Fleet Street begins at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, a street atop which sits St. Paul’s Cathedral. Fleet Street got its name from the nearby River Fleet, which now runs underground.
Just north of Fleet Street along the River Fleet, lay the Fleet Prison which incarcerated people for debt from medieval times until the 19th century.
Just south of Fleet
Street Henry VIII erected a royal residence, Bridewell Palace.
After his death his heir Edward VI gave it to the City of London. The City
Fathers used it for a house for punishing “disorderly women” and a school for
young lads. Interesting juxtaposition. One can only wonder about the
curriculum. Later, the palace was used as a general house of correction, and
soon all such establishments became known as “bridewells.” All that is left of
the palace is the gatehouse, which boasts a relief portrait of Edward VI, a king whose main claim to fame was dying young and giving way to Bloody Mary.
One of the most
popular spots on Fleet Street is just a short walk down a lane on the north side
of the street: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The pub, as its sign tells you, was
“Restored in 1667” after the Great Fire. Apparently, it has been untouched
since. Dr. Samuel Johnson of dictionary fame lived nearby on Gough Square, and
used to pop in here with friends. It’s dark, with all sorts of little nooks and
crannies for drinking, plotting, and whatever. Gough Square contains Johnson’s
house and a statue of his cat, Hodge. One of the surprises in the house is a
portrait of Johnson’s black servant, a former slave, Francis Barber. Johnson basically adopted Barber, educated him, and left him a large sum of money.
To the west of are many
buildings related to the law, as the ancient law schools and courts are nearby. At the end of Fleet Street, where it becomes The Strand, stands the massive neo-Gothic pile of the Royal Courts of Justice.
On an island in the street here lies St. Clement Danes church, made famous by the nursery rhyme, “Oranges and
lemons say the bells of St. Clements.” It sounds nice until you get to the last
couplet: “Here comes a candle to light you to bed, And here comes a chopper to
chop off your head!”