The extraordinary story of St. Paul’s Churchyard—the area of London that was a center of social and intellectual life for more than a millennium
St. Paul’s Cathedral stands at the heart of London, an enduring symbol of the city. Less well known is the neighborhood at its base that hummed with life for over a thousand years, becoming a theater for debate and protest, knowledge and gossip.
For the first time Margaret Willes tells the full story of the area. She explores the dramatic religious debates at Paul’s Cross, the bookshops where Shakespeare came in search of inspiration, and the theater where boy actors performed plays by leading dramatists. After the Great Fire of 1666, the Churchyard became the center of the English literary world, its bookshops nestling among establishments offering luxury goods.
This remarkable community came to an abrupt end with the Blitz. First the soaring spire of Old St. Paul’s and then Wren’s splendid Baroque dome had dominated the area, but now the vibrant secular society that had lived in their shadow was no more.
Margaret Willes, formerly publisher at the National Trust, is author of several books, including The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn, Reading Matters, and The Gardens of the British Working Class. She lives in London.
“It was the book trade for which St. Paul’s Churchyard became famous. . . . Willes, a liveryman of the Stationers’ Company, relishes this hive of industry; it is when she writes of the book trade that her own book comes alive.”—Paul Lay, Sunday Telegraph
“Wonderfully engaging. . . . Willes gives a diverting account of searing political pamphlets . . . and the first printing of literary sensations such as Lyrical Ballads, with walk-on appearances from Charlotte Brontë and Mary Wollstonecraft. . . . Londoners have taken this territory for granted for too many decades, and Willes is here to put that right.”—Sinclair McKay, Spectator
“This book is an exceptional compendium and encyclopedic survey of historic events and actions. . . . Willes writes in a pleasing, clear, and lively style.”—Seventeeth-Century News
“Invariably accurate, clear and fascinating. . . . [Willes] discovers infinite historical riches in this one small patch of London, and delivers them to the reader without complication or prejudice.”—Robert Gray, Catholic Herald
“St Paul’s Cathedral survived the Blitz, but the area surrounding it was erased together with its vibrant community. Margaret Willes’s elegant writing, beautifully illustrated, makes it present to us once again.”—Alex Faludy, The Tablet
“As this engagingly written book reveals, the area around the cathedral has a discrete but fascinating history that illuminates the story of London as a whole. . . . The author has spent her career in publishing and the care with which this book is written and structured reflects that experience.”—John Goodall, Country Life
“In this new book, handsomely illustrated and produced by Yale University Press . . . the story moves briskly forward, enlivened by colourful anecdotes, from Medieval London to the events surrounding Occupy and the erection of a protest camp in 2011.”—Richard Chartres, Church Times
“Whether or not you have London ancestors, this is a fascinating look at the history of London from a new and different angle. . . . There are plenty of interesting illustrations to help bring the story to life, as do the lively and evocative descriptions of a now lost part of London’s history.”—Family Tree Magazine
“There is no doubt that this book is a significant contribution to the histories of London and of print . . . There has long been a need for this book and Willes has fulfilled that need excellently."—Joe Saunders, The Local Historian
“Margaret Willes offers a unique exploration of a lost world, centring on the publishing community which once clustered around St Paul’s Cathedral. Her fascinating book spans centuries, introduces an array of memorable characters, and offers important insights into an enthralling aspect of London’s history.”—Margarette Lincoln, author of London and the 17th Century
“When St Paul’s Churchyard was destroyed by the Luftwaffe in December 1940, the “Second Great Fire of London” obliterated centuries of London publishing history overnight. Now Margaret Willes offers us a thrilling and evocative resurrection of the stories buried beneath the ashes.”—Jerry White, author of The Battle of London, 1939–45
“A revelatory new insight into a part of London that I thought I knew well. I couldn’t put it down.”—Adrian Tinniswood, author of His Invention so Fertile: A Life of Christopher Wren
“This wonderfully evocative book recreates the business and bustle of an area that was the vibrant heart of London for over a millennium and the historic centre of the nation’s literary life. Once again, Margaret Willes demonstrates her gift for blending scholarly research and entertaining anecdote.”—George Goodwin, author of Benjamin Franklin in London
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