Did you know that St Bride’s is the eighth church on the Fleet St site, with over 1500 years of continuous Christian worship? That it housed the first movable type printing press in 1500? That the steeple is the highest Sir Christopher Wren ever built? That the same steeple was the inspiration for the first tiered wedding cake? 😉
Neither did I know any of that until, one fine day, I stumble my painful, blistered feet into its cool, renovated gospel (western) aisle.
travelswithadiplomat has bought new shoes and made the fateful decision to walk from St Paul’s to Aldwych. I get half way there before having to agonisingly buy some compeed blister plasters and stagger into a pew to remove offending shoes, socks and apply the plasters.
As blessed relief kicks in I sat up and take stock of my temporary housing. I know I am near Salisbury Court, where Samuel Pepys had been born in 1632. In fact, St Bride’s was a church I’d paid attention to one hot, languid school day. Our history teacher was very interested in printing and his enthusiasm had stuck in the mind of at least one recalcitrant boy. I recall that Richard Grafton had printed the first official English-language Bible for King Henry VIII in 1539. It comes as no surprise, therefore, as I wander painfully around, to see that Thomas Berthelet was interned here; that its vicar in 1543 (John Cardmaker) had been burned as a heretic in the time of Queen Mary.
Henry VIII had built a palace close to this church, on lands that once belonged to the Knights of St John. Edward VI, his ill-fated son (died young of tuberculosis) had given the palace to the City of London to become a school. That school had then migrated to Witley and been renamed King Edward. How do I know this? Because we used to beat the blighters at rugger back in the late 80s; that school being just down the road from my scholastic idyll near Petworth. That school we’d beaten time and again had, in a convoluted way, exacted revenge by tearing skin from my heels thirty years later.
I limp out of the splendidly long nave and spot steps leading to its under-bower. There is a medieval corridor, at the far end a small crypt done as a luminescent green altar. Under the epistle (eastern) aisle is a museum. The old Roman pavement can be seen and the original foundations; it is replete with large screens of information, pinned earthenware, pottery, bronze and iron objects – all found during excavations. A fascinating underbelly of London to be seen. I move slowly back up the stairs. The blister plasters aren’t working as well as they need to. I pause as I go to exit through doors in the narthex, spot a very shiny, golden plaque…
It tells me that in 1476 William Caxton set up the first printing press in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, later his assistant, Wynkyn de Worde, inherited the business. In 1500 he moved the press to a site beside St Bride’s where he printed school books and cheap editions of popular works. His rivals were Richard Pynson and Thomas Berthelet. It was an ideal spot because in Shoe Lane nearby were bookbinders, clergy and lawyers to buy his books. Fleet Street expanded, by the 17th century being the epicentre of London’s publishing and ‘news-books’. The Daily Courant was London’s first regular newspaper.
Time to hobble up to Aldwych…at least the sun is out.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?