Tag Archives: Samuel Pepys

Bull baiting (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

Bull baiting

On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary (see also July 12th posting on “Bear-baiting”):

“[A]fter dinner, with my wife and Mercer to the Beare-garden [in Southwark], where I have not been, I think, of many years, and saw some good sport of the bull’s tossing of the dogs: one into the very boxes.  But it is a very rude and nasty pleasure”.

The old  animal-baiting arenas on Bankside in   Southwark eventually closed down in the later seventeeth century, although at the same time new ones opened up Hockley-in-the-Hole in Clerkenwell, “the home of low-caste sport”.    Animal-baiting was only finally outlawed, under the “Cruelty to Animals Act”, in the early nineteenth century, in 1835.

Bankside  is  visited on our “Historic Southwark” standard  walk.

Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of our web-site (www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk).

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site (www.lostcityoflondon.co.uk), or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

The execution of Harry Vane (Samuel Pepys, 1662)


On this day in 1662, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[A]bout eleven o’clock, … we all went out to the Tower-hill; and there, over against the scaffold, made on purpose this day, saw Sir Harry Vane brought.  A very great press of people.  He made a long speech, many times interrupted by the Sheriff and others there; and they would have taken the paper out of his hand, but he would not let it go. … [So] trumpets were brought that he might not be heard.  Then he prayed, and so fitted himself, and received the blow … ”.

Vane had been one of the so-called “regicides” who had signed Charles I’s death-warrant during the Civil War.  Most of the surviving regicides were rounded up and executed by Charles’s son, Charles II, after he was restored to the throne in 1660.

Tower Hill is visited on various of our walks, including the “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” and ”Rebellious London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

“The plague is come to the City” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Lord have mercy on London (1665)

On this day in 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[T]o my great trouble, hear that the plague is come to the City, though it hath … since its beginning, been wholly out of the City; but where should it begin but in my good friend and neighbour’s, Dr Burnett, in Fenchurch Street: which, in both points, troubles me mightily”.

The 1665 outbreak of Bubonic Plague – the “Great Plague” – killed at least 70000 people in London, and possibly as many as 100000 – far more than the “Black Death” of 1348-9, although far fewer in proportion to the overall population.  The “Bills of Mortality” show that of the 70000 recorded Plague deaths, only 10000 were in the 97 parishes within the walls of the City  – possibly because a significant proportion  of those inhabitants who could afford to do so had fled to the country.  The remaining 60000  Plague deaths were in the 16 parishes without the walls, the 5 in Westminster, and the 12 in Middlesex and Surrey.  Stepney was the worst affected, with 6500 deaths.

Bubonic Plague was diagnosed by painful swellings or buboes in the groin or armpit.  It is now known to be caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, in turn generally transmitted by the bite of an infected  rat-flea of the species Xenopsylla cheopis  (such as was common in the conditions in which people, livestock, pets and vermin  lived, cheek-by-jowl, in London in the Medieval to post-Medieval period).   In the Medieval to post-Medieval period, it was thought to be spread by cats and dogs, which were therefore rounded up and killed in large numbers (the resulting  reduction in predation ironically allowing rats to proliferate).  The 1348-9 outbreak, now referred to as the “Black Death”,  caused so many deaths in such a short time that epidemiologists suspect that it was a particularly deadly and infectious – possibly pneumonic or septicaemic – strain  of the disease,  capable of being passed directly from infected person to person without the involvement of the vector flea.  Perhaps significantly in this context, the “Black Death”  was able to continue to spread and even to spike over the winter of 1348-9, when the vector flea would have been inactive, as it is everywhere  today at temperatures of less than 10degC.

The Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” for the Plague Year of 1665 are examined at  the church of All Hallows Staining on our “London Wall” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.  The bulk of the church collapsed in 1671, the foundations undermined by plague burials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

A voice from the past (Samuel Pepys)

Seething Lane Gardens (3) - Copy.JPG

On this day in 1703 Samuel Pepys died.  He is buried in the church of St Olave Hart Street, which to this day holds an annual service to  honour his memory.

The following are selected extracts from the entries in his diary for the days of the Great Fire of London in 1666:

“September 2d .  …  Jane called us up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire … in the City.  So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown, and went to her window; and thought it to be … far enough off,   and so went to bed again … .  … By and by Jane comes and tells me that … the fire …  is now burning all down Fish Street, by London Bridge.  So I made myself ready … and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places … ; and … did see the houses at  that end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side of the end of the bridge … .  So down, with my heart full of trouble, to the Lieutenant … , who tells me that it begun … In the King’s bakers in Pudding-lane, and hath burned  St Magnus’s church and most … of Fish-street already.  So I down to the water-side, and there got a boat and … there saw a lamentable fire.   …  Every body endeavouring to remove their goods, and …  bringing them into lighters that lay off; poor people staying in their houses as long as till the very fire touched them, and then running into boats, or clambering from one … stairs, by the waterside, to another.   … Having staid, and in an hour’s time seen the fire rage every way, and nobody, to my sight, endeavouring to quench it, but to remove their goods, and … the wind mighty high and driving it into the City, and everything, after so long a drought, proving combustible … : I to White Hall, … and did tell the King … what I saw; and that, unless his Majesty did command houses to be pulled down [to create fire-breaks], nothing could stop the fire.  The King commanded me to go to my Lord Mayor [the singularly ineffectual Thomas Bloodworth]” and command him to … pull down  [houses].  At last met my Lord Mayor … .  To the King’s message he cried, like a fainting woman ‘Lord, what can I do?  I am spent: people will not obey me.  I have been pulling down   houses; but the fire overtakes us faster than we can do it’”.

September 3d. (M)y Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, .., which I did, riding … in my night-gown, in the cart … .

September 4th.  … (T)o the Tower Street, and there met the fire burning … .  And … Sir W. Pen and I did dig [a pit], and put our wine in it, and I my parmazan cheese … .

September 5th.  … About two in the morning my wife … tells me of new cryes of fire, it being come to Barking Church … .    I up; and finding it so, resolved …  to take her away, and did, and … my gold … ; but, Lord! what a sad sight it was by moone-light, to see the whole City almost on fire … .  Home, and whereas I expected to have seen our house on fire, … it was not.  … (G)oing to the fire, I find, by the blowing up of houses … by Sir W. Pen, there is a good stop given to it … ; it having only burned the dyall of Barking Church, and part of the porch, and … was there quenched.  I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw… ”.

The aforementioned churches of All Hallows Barking (Barking church) and St Olave Hart Street, which are closely associated with Pepys, are visited, although not generally entered, on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London”, “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights” and “Great Fire of London” themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).


That’s the way to do it (Samuel Pepys, 1662)


On this day in 1662, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“Thence … into Covent Garden to an alehouse … and … to see an Italian Puppet Play, that is within the rayles there, which is very pretty, the best that ever I saw … .  So to the Temple and by water home, and … in the dark there played upon my flageolette [a type of flute], it being a fine still evening … ”.


One of the characters in the show that Pepys saw was Pulcinella, now  Punch, as in “Punch and Judy”.

Since 1975 the event has been  commemorated by an  annual May Fayre and Puppet Festival held in Covent Garden on the second Sunday in May.

The site is visited  on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey – Priories, Palaces and Parliament” standard walk and  on our “Tudor and Stuart London” themed special.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).



The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1663)

a-scene-from-the-humorous-lieutenantOn this day in 1663, the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane first opened its doors, to put on a performance of John Fletcher and Francis Beaumont’s Jacobean tragi-comedy “The Humorous Lieutenant”, which was originally written in 1625, although not finally published until 1647.


The theatre was built by Thomas Killigrew, who we might think of as a theatrical impresario, at the behest of the new King, Charles II, and was the first to be built in London after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 (immediately prior to which, during the inter-regnum, the performance of plays had been banned by the Puritans).  It became well known for its Restoration comedies, many of them penned by the house dramatist John Dryden, and performed by the house troupe, Killigrew’s “King’s Men”.  The king himself went to the theatre often, and the favourite of his thirteen mistresses, “pretty, witty Nell”, Nell Gwyn(ne) performed  there from 1665-71.  Samuel Pepys also went there, and wrote in his diary:

“The house is made with extraordinary good contrivance, and yet hath some faults, as the narrowness of the passages in and out of the Pitt, and the distance from the stage to the boxes, which I am confident cannot hear; but for all other things it is well, only, above all, the musique being below, and most of it sounding under the very stage, there is no hearing of the bases at all, nor very well of the trebles, which sure must be mended”.

The theatre was temporarily closed down during the Great Plague of 1665, but re-opened in 1666.  It survived the Great Fire of that year, but was burnt down in another fire on 25th  January 1672.  The second theatre on the site was built in 1674, the third in 1794, and the fourth, present one, in 1812.

The present theatre is passed on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).

Oh, divine chocolate


On this day in 1664, according to the entry in his diary, Samuel Pepys “went to Mr Bland’s and there drank my morning’s draft in chocolate”.   London’s first chocolate-house, in a Frenchman’s house in Queen’s Head Alley off Bishopsgate, had opened only shortly  beforehand, in 1657.  Chocolate was a considerable luxury in the mid 1600s, costing as much as 13s/lb (£50/lb in today’s terms, according to The National Archives invaluable “currency converter”).  The chocolate- and coffee- houses of the time were places where rich and “respectable” types could meet, and also, importantly,  transact business, without social stigma (unlike ale-houses).  Thus it was that certain of the financial institutions of the City, for instance Lloyds of London, were initially founded (see also September 25th, 2013 posting, Coffee, Tea or Insurance).

The site of the first coffee-house in London, the “Pasqua Rosee’s Head”, is visited on our “Bishopsgate and beyond (Historic Shoreditch and Spitalfields)” standard walk, and on our  “Tudor and Stuart London” and “Tudor and Stuart City Highlights”  themed specials.

Further details of all our walks are available in the Our Guided Walks section of this web-site.

Bookings may be made through the “Contact/Booking” section of the web-site, or by e-mail (lostcityoflondon@sky.com).