The Street that links Robinson Crusoe and Oliver Twist
Saffron Hill is one of my favourite London streets, a dark narrow street winding along between Farringdon Road and Hatton Garden. Although the buildings have changed a lot, the street still has a very secretive air that reminds me of its criminal past, one of the most disreputable addresses in 18th century London. It was here that Dickens chose to locate Fagin’s Den in Oliver Twist. However one building has a distant link to another classic novel, Robinson Crusoe.
The former Ship Binding Works in Saffron Hill are marked by the sign above, a Swan and Ship and the words L&Co 1726. The works were set up in 1887 as part of the Longman publishing company, when demand for exquisite leather bound copies of their books was outstripping what could be produced in the companies shop in Paternoster Row. Eventually the binding works became an independent business, being one of the best book binding factories in Britain, and was held as an example of British craftsmanship at trade fairs around the world. Unfortunately a fire caused by bombing caused its closure in 1941.
The Ship and the Swan refer back to the founding of the Longman company. In 1724 Thomas Longman used his inheritance to buy a successful publishing house operating out of a shop called The Ship in Paternoster Road. The company were the publishers of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, which had been published five years earlier. On the back of the sales of Robinson Crusoe Longman was able to acquire the shop next door, the Black Swan. The Ship and Swan came to be used as the companies emblem, even after it had expanded and absorbed other businesses. It remained a family business, it was a sixth generation descendant of Thomas Longman, Hubert Harry Longman that managed The Ship Binding Works. Family control ended in 1968 when the Pearson Group acquired the business. However the Longman Dictionary still exists, now online, but still with a ship logo.
You can hear some more tales from Saffron Hill on 13th February on my walk looking at the Italian community that lived there. See http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/il-quartiere-tales-from-italian-clerkenwell-tickets-9283668703 for details.