During her career as a publisher, latterly for the National Trust, Margaret Willes became fascinated by the area around St Paul's Cathedral – an area that was, for centuries, the heart of the English book trade.
Her first book, Reading Matters: Five Centuries of Discovering Books, was published by Yale University Press in 2009. Working on that book made Margaret determined to find out more about that part of London.
In the Shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral is not a history of St Paul's itself, but rather the people who lived and worked around it, and visited it. Inevitably, however, it was the cathedral that shaped what was going on. The Churchyard became the theatre for grand ceremonial, both royal and civic, and sometimes it could act as a centre of opposition.
It was the presence of craftsmen working on the production of manuscript books that drew printers to the area at the beginning of the 16th century, and thus it became the centre for the book trade. There were also shops offering luxury goods, because the Churchyard acted like a hinge between the financial City and the highway to the royal court. This remarkable community came to an abrupt end with the Blitz during the Second World War. By extraordinary good fortune the cathedral survived, but not the vibrant secular society that had lived in its shadow.
Join Margaret and Lucinda Hawksley for the Goldster Inside Story on 6 October.