Exploring... Literature and Film

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Our City Together

The City of London has rich and diverse connection to literature and film; from the famous to the lesser-known, to the real and the fictional. We've picked out some fun facts and stories below - follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for more.

Paternoster Row and the Brontë sisters

Paternoster Row,  beside St Paul’s Cathedral, was once the centre of publishing in London. At 8 Paternoster Row, Aylott & Jones agreed to publish the Brontë sisters first collection of poems under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Aylott & Jones were cautious about publishing these unknown authors, and did so at the sisters' own financial risk. Only three copies were sold.

Charlotte Brontë found fame with Jane Eyre, published by Smith, Elder & Co based at 65 Cornhill. Smith, Elder & Co also launched The Cornhill magazine which was edited by William Makepeace Thackeray (author of Vanity Fair) between 1860 and 1862.

© London Metropolitan Archives

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth’s poem, The Reverie of Poor Susan (1798), describes a venerable plane tree at the corner of Cheapside and Wood Street.

© London Metropolitan Archives

Sweeney Todd - the Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett, his partner in crime, might not be real, but the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is well-known to most. Originally appearing in Victorian Penny Dreadfuls, more recently the story has been turned into a musical by Stephen Sondheim and adapted into a film by Tim Burton.

All the details given in the story make it sound very real – no wonder it became an urban legend. Set in the year 1785 when a sailor, last seen entering Sweeney Todd's establishment on Fleet Street, mysteriously disappears. He was bearing a gift of a string of pearls to a girl on behalf of her missing lover who most likely drowned at sea. Todd’s barber shop has a distinctive address, 152 Fleet Street, next to St Dunstan-in-the-West. By means of an underground passage it is connected to Mrs Lovett’s pie shop in nearby Bell Yard. Sweeney Todd gives (some of) his victims a “very close shave” only for them to reappear as meat pies in Mrs Lovett’s shop.

Sweeney Todd and one of his victims

Geoffrey Chaucer

Geoffrey Chaucer is widely regarded as England’s greatest medieval poet and has been called the ‘Father of the English language’. He was born in c.1340 to John Chaucer, a London wine merchant and his wife Agnes. John and Agnes owned a house on Upper Thames Street which stands today between London Bridge and Monument Stations. During his life he worked at Custom House on Lower Thames Street as controller of export tax on wool, a position he got appointed to by King Edward III in 1374. During this time he was allowed to live in the twin-towered gate-house on Aldgate High Street. Chaucer wrote Parlement of Foules (1381), House of Fame (1385), Troilus and Criseyde (1385) and the Legend of Good Women (1391) while living there.

Chaucer’s most celebrated work is considered to be Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories that 30 pilgrims tell each other during the pilgrimage from the Tabard Inn in Southwark, London, to the shrine of Thomas Becket in Canterbury, Kent. This story also presents a great connection with the City because Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his death in 1170, was born on Cheapside, the heart of the medieval City.  

© London Metropolitan Archives

Jane Austen

The City of London features in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Lydia Bennet and Mr Wickham marry in St Clement's Church on Clement's Lane and The Bennett sisters' Aunt and Uncle, Mr and Mrs Gardiner, live on Gracechurch Street. At this time, such an address was not as estimable as it is today;

“If they had uncles enough to fill all Cheapside,” cried Bingley, “it would not make them one jot less agreeable.”
“But it must very materially lessen their chance of marrying men of any consideration in the world,” replied Darcy.

Lights, camera, action

The City of London's iconic mix of ancient and modern architecture makes it an ideal location for movie makers. It is home to some of London's most famous and most filmed landmarks, including St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge, and shows up on the big screen more than you might realise.

From Harry Potter to Bridget Jones, James Bond to The Da Vinci Code, City streets and attractions have played host to a huge array of stars. Take the opportunity to walk the Square Mile in their shoes and see the locations of your favourite scenes up close.

Visit the actual locations where many famous films were shot with our film-themed self-guided walk. Download a PDF version or pick up a hard copy from the City Information Centre.

Filming Bridget Jones's Diary in the City