This post is intended for use with the Literary London walking tour and smart learning activities.
Paternoster Row was the literary heart of London because of its proximity to St Paul’s. From the Medieval period Biblical and liturgical material was available here, and from the 16th and 17th century the area was a major centre of the publishing trade. Entries in the diaries of Samuel Pepys, from 1660 to 1669, make reference to him visiting booksellers in St Paul’s Church Yard, which backed onto Paternoster Row. Much of the country’s publishing history was lost in the Great Fire of 1666. Similarly, the Blitz of 1940 destroyed 300 years of literary history located here since the Great Fire.
The Chapters Coffee House was built in 1715. The weekly newspaper, ‘The Connoisseur’, recorded in 1754 that Chapters was the place where, ‘Those encouragers of literature and not the least judges of merit the booksellers’ held meetings and functions in the rooms (Clayton, 2003) […] Major publishing ventures started at Chapters such as the commissioning of Samuel Johnson’s ‘Lives of the Poets’ in 1777 […]
The writer Oliver Goldsmith had a seat of honour at Chapters [and] refers to the customers [as follows]:
‘here are your thorough bred working authors of every description – your scissor men, your paste men, your transportation men and in one word, men competent to the composition of history, divinity, law, ethics, poetry, geography, astronomy, astrology and mathematics’ (Clayton, 2003).
Goldsmith was part of a group called ‘The Club’ which included Samuel Johnson, David Garrick, Thomas Percy, Edmund Burke and James Boswell; they were known to meet regularly at Chapters. The poet Thomas Chatterton, who found no favour in publishing in Paternoster Row, frequented Chapter’s by acknowledgment in his letters dated from the coffee house,
‘I am quite familiar with Chapters Coffee House and know all the geniuses there’ (Thornbury,1878).
Also notable is Anne and Charlotte Brontë’s visit in 1848, as related by Nick Holland:
‘…Charlotte recalled the Chapter Coffee House on Paternoster Row. It was here that she, Emily and their father Patrick had stayed as they made their journey to Brussels in February 1842, and a location that Patrick had stayed at himself as a young man. Hailing a cab, Charlotte asked to be taken there; it was quite simply the only location in London that she knew. Once there, Anne found the location very much to her liking. It was exactly opposite St Paul’s Cathedral, and she could hear the bells ringing and look out at the magnificent building from her window…’ (Holland, 2017)
Temple Bar Gate
Walk a few steps further west and towards the front of the Cathedral and to the right you will see the entrance to the remodelled Paternoster Square and Temple Bar Gate. Commissioned by Charles II from Christopher Wren and built between 1669 and 1672, the arch originally stood much further west at Temple Bar on Fleet Street, which was effectively the new entrance to the city as it expanded westwards. The arch was dismantled in 1878 and repositioned in Paternoster Square in 2004.
Daniel Defoe was pilloried at Temple Bar Gate in 1703. Arrested in May, charged with sedition for writing The Shortest Way with the Dissenters (1702) he spent three days in the pillory in late July, followed by an indefinite stay in Newgate. Pilloried prisoners could die from injuries from the objects thrown by passers by. Defoe wrote A Hymn to the Pillory in prison, and it was published on the first day of his punishment. The mood of Defoe’s Hymn struck a chord with the public and they supported him, throwing nothing but flowers.
Aspects of this place to think about
What effect did Paternoster Row and publishing have on the world? What was the role of print media in those days?
- Which locations do you associate with print and publishing? Why?
- The role of newspapers, journalism and cartoons in the history of literature
- The role of women in print and publishing in London
- Look at the surrounding architecture and think about the destruction of the Great Fire and the Blitz
Content available at the location, about the place or area
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