Puppydog tails — 16 July 2010

Grub Street

This is a perfect post for your humble scribe, for the term Grub Street describes the world of impoverished journalists and literary hacks. Originally Grub Street possibly meant a street infested with worms, or more likely named after a man called Grubbe. But since the 17th century is has been used in connection with needy authors and poor journalists. Dr Johnson said it was “much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries and temporary poems”, which seems to sum up CabbieBlog perfectly.

Even though this street was renamed Milton Street in 1830, the world of hack writers is still known as Grub Street. The inhabitants of this now metaphorical place churn out words without any regard for their literary merit. They were often called penny-a-liners. A Grub Street writer is also called a hack writer, which is another London allusion: Hackney in East London, was the place where horses suitable for routine riding or driving were raised. The word hack, in related senses, is a short form of hackney, and now, of course, refers to taxis or Hackney Carriages.

As any writer would tell you, publishing is a long and slow journey, but according to London cabbies it’s only five minutes from Grub Street to Fleet Street. Unfortunately there was much rebuilding in the area following war damage, and since the 1960s the pedestrian seeking to turn into Milton Street from Fore Street is faced with a solid block of buildings. The coffee shops and mean lodgings have long gone, and we will surely not meet Dr Johnson on his late night wanderings. No matter: as long as there are writers in the land, Grub Street lives on.

“To succeed in journalism”, the late Nicholas Tomalin once wrote, “you need three qualities: a rat like cunning, a plausible manner, and a little literary ability . . . There are still some aspects of the Grub Street trade that can be learnt with a little application.”

A lot more information about this long lost street whose name lives on can be found if you have rat like cunning and care to follow this link.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please consider supporting CabbieBlog and read exclusive chapters from my book Pootling around London


About Author


(2) Readers Comments

  1. Unfortunately, the hacks are read more often than the decent writers. Nowhere is this truer than in the world of newspapers whose journalistic quality has declined to abysmal levels. If the contents of London’s litter bins give a faithful picture of what Londoners read – and, worse, believe – then it is no wonder that ignorance and bias are abroad in the population.

    Conversely, it is often in blogs where the best standards of journalism and reporting of current events is to be found. And you don’t even have to pay to subscribe… 🙂

    • Not only don’t you have to pay to read CabbieBlog there is no advertising, unlike many newpaper websites

What do you have to say for yourself?