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Visitors to London discover that they can walk Fleet Street in ten minutes, tops. It’s less than 500 yards, end to end. The wider working area known as “Fleet Street” is not even one square mile: bounded by Holborn in the north and the River Thames to the south; to the west by the Strand and with all the grandeur of St Paul’s Cathedral to the east.
Now most people – not only most British people but a vast audience of English speakers around the world – will still think of newspapers when they hear the words Fleet Street. But the printing presses here were clickety-clacking away for over two centuries before London saw the launch of its very first newspaper in 1702.
With so many of the first English bibles and dictionaries printed up its shadowy passages and courtyards, it’s not surprising that Fleet Street’s cobbled alleys, with their many pubs and coffee houses, became a magnet for the leading literary lights over five centuries – many of whom came into Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, the area’s most famous pub. There’s a lovely sign over the door of this old tavern, proclaiming that it was “Rebuilt in 1667” – before most of America was even built for the first time.
As our colonial cousins might well say: how incredibly cool is that?