The literary hub in London has grown over centuries to become a phenomenon in the writing world. A huge part of the literary history shaping UK publishing comes from London’s role as a literary hub; writing in the country as a whole and its capital city cannot be separated.
The Influence of London in Publishing
Many of the UK’s best writers and best pieces of writing have come out of London, with the two intrinsically linked. Let’s look at how London affects UK publishing.
Literary History: Shaping UK Publishing
The history of UK publishing revolves highly around the literary hub in London. The very first publisher in England was in London, in Westminster Abbey, which would go on to become one of the big spots for literature in the UK. William Caxton established a printing press in 1476, and it continues to produce his books today.
There was a turbulent period in the 1550s for UK publishing, and for a while under Queen Elizabeth I, publishing was banned throughout the UK aside from London as well as the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The Stationer’s Company was set up to heavily monitor what was being printed and destroy anything that was deemed offensive, and by the mid-1600s, they controlled most of the printing offices in London. Other smaller publishers sprung up later in the century to publish poetry and fiction, and it was common for publishing pirates to steal work and publish it. Late in the 17th century, publishing began to grow with the innovation of periodically published pieces, which we would now call magazines. In 1709, there was a copyright act brought in by the government to protect publishers and writers. This was the first act of its kind to be brought in anywhere in the world.
Nowadays, publishing in the UK is much more liberal and less censored. While there are publishers all around the UK throughout the countries of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, London’s role as a literary hub cannot be understated, and there is no separating between London and UK publishing.
While Brexit has had an impact on UK publishing, the industry remains strong and adaptable.
Reasons Why the UK Is the Place to Be for Writers
The UK is a great place to be for writers, with London in particular being a cultural center for publishing. The UK has grown increasingly over a number of centuries and has become one of the biggest countries for book publishing in the world.
Here are five key reasons why UK publishing is the way to go:
- UK publishing is experienced in large-scale production and is flexible.
- The publishing industry in the UK is a leading expert in digital publishing.
- UK publishers have a global influence in publishing around the world.
- UK publishers have a reputation for achieving success not just domestically but also internationally, with a strong export market.
- The publishing industry in the UK has a major impact on culture, with many book series published in the UK becoming adapted to other types of media, such as film and TV.
All of these reasons can be applied to London, which is the literary capital of the UK.
London’s Role as a Literary Hub
The UK’s literary hub is in London, but it doesn’t stop there. London is one of the literary and cultural capitals of the world. Author Samuel Johnson said:
“You find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.”
And that quote still holds through. London is like a little world within a country, with cultures from all over the world represented in the local population. The English capital is home to numerous artistic endeavors run by creatives. It’s easy to get around the city with great public transport, and from London, you can get anywhere else in the UK and to major cities around the world.
Even today, London continues to have a significant influence on UK publishing. Pretty much every part of London has been mentioned in a book at some point, with many writers making a home for themselves in the city. The British Library stands as a testament to the importance of London as a literary hub, as the building holds centuries’ worth of documents that were produced in Britain, with over 150 million items there to be seen.
For centuries now, writers have loved London, and London has embraced writers. The University College of London offers a year-long course specifically in London literature going back as far as medieval times, and there is the University of London Press, which is a non-profit publisher that is open access.
London offers a writer everything they could possibly need to create their masterpiece and has a history of acting as an outlet for great writers.
London’s Influence on the Publishing Scene
We’ve talked about England’s first publisher being in the UK, and from there, London grew and grew as a literary landscape to behold. So, just how has UK publishing been influenced by London?
One of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare, has a strong association with London. Although he wasn’t actually born there (and there are theories that who we know to be the playwright Shakespeare was actually multiple different people), most of his early plays were performed in London. The first performances of his great works, including Romeo & Juliet and Henry V, would have been in London theaters. On the South Bank River lies Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, which was originally opened in 1599. The Globe was rebuilt shortly after the original burned down in 1613. London was the center where Shakespeare did his best work.
Charles Dickens was another outstanding author of his era, and his books accurately depicted every aspect of the city of London. Throughout his life, Dickens knew both good and bad times. He worked in factories in poor conditions after his father was put into debtor prison. Both of these aspects of his early life made it into his writing. Dickens knew every part of London, from the wealthy areas to the less well-off parts. As he got older, he was able to live more comfortably thanks to the success of his writing, but he never forgot where he came from, with pieces like Little Dorritt and Oliver Twist representing the tragic hard times of so many growing up in London. There is a Charles Dickens museum on the site where he lived (where he wrote such works as Oliver Twist), and visitors can see letters that he wrote and original manuscripts. Dickens truly lived everything London had to offer, and it all came across in his work. He is now buried in Westminster Abbey.
This landmark is also the burial place of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer. There are literary monuments throughout Westminster Abbey, with Poets’ Corner being one of the most popular ones. Poets’ Corner includes memorials to hundreds of writers throughout history, right up until modern times. Also buried in Westminster Abbey are scientists Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, as well as composer George Frideric Handel.
Throughout the city, there are more memorials, like in St. Paul’s Cathedral, which features memorials to writers John Done, William Blake, and T.E. Lawrence. As well as that, there are other literary sites to see, like the West End, Inns of Court, Convent Garden, Highgate, and Whitechapel. London was the home and inspiration for writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Virginia Woolf, Daniel Defoe, and Christopher Marlowe, who all included the city in their writing. Virginia Woolf was part of the famous collective The Bloomsbury Group. This was a group of artistic people, writers, and general intellectuals who lived in the Bloomsbury area of London. They contributed a large amount to London’s culture throughout the 1920s and 1930s. In the decades that followed, Fitzroy Tavern became a hub for a new breed of writers like George Orwell, Julian Maclaren-Ross, and Dylan Thomas. Their work was edgier, and they were outrageous writers. Around this time, the well-known romantic poet John Keats lived and worked in London. Everywhere you go in London, there is a literary connection to a great writer somewhere along the way.
It’s easy to get to see these sites since there are hundreds of literary tours to take around London each week, showing off impressive sites, some well-known and some hidden gems. Two popular franchises that are also represented are Harry Potter and James Bond (both of which started as books). There are many Harry Potter attractions, and there is Dukes Bar, which is the pub that inspired James Bond’s favorite martini.
London’s role as a literary hub has been well established over the past number of centuries, with every part of the city offering a piece of literary history that shapes UK publishing. The great writers and poets of their time all flooded the literary hub in London, with the city acting as a muse for their work. London’s influence on the publishing seen in the UK (and globally) makes this a special city for book lovers of any kind.
London Book Fair
The London Book Fair was established in 1971 and has now been held more than 50 times. The fair has been held every year apart from 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic (that was actually meant to be the 50th event). The London Book Fair has grown into a huge literary event that attracts writers and publishers from around the world to the English capital.
Originally known as the Specialist Publishers’ Exhibition for Libraries and starting as a small-time event, in 1977, the fair was rebranded to its current name and has become one of the biggest events of the year for the book trade. This event is now part of the literary history shaping the UK, with everyone from huge global publishers to small independent publishers attending. You will find everything from graphic novels, children’s books, academic texts, and soon-to-be best-selling novels at the London Book Fair.
What We Can Learn From the UK’s Literary Hub in London
There is so much amazing literary culture throughout England’s capital city. The literary culture is so strong because London has embraced its role as the capital of literature in the UK and arguably even the world. So much of the literary history shaping UK publishing comes from London because London has been open to new creative ideas. Oftentimes, writers and artists struggle in places where their work is not welcome or encouraged, but this isn’t the case in London. Every country needs areas in which creators are not only inspired but actively encouraged and supported. London is a city with many different elements; it is where many big-time offices are; there is the palace of the monarchy, and there are multiple stadiums for the various soccer teams that play there. But there’s still room for literature, art, and general creativity. Something we can learn from London’s role as a literary hub is that writers can exist in a busy, bustling city full of everything else, and as a matter of fact, they tend to thrive there. Because writers need to live in the real world, they also need their own little world.
Further to this, London shows us that a multicultural environment is good for creativity. There are people from not only all over the UK in London but from all over the world. The literary hub in London is magnificent because the city is home to many different backgrounds that can all learn from each other.
London and UK publishing go hand in hand, as London’s influence on the publishing scene throughout the world has been enormous. UK publishing is influenced by London because of the city’s historical reputation for inspiring great writersand because it is an environment that welcomes creatives. When it comes to publishing in the UK, London is the place to be for writers.