The extraordinary story of St Paul’s Churchyard – the area of London that was a centre 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 theatre 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 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.