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At Stationers’ Hall

May 30, 2018
by the gentle author

‘The Word of the Lord Endures Forever’

Next time you walk up Ludgate Hill towards St Paul’s, turn left down the narrow passage just beyond the church of St Martin Within Ludgate and you will find yourself in a quiet courtyard where Stationers’ Hall has stood since the sixteen-seventies.

For centuries, this whole district was the heart of the printing and publishing, with publishers lining Ludgate Hill, St Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row, while newspapers operated from Fleet St. Today, only Stationers’ Hall and St Bride Printing Library, down behind Ludgate Circus, remain as evidence of this lost endeavour that once flourished here.

Yet the Stationers’ Company was founded in 1403, predating printing. At first it was a guild of scriveners, illuminators, bookbinders, booksellers and suppliers of parchment, ink and paper. Even the term ‘stationer’ originates here with the stalls in St Paul’s Churchyard where they traded, which were immovable – in other words, ‘stationary’ stalls selling ‘stationery.’

No-one whose life is bound up with writing and words can fail to be touched by a visit to Stationers’ Hall. From 1557, when Mary Tudor granted the Stationers their Charter and for the next three hundred years, members had the monopoly upon publishing and once one member had published a text no-one else could publish it, thus the phrase ‘Entered at Stationers’ Hall’ became a guarantee of copyright.

Built in the decade following the Fire of London, the Great Hall was panelled by Stephen College ‘the protestant joiner’ at price of £300 in 1674. In spite of damage in the London Blitz and extensive alterations to other buildings, this central space retains its integrity as an historic interior. At one end, an ornate Victorian window shows William Caxton presenting his printing to Edward IV while an intricate and darkly detailed wooden Restoration screen faces it from the other. Wooden cases display ancient plate, colourful banners hang overhead, ranks of serried crests line the walls, stained glass panels of Shakespeare and Tyndale filter daylight while – all around – books are to be spied, carved into the architectural design.

A hidden enclave cloistered from the hubbub of the modern City, where illustrious portraits of former gentlemen publishers – including Samuel Richardson – peer down silently at you from the walls, Stationers’ Hall quietly overwhelms you with the history and origins of print in London through six centuries.

The Stock Room

The Stock Room c. 1910

The Stock Room door, c.1910

Panel of Stationers that became Lord Mayor includes JJ Baddeley, 1921

The Great Hall, where Purcell’s Hymn to St Cecilia was first performed in 1692

The Great Hall c. 1910

Stained glass window of 1888 showing Caxton presenting his printing to Edward IV

The vestibule to Great Hall

The Stationers’ Garden

The Court Room with a painting by Benjamin West

Looking out from the Court Room to the garden with the Master’s chair on the right

The Court Room

The Court Room, c 1910

Exterior of Stationer’s Hall, c. 1910

Archive photographs courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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At Drapers’ Hall

At Goldsmiths’ Hall

At Vintners’ Hall

14 Responses leave one →
  1. VANDA HUMAN permalink
    May 30, 2018

    Words cannot describe the beauty. Not been in the financial situation to be able to visit all these beautiful places I can at least see them through the eyes of the Gentle Author.

  2. Jess Wallace permalink
    May 30, 2018

    Thank you for this timely post! I’m halfway through a novel, ‘Book of Colours’ by Robyn Cadwallader, which is about illuminators, scriveners, stationers, circa London in 1322, before there was a guild for these craftsmen and women. How fascinating your words and photos, which bring it all to life. I just laughed out loud when I opened your email this evening.
    As always, a devoted and grateful fan.

  3. Caroline Bottomley permalink
    May 30, 2018

    Lovely choice of blue for that front door

  4. May 30, 2018

    As a liveryman, (Poulters’ Company) whose hall burned down during the great fire of 1666, it’s always a privilege to visit the halls of other livery companies. As a ‘homeless’ livery, we lunch at Armourers’ Hall, a beautiful Georgian building saved by ‘the unknown fireman’ during the blitz of 1940.

  5. Venetia Horton permalink
    May 30, 2018

    I had the privilege of visit this place many years ago for the launch of some stationery product – blue writing paper if I remember correctly.
    This was where the Translators of the King James Bible met to read and check their work. When they had nearly finished their translations they all came to Stationers Hall to read every single word ALOUD to check flow, cadence and sense. Surviving work books show the minute adjustments they made (the addition of a comma; the insertion of ‘and’ or ‘the’) to ensure the text could be read easily and thus ensure comprehension.
    Adam Nicolson’s Power and Glory: the Making of the King James Bible tells this fascinating story.

  6. May 30, 2018

    Interesting lexical detail about the link between stationary and stationery. I will get plenty of mileage out of that one.

  7. May 30, 2018

    Stunning! I love anything that has a heraldic vibe — Clearly this is nirvana for that kind of
    stately beauty. And knowing the traditions behind the grand hall……even better.

    On another Spitalfields Life topic…..I am in the midst of reading a book about London Mudlarkers (“London in Fragments”), and am thrilled to know more about their discoveries. Seeing these rare fragments, and hearing about their back stories has given me an unexpected perspective of The Bigger Picture. As we say here: “Thanks, I needed that!”.

    Thanks for shining a light every day.

  8. Rick Armiger permalink
    May 30, 2018

    You lucky stationers.
    Wish we model makers could have a hall… (it could be quite small…)

  9. Geoff Stocker permalink
    May 30, 2018

    Lovely to see inside another of London’s livery companies and to know something of its history. Recently The Stationers ‘Company gave an award for excellence to that fine publication Slightly Foxed who are located in Hoxton Square .

  10. Patricia permalink
    May 30, 2018

    It’s an education to read your posts GA. I always learn something from them, thank you. The photos are superb and as I scroll down through them it is as if I am strolling through the buildings and around the quiet nooks and crannies surrounding them.

  11. Jennifer Newbold permalink
    May 30, 2018

    Dear G.A., Thank you for providing me with a virtual visit to a building I probably would otherwise never get to see. It is breathtaking in its majesty! And an astonishing homage to the power of the written word. They knew what they were about, the Stationers. I’m glad that it remains as a testament to their work. Verbum (Domini) Manet In Aeternum.

  12. Gary Arber permalink
    May 30, 2018

    I notice that the Fire Exit sign is on a piece of wood that has been fixed to the door at a later date.
    It appears that if a fire broke out in 1674 everyone had to take a chance on how to get clear.

  13. May 31, 2018

    When I was ‘in the print’ I went to a lot of lunch-time meetings there in the wonderful hall. It also has a good specialist library from which it has been remarkably difficult to extract information

  14. Sheila O'Connell permalink
    February 26, 2019

    Stephen College, the ‘Protestant joiner’, who made the beautiful panelling in the Stationers’ Hall was an anti-Catholic extremist. He was charged with sedition for producing propaganda (including many ballads and prints) against the succession to the throne of the Catholic James II. He was hanged and quartered in 1681.

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