, Arthur Mee. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, 1937.
The caption on the postcard is less cynical – “Fleet Street is famous the world over as the journalistic centre of London. In or near it are the offices of nearly all the great newspapers and periodicals, where hosts of busy toilers are at work both day and night.” A scribbled note underneath says “Bridge is a Railway and before this is Ludgate Circus. Traffic typical.”
The circus marks the end of Fleet Street. It is crossed by Farringdon Street, covering the
old River Fleet, which now discharges into the Thames from a pipe under Blackfriars Bridge. Arthur Mee writes “It seems never to have occurred to anyone that Ludgate Circus might be beautiful. Ever since the River Fleet was covered in on its approach to the Thames this supreme opportunity of a noble approach to St. Paul’s appears to have been thrown away.
Across the bottom of Ludgate Hill runs a railway which could easily be spared, serving two stations a few hundred yards apart.”
The bridge had been built in the 1860s by the London, Chatham & Dover Railway and was regarded as an eyesore by many from the start. It was finally “spared” (i.e. removed) in 1990. The last newspaper in Fleet Street moved out in 2016.