Grubstreet Author: Corporate Hospitality & Poverty Chic

In recent days trade websites Incentive Travel & Corporate Meetings and Conference & Incentive Travel have trumpeted the arrival of a new corporate hospitality venue in London’s Cripplegate cynically named The Grubstreet Author. The venue is located on the remaining part of historic Grub Street now called Milton Street. Grub Street is synonymous with poverty, hack journalism and prostitution. The origin of the name is disputed but some claim it is a corruption of Grope Cunt Street, so called because the place had the reputation of hosting the cheapest and most desperate prostitutes in London. The Grubstreet Author is a new venture from the owners of The Brewery in neighbouring Chiswell Street. They’re shameless enough to adopt a sanitised poverty chic theme for their latest corporate venue:

Since 1830 it has been named Milton Street, but prior to this the location now occupied by The Grubstreet Author sat on the notorious Grub Street. The road was home to a bohemian counterculture of impoverished writers and poets as well as a number of famous print houses such as Bernard Alsop and Thomas Fawcett. The term Grubstreet Author refers to the inhabitants of the area with Grub Street representing an important moment in print culture and London’s topography.

The Grubstreet Owl appears illustrated in many early works written about the area. Wearing a dunce cap the owl represents the tensions between early print culture, being the idolised purveyors of knowledge and the world of ill-educated literary hacks.

The Meaning of the Moniker on the Grubstreet Author website.

That those behind this corporate hospitality venture are celebrating gentrification is evident from the main headline on the page just cited: “From ‘the back alley of literature’ to a venue worth writing home about. The Brewery brings you another gem of an events venue.” The Brewery can stick that up their own ‘back alley’, since what this business actually represents is an erasure of our real history and its replacement with a branding and marketing exercise that flattens the past into a one-dimensional parody of real life; and this is not an isolated example, the luxury ghost home block The Heron already stands on one corner of Milton Street, and nearby on Golden Lane Taylor Wimpey are working on erecting more safe deposit boxes in the sky in the form of The Denizen. More accurate historical material about Grub Street and Cripplegate can be found almost anywhere than in the promotional material of those gentrifying the area. For example this from the Wikipedia:

Land was cheap and occupied mostly by the poor, and the area was renowned for the presence of Ague and the Black Death; in the 1660s the Great Plague of London killed nearly eight thousand of the parish’s inhabitants.

The population of St Giles in 1801 has been estimated at about 25,000 people, but by the end of the 19th century this was dropping steadily. In the 18th century Cripplegate was well known as an area haunted by insalubrious folk, and by the mid-19th century crime was rife… The use of gibbets was common, and four ‘cages’ were maintained by the parish, for use as a Lying-in hospital, housing the poor, and ‘idle imposters’. One such cage stood amidst the poor quality housing stock of Grub Street; destitution was viewed as a crime against society, and was punishable by whipping, and also by having a hole cut in the gristle of the right ear.

Well before the influx of writers in the 18th century, Grub Street was therefore in an economically deprived area. John Garfield’s Wandring Whore issue V (1660) lists several ‘Crafty Bawds’ operating from the Three Sugar-Loaves, and also mentions a Mrs Wroth as a ‘common whore’…

…The Stationers’ Company had considerable powers of search and seizure, backed by the state (which supplied the force and authority to guarantee copyright). This monopoly continued until 1641 when, inflamed by the treatment of religious dissenters such as John Lilburne and William Prynne, the Long Parliament abolished the Star Chamber (a court which controlled the press) with the Habeas Corpus Act 1640. This led to the de facto cessation of state censorship of the press. Although in 1641 token punishments were given to those responsible for unlicensed and hostile pamphlets published around London—including Grub Street—Puritan and radical pamphlets continued to be distributed by an informal network of street hawkers, and dissenters from within the Stationers’ Company. Tabloid journalism became rife; the unstable political climate resulted in the publication from Grub Street of anti-Caroline literature, along with blatant lies and anti-Catholic stories regarding the Irish Rebellion of 1641; stories that were advantageous to the parliamentary leadership. Following the King’s failed attempt to arrest several members of the Commons, Grub Street printer Bernard Alsop became personally involved in the publication of false pamphlets, including a fake letter from the Queen that resulted in John Bond being pilloried. Alsop and colleague Thomas Fawcett were sent to Fleet Prison for several months…

The avariciousness of the Grub Street press was often demonstrated in the manner in which they treated notable, or notorious public figures. John Church, an independent minister born in 1780, raised the ire of the local hacks when he admitted he had acted ‘imprudently’ following allegations he had sodomised young men in his congregation. Satire was a popular pastime—the Mary Toft affair of 1726, concerning a woman who fooled some of the medical establishment into believing she had given birth to rabbits—produced a notable dirge of diaries, letters, satiric poems, ballads, false confessions, cartoons, and pamphlets.

From the Wikipedia entry on Grub Street.

The history of Grub Street is far more complex than the cartoon version deployed by those using despicable poverty chic to brand their corporate hospitality operations. There is still much poverty in the extensive social housing immediately to the north of The Grubstreet Author, and a considerable number of people who are Irish or of Irish descent in the immediate area. The anti-Irish hate spewed out by Grub Street is something The Brewery should show more sensitivity towards. We suggest it renames its new venture after one of the victims of Bloody Sunday, when 14 unarmed civilians were murdered in cold blood by British soldiers on 30 January 1972 – and as many again were shot but survived. Grub Street racism helped fuel and justify endless British massacres in Ireland, including those overseen by Oliver Cromwell. It should go without saying we’d also like to see the City of London owned Cromwell Tower – just off Chiswell Street – renamed Devlin Tower, in honour of the politician and Irish civil rights activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey.

Pippa Henslowe.



The header shows: “The Art and Mystery of Printing Emblematically Displayed” from The Grub-Street Journal No. 147 (October 30, 1732). Note the owl on top of the press in the second panel, overlooking the pandemonium as Fog’s Journal is carried off for drying. In the “Explication of the picture” Bavius explains that “The owl, perched upon the press, being the bird of Pallas, the goddess of arts and sciences, very properly presides over the whole work: but whether we suppose it an Athenian, or a Grub-streetian owl, there is no impropriety in either supposition.” The scene shows Edmund Curll’s “chast press,” as indicated by Cases of Impotency held aloft by the devil in the right-hand panel (The Case of Impotency Debated, in the Late Famous Tryal at Paris was printed for Curll at the Dial and Bible in Fleetstreet in 1714). Curll is shown “with the head of a Janus” in the middle panel: “overlooking and hastening of the work: He has two different faces, answerable to the two different weekly papers, which he is supposed to print: but which was designed for the whig face, and which for the tory, it is not easy to discover.” Other title pages hanging above include Onania, Rochester’s Poems, Manual of Devotion, Sessions Papers, Applebee’s Journal, Read’s Journal, London Journal, Universal Spectator and Weekly Register. A copy of Hyp Doctor is lying on the floor. This image is from James Hillhouse (1890-1956), The Grub-street Journal (Duke University Press, 1928). The reproduction is different in one respect from the version available via 17th and 18th Century Burney Collection Newspapers (sourced from the British Library), where the title Cases of Conscience has been written over the page facing Cases of Impotency.

The header description above is lifted from Owls, Print Culture, and Knowledge in Eighteenth-Century Britain: the Iconography of Grub Street; copy on the Grubstreet Author website has been lifted verbatim from the same source but without acknowledgement:

Wikipedia on Grub Street:

The Meaning of the Moniker according the Grubstreet Author (the information is taken without acknowledgement from the Grub Street Project, link above):

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