The proposed Fleet Street Heritage Sundial project

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Backgrond - the Struggle for the Freedom of the Press

The Freedom of the Press is something rather taken for granted nowadays, but it is worth a reminder that it was not always so, and that it had to be fought for. As recently as the 1530s, all printed matteer had to be approved by the Privy Council before publication. Similar restrictions applied up to the Civil War in 1640. Under the Commonwealth, there were no restrictions, but they were imposed again in 1662, with the Printing Act. Benjamin Harris was sent to prison for defaming the King's authority. Magazines began to appear, and the first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant was published in 1702. But the gvernment bcame unhappy about the increasing popularity of newspapers and started to impose a tax, initially of a penny a sheet. In 1762, John Wilkes started a newspaper, the North Briton, to criticise the government led by the Earl of Bute and was charged with seditious libel. He spent 22 months in prison. The tax was raised to three pence a copy in 1802 and to four pence in 1815, in a deliberate attempt to reduce the circulation of newspapers critical of the war with France. in In1819, Richard Carlile started publishing The Republican Later that year, he was convicted of blasphemy and seditious libel and sent to prison. The stamp tax was reduced to one penny in 1836 and was finally abolished in 1851, and this enabled to newspaper industry, mainly based around Fleet Street, to flourish and develop into the powerful force we know today.

Fleet Street Heritage Sundial - Project Outline

For more than two centuries, the term "Fleet Street " has been synonymous with the newspaper industry in Britain. Now,, all the newspapers which used to be published in the neighbourhood of Fleet Street have moved to other locations, leaving little trace of their passing.

Fortunately, there is a large blank wall on the corner of Bouverie Street and Fleet Street, which has had nothing on it for sixty years or more. It is ideally suited to have a sundial on it, and, because the wall faces a few degrees north of East, the hour lines on the sundial will be nearly parallel, so that it would be possible to fit the mastheads of 5 or 6 of the newspapers that used to be published nearby

The junction of Fleet Street and Bouverie Street - see map
A draft design for the sundial at the top half of the wall
The selection of newspaper mastheads will be made at a later stage


East-facing sundials do not, of course, have sunshine on them in the afternoon, so this sundial would have the sun on it for most of the morning. Later in the day, and even at night, the sundial would still be clearly visible. The image above shows the face of the proposed sundial, which would be placed on the top half of the wall. The selection of the newspaper mastheads is purely illustrative, and will depend on which newspapers wish to be represented.

The Republican is shown on the top line, because it was actually published from this address in Fleet Street by Richard Carlile, famous for being the only advocate of the freedom of the press who was sent to prison for it. (It was published between 1819 and 1828).

The Pall Mall Gazette was the first national daily newspaper. It was founded in 1865 and amalgamated with the Evening Standard in 1923. It ran a number of radical campaigns, most notably against child prostitution.

. The other slots will be filled by the mastheads of some of the newspapers that are still published, though now printed in other locations.

The project will be expensive to realise since the sundial must be made out of very durable materials, and will require scaffolding, and possibly footpath closures. The City authorities have said that they support the project in principle. It is planned to approach some major national newspapers to ask for financial support (though the industry is currently experiencing tough conditions with declining advertising revenues). It is hoped that other major local employers (particularly financial institutions, legal and accounting firms) will be willing to make contributions. The website will have facilities for individual contributions. We will be asking public bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund to contribute to the cost of the project

 

The other sundials in central London designed by Piers Nicholson are shown on our designer page


If you like the idea of this project, and hope that it will go ahead, please add your name to our list of supporters. To see the list of supporters so far, please click here