Serving professional journalism since 1912

Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Journalists

Saving the iconic history of Fleet Street and British Journalism

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has written to the Secretary of State for planning, Robert Jenrick, calling on him to review a decision by the City of London Corporation to approve the demolition of iconic Fleet Street buildings and monuments which are part of the vital free press and newspaper heritage of London.

The front of Chronicle House designed and built for the newspaper trade in 1924 by Herbert, Ellis & Clarke. Image by Google Street View.

The proposed new Justice quarter of courts and police station involves the destruction of the entrance to number 78 Fleet Street which was the Institute’s first headquarters.

Institute President Professor Tim Crook says ‘This is a terrible desecration of the history and significance of a vital section of Fleet Street which has been the inspiration for media freedom everywhere in the world. The 1924 Chronicle House was built for and named after one of our great campaigning Liberal newspapers.

The Institute is also appalled that the new development involves the removal of the bust to the reforming newspaper editor and Parliamentarian T P O’Connor and with its memorable words ‘His pen could
lay bare the bones of a book or the soul of a statesman in a few vivid lines.’

Thomas Power O’Connor (5 October 1848 – 18 November 1929),
known as T. P. O’Connor. His bust by Francis William Doyle-Jones at the entrance to 78 Fleet Street. Image by P Ingerson Creative Commons.

T P O’Connor founded the London Evening Star newspaper in 1888 which campaigned for the rights of the homeless, poor and destitute. Its opposition to the Boer War and exposure of the unacceptable face of capitalism led to brokers burning it on the floor of the Stock Exchange.

O’Connor was a Fellow of the Institute and left a bequest which created a charity in his name that has benefited hundreds of journalists in need since his death in 1929.

Professor Crook says ‘There is no reason why the new development could not have imaginatively retained the architecture and symbolism of this memorable and famous section of Fleet Street, which has been the case with Beaverbrook’s Express building and the former headquarters of the Daily Telegraph group.’

Fleet Street at the beginning of the 20th Century with the Daily Chronicle newspaper and its headquarters between 72 to 78 Fleet Street on the right- a vital presence and aspect of the visual history of the centre of British journalism. Image: US Library of Congress & public domain.

The Institute is supporting the campaign by SAVE Britain’s Heritage which has launched a petition to persuade Mr Jenrick and the government to intervene.

Professor Crook is also writing to the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Minister for the Cabinet Office, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, because of their professional journalism background and the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden.

Professor Crook was actually employed by the City of London as a road sweeper in Fleet Street and its surrounding alleyways and adjoining squares.

He explained: ‘As a teenager while sweeping Fleet Street, I read the tribute to T.P. O’Connor, and the other commemorative plaques and statues dedicated to great journalists and writers such as Charles Dickens, Edgar Wallace, William Makepeace Thakeray and Dr Johnson and these drew me to my future 44 year career in journalism.’

He said: ‘It’s really heart-breaking this development means so many historic Fleet Street newspaper buildings will be lost. When you destroy such important memories and symbols of the past you also destroy the values and significance they bring to the present.’

The Irish born journalist T P O’Connor was the only Irish Nationalist Home Rule MP to be elected to Parliament from an English constituency and represented the Scotland Divison of Liverpool.

He was implacably anti-war and opposed violence to further political ends.

He created and launched The Star in London to fight for the thousands of homeless in London when the Embankment was crowded with penniless down-and-outs.

In 1888, in the districts of East London, Battersea and Deptford, 27 out of every 100 men were out of work. There was no welfare system and no local government apart from ecclesiastical vestries and the Metropolitan Board of Works.

The Star campaigned for and secured a London County Council.

Its first edition sold a record print-run of 130,000 papers all produced in one day from a basement in Stonecutter Street.

The Star was a halfpenny radical evening and one of the first key papers to use ‘New Journalism’ investigative practices to campaign for a better world.

O’Connor said it ‘would do away with the hackneyed style of obselete journalism’ and there would be no place in his paper for ‘the verbose and prolix articles’ of other newspapers.

The many faces of T. P O’Connor

(public domain and creative commons images)

O’Connor’s first editorial spoke for a spirit of journalism that endures into the present day:

In our view, the effect of every policy must first be regarded from the standpoint of the workers of the Nation, and of the poorest and most helpless among them. The charwoman who lives in St Giles’, the seamstress who is sweated in Whitechapel, the labourer who stands begging for work outside the dockyard gates in St George’s-in-the-East. These are the persons by whose conditions we shall judge the policy of the different political parties, and as it relieves or injures or leaves unhelped their position shall the policy by us be praised or condemned, helped or resisted.

T.P. O’Connor in the first editorial for The Star London evening newspaper in 1888.

The new development by Eric Parry Architects replaces Chronicle House and architecture representing Fleet Street’s journalistic past with a Court building that only represents law, prosecution and litigation.

It could be argued that freedom of expression and all the riches of democracy enhanced by a free and campaigning press are being annihilated by the brutalist symbolism of law and trial process.

Professor Crook explained: ‘A true ‘Justice quarter’ should combine the heritage and design of law and journalism as well as policing.’

The history of this part of Fleet Street is rooted in the most important Liberal and social consciousness newspapers published in Fleet Street during the 19th and 20th centuries: The Daily Chronicle, The Daily News and The Star in London.

The frontage which will be pulled down includes a plaque to Bradbury & Evans, printer and publisher of the novelist Charles Dickens. He founded The Daily News in 1845 which would merge with The Daily Chronicle in 1930 to become The News Chronicle.

This was the sister morning paper of The Star before they were both controversially sold to Associated Newspapers and effectively closed down in mergers with the Daily Mail and London Evening News in October 1960.

Fleet Street’s Chronicle Building is all that remains of the presence and contribution of these iconic Liberal titles in newspaper history: The Daily News, The Daily Chronicle, and The Star of London.

Former CIoJ President George Glenton was the courts correspondent for The News Chronicle .

The book he co-wrote with the paper’s news editor William Pattinson, The Last Chronicle of Bouverie Street, in 1963 describes how a much loved national newspaper with successful circulation of well over one million readers along with its London evening title were sacrificed on the Altar of economies of scale that benefited shareholders rather than the public interest.

The cover of ‘The Last Chronicle of Bouverie Street’ by George Glenton and William Pattinson. It features the front page of the last edition of The News Chronicle published Monday 17th October 1960.

After the Daily News and Chronicle merged in 1930 most of The News Chronicle‘s operations were based in Bouverie Street, though the Chronicle Building continued to be used by journalism publishers and most recently was the London headquarters of the French news agency Agence France Presse.

Left: Daily News in Bouverie Street in 1910 during the age of the horse and cart and Right: News Chronicle in Bouverie Street in 1935 with lorries delivering news print and vans distributing the printed papers. None of the buildings here have survived redevelopment.

The Daily Chronicle gave its name to the building fronting 72-78 Fleet Street. It had started as a halfpenny local weekly in Clerkenwell in 1856 and went daily with the Chronicle title in 1869.

The Daily Chronicle scooped the world with the first news that the General Strike of 1926 was being called off. Here the edition for 13th May follows up its ground-breaking journalism.

Because it challenged and embarrassed Prime Minister Lloyd George, he would buy it in 1918 with a Liberal Party syndicate for £1.6 million.

Daily Chronicle for 30th October 1918 including advice on how to avoid catching the deadly Spanish Flu virus during the influenza pandemic of that year. There are only days to go before the Armistice of 11th November 1918 and end of the First World War.

Through the 1920s its reporting and photojournalism were pioneering. It would usually devote its back page to a composite of the most striking news photographs of the day.

Photojournalism covering the last day and end of the General Strike published on the back page of the Daily Chronicle, 13th May 1926.

During the Second World War, the basement of Chronicle House provided a vital public shelter during the Blitz that devastated the nearby journalists’ church of St Bride’s.

The Chartered Institute of Journalists has no objection to the ambition of the City of London Corporation and every respect for the professionalism and achievement of Eric Parry Architects in terms of the vision for a new justice quarter in the City combining courts with policing.

What we would have hoped for though is the necessary incorporation and respect for journalism history and heritage in the project.

Fleet Street is the spiritual home of British journalism.

This needs to be respected and preserved.

We earnestly and sincerely urge a reconsideration of the design and effective inclusion of the existing Fleet Street facade, preservation and celebration of the memory of T.P O’Connor and his bust and inscription, and indeed, the plaque commemorating the printer and publisher of Dickens and Thackeray.

Left: Chronicle House 72-28 Fleet Street as it is now. Right: The design by Eric Parry Architects for the new Court Building and Justice quarter development for the City of London Corporation.

Images left to right: Google Street view & Eric Parry Architects.

A new Justice development needs to celebrate the social and public justice sought through journalism as much as in the law, and a recognition, to use the words of T.P. O’Connor, that ‘In journalism as in life it is the personal that interests mankind.’

Update 16th July 2021

The Institute received a letter from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government written on behalf the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick dated 8th July 2021 and stating:

Following your request to call in the above application on 3 June 21, I am writing to let you know the outcome. The Government remains committed to giving more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues and believe that planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible. The call-in policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.

The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in this application. He is satisfied that the application should be determined at a local level. I appreciate that this is not the preferred outcome for you, and I understand that there will be great disappointment as a result. It is however, now for the Council to determine this application and a copy of our letter to the Council is attached for your information.

In the light of this refusal to intervene, Institute President Professor Tim Crook has written a letter to the Lord Mayor of London and City of London Corporation asking for reconsideration of the development plans.

He says the Institute hopes the plans can be re-drawn to preserve the heritage of Fleet Street’s newspaper history.

In particular, Professor Crook is asking for the incorporation of the out-facing front of the Chronicle Building 72-78 Fleet Street, the preservation of the bust to T.P O’Connor and ‘an imaginative architectural solution that keeps the past with the present and future.’