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What is Fleet Street?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 August 2016
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Fleet Street is a street in London that is intimately associated with British journalism, despite the fact that most British publishers have relocated to other areas. In addition to being linked with the British press, it's also home to a number of law firms, and many lawyers also have offices on and around the street. It is accessible by a number of London Underground stations, and its location is quite convenient, which explains why it was a hub of British publishing for so long.

This famous London street was established in the 1400s, running from the Fleet River, for which the street is named, to the Strand. At one time, the River Fleet marked the boundaries of the medieval city, and these boundaries were enforced with formidable walls designed to defend the city from invaders. The construction of the street allowed the city to expand dramatically, reflecting the ever-growing population of London.

Publishing on Fleet Street dates back to around 1500, when the first printers started setting up shop there. As often happens when a new trade arises in the city, printers clustered there after the first print shop was established, and the street quickly became known for being the powerhouse of the publishing industry. As a result, British newspapers naturally located themselves along the street as well, taking advantage of readily accessible presses and experienced printers.

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Through the 1980s, most British newspapers were headquartered on Fleet Street, and the name was synonymous with the press in Britain. Many of these news agencies were quite old and had a well-established traditional political and social slant. The British press has historically been quite diverse, with all sorts of journalists, editors, and other newspaper staffers rubbing shoulders there. Fleet Street was famous for a hard, fast culture, where journalists worked around the clock, dined out on notoriously generous expense accounts, and scooped each other whenever possible.

British publishing underwent a shift during the '80s, thanks to pressure from trade unions and international press conglomerates. As a result, many publishing companies established new headquarters in other locations, making room for the legal community to move in. Today, the term is used both to describe the British press and to describe people who worked and wrote during the heyday of Fleet Street's insular culture.

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