A reminder of Fleet Street’s tabloid past… and a rather creepy address
Demon Barbers and Scottish newspapers at 186 Fleet Street – the real story behind the office building.
Fleet Street is synonymous with Britain’s journalism industry, with most of the country’s newspapers having offices or headquarters in the area in the first half of the 20th century. While most of the papers have moved on to less central areas, such as Canary Wharf, Southwark and Kensington, there still lies some signs of their EC4 past in the heart of the City.
Standing at 186 Fleet Street is an old remainder of Fleet Street‘s tabloid heyday. No.186, along with 184 and 185 belong to DC Thomson – a Scottish publishing house and TV company. The Thomson family originally started out in shipping before branching out in publishing by buying the Dundee Courier and The Daily Argus in 1886. David Coupar Thomson (1861-1954) established DC Thomson in 1905 as the family’s publishing assets expanded.
Although DC Thomson were headquartered in Scotland, they established a London base to cover relevant stories. Prior to the current building, the site featured the street’s last early 17th century timber-framed buildings before they were demolished.
Throughout the 19th century, there was a four-storey Georgian terrace at No.186 beside St-Dunstan-in-the-West church, with various booksellers and publishers, such as Edward Williams; Henry Wood; and Bell & Daldy; based in the building. (See a London Metropolitan Archives photo of the building in 1883). The People’s Journal and People’s Friend were definitely operating out of the building by the 1890s. In 1913, permission was granted “for alterations to 186 Fleet Street to safeguard the external walls of St Dunstan’s Church”. The church’s vestry backed on to the exterior of No.186. Looking at the records, it suggests architects Meakin, Archer and Stoneham made significant alterations to the original Georgian structure, adding a pediment and finials, and changing the façade. The architecture practice had an office in Nicholas Lane near Monument and also designed the Strand Cinema Theatre in 1910 (it closed in 1953 and although the façade remains at No.428 Strand, the auditorium has been demolished). The practice changed in 1916 with Edgar Percy Archer and Frederic Martyn Stoneham remaining in partnership together after Meakin left.
Today, the façade of the building features glazed red bricks with stone dressings. Five of DC Thomson’s titles were written across the building in mosaic bands as a form of advertising. Four of the five titles are still in publication, with The People’s Journal having folded in 1986 after a 128 year history. The remaining publications are Dundee Courier (founded 1801); Dundee Evening Telegraph (founded 1877); Sunday Post (founded 1914); and People’s Friend (founded 1869). Two further storeys have been added as a mansard roof in more recent decades.
In 2014, DC Thomson extensively renovated their London and Dundee offices. However, just two years later, DC Thomson took the decision to close their editorial office, which meant the last journalists to work on Fleet Street were leaving. DC Thomson continues to own the building, with advertising staff remaining on site.
As well being the home to the last Fleet Street journalists, 186 Fleet Street is also where fictional murderer Sweeney Todd’s infamous barber shop was located. The Victorian villain was known to dispatch his victims into the cellar from his barber’s chair and slit their throats with his razor. His sidekick Mrs Lovett then baked their remains in meat pies.
- 186 Fleet Street, City of London, EC4A 2HS. Nearest station: Chancery Lane.
For more London history and architecture posts, click here.
Posted on 5 Jan 2019, in Architecture, History, London and tagged 1910s, Edwardian, Fleet Street. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on A reminder of Fleet Street’s tabloid past… and a rather creepy address.