All photographs copyright Samira Ahmed. No reuse without permission
Step off Fleet Street, opposite the silver and chrome glory of the old Express building and the leaning wooden frame of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub and you’re back several hunderd years in time. The churchyard of St Bride’s — one of Sir Christopher Wren’s greatest churches — is a quiet oasis, where you can imagine even Caxton’s first medieval press nearby, see the old Bell Inn, one of many famout Fleet Street drinking holes, and stare up at the tiered spire that inspired the first tiered wedding cakes.
I was there today to interview David Meara, the outgoing rector of the church for Radio 4’s Sunday programme. He has spent 14 years as a pastoral guide to hacks. Physically they are long dispersed from Fleet Street, but who still come back to get married, network at charity events and remember those who’ve gone. The Journalists’ Altar was first set up in the late 1980s when John McCarthy, Brian Keenan and Terry Waite were taken hostage in Lebanon. Today you can see photos of journalists missing, held or who died — in war and of natural causes. A nearby board remembers the many journalists who died in the 2003 Iraq War.
Meara got to know many of the industry’s prominent figures over the years, including former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks, now on trial for phone hacking. In our interview he talks frankly about the turbulent last few years for the press, his sympathy with individuals caught up in the hackgate scandal and the British news media’s relationship with the church. It’s on Radio 4 this Sunday at 710am or iplayer after via this link.
The church is open free to visitors. The pews feature small plaques in memory of editors, journalists and at least one “wit”.