“O Grubstreet! thou fruitful Nursery of tow’ring Genius’s! how do I lament thy downfall! — J. Arbuthnot, John Bull (1712)

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Grub Street isn’t just a metaphor: there it is marked as a red dot at the southern end on Richard Horfield’s 1799 map, just west of Moorfields. It was renamed in the 1830s and is now part of Milton Street: or more accurately, Milton Street is now part of it. The southern end from Silk Street for Fore Street has disappeared. Time has of course altered much of London’s street layout, with the Blitz particularly effective in this part of the City. There appears to be no evidence connecting Milton himself with the street which no doubt got its name because it was his turn to have a street named after him, and writing is after all writing. The name Grub Street has become a metonym, just like Madison Avenue for a different scribbler’s art.

Originally occupied by bow makers and fletchers, by the time of the civil war Grub Street was home to turbulent pamphleteers. (The archery connection survives: near the northern end of the street are the HAC Grounds. The Honourable Artillery Company was originally chartered by Henry VIII as the “Fraternity or Guild of Artillery of Longbows, Crossbows and Handguns”.) Andrew Marvel in 1672 was one of the earliest to use “Grub Street” as a term of reproach for authors with whom one didn’t agree. Pope’s Dunciad drove the nail into the coffin. The Grub Street Journal which ran from 1730 to 1737 was a satirical publication not unlike Private Eye or Charlie Hebdo. The poet in the garret ought to have been living in Grub Street. Samuel Johnson, himself a one-time resident, defined it in his Dictionary as “originally the name of a street . . . much inhabited by writers of small histories, dictionaries, and temporary poems, whence any mean production is called grubstreet.”

The Grub Street Project maintains a website.

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