Victorian London - Districts - Streets - Paternoster Row

The Row, as it is called by way of pre-eminence, is the nucleus of the literary neighbourhood ... How the literary man delights to haunt this place ... He pauses, perhaps, before the immense emporium of the Longmans, with its fourteen windows in front, its little Ionic pilasters, and its iron crane, emblematic of the very heavy commodities in which the proprietors are sometimes compelled to deal.  ... Next to Longmans, the literary peripatetic will be attracted by the great extent of premises occupied by Whittaker and Co., extending half way down Ave-Maria Lane, and across to the neat but small quadrangle, with its solitary tree and little patch of grass, where the rich and influential Company of Stationers have their unpretending hall: the extensive mart for the lighter artillery of literature, under the control of Messrs Simpkin and Marshall, will also arrest his attention.

The World of London, by John Murray, in Blackwoods Magazine, July 1841

    We pass through Newgate-street and turn to the right into Paternoster-row, a narrow street, from times immemorial the manufactory of learning, where the publishing trade is carried on in dingy houses, and where it runs its anarchical career without the benefit of a censor.
“From times immemorial !“ That is a hasty expression. There was a time when Paternoster-row harboured the grocery trade of the city, while the upper stories were taken by Marchandes des Modes and visited by all the beauty and elegance of old London. But gaiety had to give way to religion, and Marchandes des Modes, taking flight to more modern streets, were followed by the rosary-girls under Henry VIII. Luther’s translation of the Bible was publicly burnt in this neighbourhood, and soon after warrants were issued against those who had burnt it. So varied have been the applications of this narrow dusky lane, in which, to this day, the traveller may read an inscription on a stone tablet, announcing that Paternoster-row is the highest point of ancient London.
    In our own days this street is to London what Leipzig is to Germany. The departments of the publishing trade are, however, kept more strictly separate. The publishers of Bibles, who send forth the Scriptures in volumes of all sizes, from the smallest to the largest, and who do business in all the civilised and barbarous languages on the face of the earth, exclude all vain and secular literature, such as tales, novels, plays, poems, and works of history. While the publishers of such like works in their turn, generally fight shy of tourists and travellers whose works belong to departments of another class of publishing firms. Juvenile books form a very important department of the publishing trade; and this department, like the infant schools, is entirely devoted to the instruction and amusement of the rising generation. So strenuous are the exertions of those publishers to entice the babes and infants of England into the treacherous corners of the A, B, C, and of the higher sciences, that their solicitude in this respect appears almost touching to those who fancy that all this trouble is taken and all this ingenuity expended, purely and simply for the interest of philanthropy, and of good sound education.
    We ought not to stop too long in Paternoster-row. Our presence is required elsewhere. But still we must for the benefit of German mothers and publishers, state the fact, that of late years the publishers of Paternoster-row have hit upon the plan of printing the rudiments of all human science on strong white canvass. English children, in the dawn of their young existence, are as essentially practical as German children. They have an instinctive aversion to all printed matter. The A, B, C, is to them the first fruit from the tree of knowledge, the key to the mysteries and woes of life. Therefore do the children of England detest the primers; they soil them, tear them, roll the leaves, in short treat them with as much scorn and contumely, as though the annihilation of a single copy would lead to the extinction of the whole species.
    The practical spirit of English speculation meets this prejudice on its own ground. The primers, or A, B, C, books as they are called in Germany, are printed on canvass, and each leaf is moreover hemmed, for all the world like a respectable domestic pocket-handkerchief. For children are sagacious, and but for the hemming the rudiments of science would, under their hands, be converted into lint. As it is, even the most obstreperous of little boys is powerless in the presence of such a canvass book. And, supposing, he be uncommonly obstinate, and that after great exertion he succeeds in running his finger through one of the leaves; even then he is foiled, for his mother darns it as she would an old stocking; and the monster book appears again as clean and immaculate as a diplomatic note. And the upshot of the affair is that the poor little boy must go without the usual allowance of Sunday pudding.

London is the greatest market for books in the world. Not only does it supply England, but also Asia, Africa, Australia, and those island colonies of the great ocean, in which English daring and English enterprise have established the Anglo-Saxon race, and with it the English language. About 15,000 persons are employed in the printing, binding, and in the sale of books. Their mechanical aids and machinery have been brought to an astounding height of perfection, and an edition of a thousand copies in octavo requires but ten or twelve hours for the binding.

Max Schlesinger, Saunterings in and about London, 1853

see also Charles Manby Smith's The Little World of London - click here (1)  (2)

Paternoster Row.—The head-quarters of the book trade is by no means such in the sense in which the phrase is commonly “understanded of the people.” In the latter part of the last and the first part of the present century, “the Row” was the literary heart of London, and its history is bound up with that of the great publishing firms and the great literary enterprises of that period. Here was issued the “public Advertiser,” with the famous letters of Junius, and here, too, among a host of other well-known ventures, the “London Magazine,” the “Annual Register,” and the “Encyclopaedia” of Ephraim Chambers. But nowadays the publishing stream has worn for itself fresh channels. The Row is still the head-quarters of the trade to the trade, but not to the public at large. In point of fact only two or three of the leading publishing firms have their establishments here — one of these being really a Scotch house, with its head-quarters in Edinburgh. The bulk of the great publishers are to be found in or about Piccadilly, Regent-street, or the Strand. As a rule, however, these only deal directly with their authors the greater portion of their sales being carried on through the medium of two or three great book merchants who supply the retail trade, and whose location in “the Row” makes it in truth the great book-market of London.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879

Victorian London - Publications - History - The Queen's London : a Pictorial and Descriptive Record of the Streets, Buildings, Parks and Scenery of the Great Metropolis, 1896 - Paternoster Row

Paternoster Row - photograph


From a very remote period Paternoster Row, the name of which suggests the Cathedra1's proximity, has been specially connected with the publishing and bookselling trades, but many large firms are now established elsewhere. Our view of the Row is taken from the west end, near Amen Corner, looking down its narrow length to where Cheapside begins. On the left hand side are Ivy Lane, the site of Dr. Johnson's Tuesday evening club meetings, and, further on, Lovell's Court, where Richardson wrote part of "Sir Charles Grandison"; while on the right is the Chapter Coffee House, now rebuilt, where Chatterton was quite familiar, as he told his mother, knowing all the geniuses there, and where Charlotte and Anne Brontë stayed on their first visit to London. But the Row, alas, has been rebuilt out of recognition.