Known as the “Father of Fleet Street”, Wynkyn de Worde was key figure in the early use of the printing press in England.

Wynkyn_de_WordeBorn on the continent (candidates include Wœrth in Alsace in north-east France and Wœrden in The Netherlands), Wynkyn – whose name comes in various spellings, although it is said to have originally been Jan van Wynkyn – is believed to have become apprenticed to a printer in Cologne before meeting with famed pioneering English printer William Caxton in the early 1470s.

He apparently accompanied Caxton from Cologne to Bruges and then back to London in the late 1470s or early 1480s where he started working with Caxton at his premises in Westminster. During this period he is said to have lived with his English wife Elizabeth in a premises located with the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey (they are known to have attended St Margaret’s Church and even rented a pew there until Elizabeth’s death in 1498, after which Wynkyn is believed to have remarried.)

After Caxton’s death in 1492, Wynkyn took over his printing business and, around 1500, he relocated his office from Caxton’s Westminster premises to the “sign of the Sun” in Fleet Street near Shoe Lane – in fact, he is credited as being the first printer to locate in the street which becomes famously associated with publishing. There’s a plaque (pictured below), on the wall of the hall of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, located off Ave Maria Lane near St Paul’s Cathedral, commemorating the move (although Shoe Lane is located some distance away). Wynkyn later also ran a shop in St Paul’s Churchyard.

Wynkyn-de-Worde2While Wynkyn, like Caxton before him, relied on the patronage of the rich and famous (Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII among them), he also printed relatively inexpensive books in a bid to capture a wider market. In all he published more than 400 different books in at least 750 editions ranging from religious texts and poetry to fictional romantic works, educational textbooks and books aimed at children. He is noted for his use of woodcuts illustrations while his other claims to fame include being the first English printer to use italic type and the first to print music from moveable type.

De Worde died around 1534 but his legacy lives on through the mass media publishing of today (albeit not longer from Fleet Street). There is a Wynkyn de Worde Society based in Suffolk which is aimed at furthering the printing industry.

PICTURE: Wikipedia

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Renowned around the world for its associations with journalism (not to be mention, it’s desirability as a Monopoly property), the origins of Fleet Street’s name go back to a river which still runs through London today.

The River Fleet (the name Fleet is believed to come from a Saxon word, fleot, which means ‘flood’) these days actually runs under London, flowing from Hampstead Heath in the city’s north via sewers to spill into the Thames beneath Blackfriars Bridge.

A significant river in Roman times, by the medieval period the river had become polluted, thanks to the growth of industry along its banks. After the Great Fire of 1666, it was converted into the New Canal but this rather quickly fell out of use and sections of the river were covered for various urban projects from the 1730s onwards (the final sections, near the headwaters, were apparently covered in the 1870s).

Fleet Street, which takes its name from the river, has been known as such since medieval times and along its length, which runs east from where The Strand ends at Temple Bar to Ludgate Circus, is the location of a number of significant properties – from the Temple, formerly the property of the Knights Templar and now site of two Inns of Court, through to St Bride’s Church, St Dunstan-in-the-West and several old taverns, including Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

The street’s association with publishing goes back to the early 1500s when Wynkyn de Worde, apprentice to William Caxton, set up shop there and other printers and publishers followed. London’t first daily newspaper, The Daily Courant, was published there from 1702 and the street subsequently became home to many national newspapers (the press in the UK is still referred to as ‘Fleet Street’ although these days no newspapers are based there – the last media outlet, Reuters, moved out in 2005).

There have recently been suggestions that the river Fleet could once again be uncovered as part of a bid to revitalise London’s “lost” waterways.