An English author who originally hailed from the west of England (possibly Wales), William Baldwin wrote and published a number of works in the mid-1500s while living in London and has been credited, thanks to his satirical work, Beware the Cat, as being the author of the first English novel.

Baldwin is believed to have studied at Oxford prior to coming to London where, from 1547, he worked with the printer Edward Whitchurch – who had apparently set up shop at Wynkyn de Worde’s former printworks at the Sign of the Sun (now at the Stationer’s Hall, just off Ludgate Hill – pictured) – as a corrector.

Whitchurch also published Baldwin’s works including the popular Treatise of Moral Philosophy (1547) and Canticles or Balades of Salomon (1549), which was dedicated to a young King Edward VI and was a translation of the Biblical book, Song of Songs.

His other works included being the editor and key contributor to the hugely popular and influential Mirror for Magistrates (1554) which was something of a cautionary tale for public officials, and the Marvelous History Entitled Beware the Cat, Concerning Diverse Wonderful and Incredible Matters (aka Beware the Cat).

The latter book, which is an attack on Catholicism, tells the story of a priest who uses alchemy to talk to cats and finds that, despite his low opinion of them, they actually live according to strict rules (reflecting on the arbitrary nature of the “rules” which govern everyday life).

While Baldwin is believed to have finished the work during the last months of the reign of King Edward VI (he died on 6th July, 1553), the subsequent accession of Queen Mary I and her tougher line on the press freedoms led Baldwin to postpone publication until 1561 by which time Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne.

Around the same time as he completed this work, Baldwin is said to have assisted the Royal Master of Revels, George Ferrers, in preparing Christmas festivities at the Royal Court – this was an occasional role he would perform beside his work with Whitchurch.

Baldwin’s last known work was The Funerals of King Edward the Sixth (1560). In 1563, he is believed to have been ordained a deacon and stepped away from the printing trade. He served in various clerical roles (there is an account of him preaching at Paul’s Cross) before dying some time prior to 1st November, 1563.

(With thanks to John N King’s 2004 article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

 

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

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.