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At Stationers’ Hall

August 7, 2022
by the gentle author

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‘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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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Karin permalink
    August 7, 2022

    What beauty, what history!

  2. August 7, 2022

    In the course of putting posts together for my art blog I have learned that even books written in America just after the American Revolution were published in London, probably by men who were members here.

  3. August 7, 2022

    Nice find, Gentle Author.

    I attended the Stationers’ Company’s School in North London, a boys grammar school that has since been demolished.

    Once, I was part of the school choir that sang in the crypt of St.Paul’s Cathedral for a service that was an annual tradition of the Stationers’ Company on, I think it was, Maundy Thursday.

    The tradition was also that the choristers were to be given “cakes and ale” in the Stationers’ Hall after the service. We were taken to the Hall all right, and sat at a long table, but were disappointed to find that we got cakes and tea. Tradition broken.

    I wonder if that annual service still exists? If it does it won’t be sung by Stationers’ School choristers unless they’re able to dig out some rather ancient old boys.


  4. Saba permalink
    August 8, 2022

    We’re all members male? Yet, female authors found publishers, particularly in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth century, brilliant Jewish writers and publishers were gifts to us all, but with strong Christian message at Stationers’ Hall, publication by a Jewish writer must have been difficult.

  5. Andy Clark permalink
    January 16, 2024

    I am interested to read Roy Grubb’s comment.

    I attended Stationers’ Company’s School from 1969 to 1971 and was also a member of the school choir. I remember we sang Bach’s Magnificat in the crypt at St Paul’s on one occasion. This was followed by a meal in Stationers’ hall, sausage and mash I believe. Each member of the choir was the presented with a Churchill Crown. I would imagine that this would have been a special occasion although I am interested to read that a performance there was also a Maundy Thursday tradition.

    I would be obliged if anyone has any information on this.

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