Long connected with the low end trade in words, Grub Street was once located on the site where the Barbican development now stands.

The street – its name possibly comes from a man called Grubbe or refers to a street infested with worms – was located in the parish of St Giles-without-Cripplegate outside the city wall. It northwards ran from Fore Street to Chiswell Street and had numerous alleys and courts leading off it.

Originally located in an area of open fields used for archery and so inhabited by bowyers and others associated with the production of bows and arrows, the relative cheapness of the land – due to its marshiness – later saw the Grub Street and its surrounds become something of a slum, an area of “poverty and vice”.

During the mid-17th century, it became known as a home for (often libellous or seditious) pamphleteers, journalists and publishers seeking to escape the attention of authorities.

And so began the association of Grub Street with writing “hacks”, paid line-by-line as they eked out a living in tawdry garrets (although how many actually worked in garrets remains a matter of debate). The word “hack”, incidentally, is derived from Hackney, and originally referred to a horse for hire but here came to refer to mediocre writers churning out copy for their daily bread rather than any sense of artistic merit.

Residents included Samuel Johnson (early in his career), who, in 1755 included a definition for it in his famous dictionary – “a street near Moorfields in London, much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet”, and 16th century historian John Foxe, author of the famous Book of Martyrs.

The street, which was also referenced by the likes of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift as a symbol of lowbrow writing, was renamed Milton Street (apparently after a builder, not the poet) in 1830. Part of it still survives today but most of it disappeared when the Barbican complex was created between the 1960s and 1980s.

PICTURE: John Rocque’s map of 1746 showing Grub Street.

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Where-is-it--#64

Can you identify where in London this picture was taken? If you think you can, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!

Well done to Jamie, this is indeed the tower of St Giles Cripplegate, located  just off Fore Street in the Barbican Estate. The church – the oldest building in the area – dates from about 1090 and was rebuilt in 1545 after it was destroyed by a fire. The new building survived the Great Fire of 1666 but didn’t fare so well in a fire of 1897 or in the Blitz when all but the outer shell was destroyed. Oliver Cromwell was married here in 1620 and the poet John Milton was buried here in 1674 (he had written much of Paradise Lost locally) (interestingly, his body was apparently exhumed about 100 years later, workman took some souvenirs including teeth and a rib). Others buried here include explorer Sir Martin Frobisher, John Foxe, author of The Book of Martyrs, and Bible translator Lancelot Andrews. For more on the church, see www.stgilescripplegate.com.