Tag Archives: Samuel Pepys

The Red Bull, Clerkenwell

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On this day in 1661, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“To the Red Bull (where I had not been since plays came up again) up to the tireing-room, where strange the confusion and disorder there is among them in fitting themselves, … where the clothes are very poore, and the actors but common fellows.  At last into the pitt, where I think there was not above ten more than myself, and not one hundred in the whole house.  And the play, which is called “All’s Lost but Lost” [by Rowley], poorly done; and with so much disorder, among others, in the musique-room, the boy that was to sing a song, not singing it right, his master fell about his eares and beat him so, that it put the whole house into an uprore”.

The Red Bull Inn in Clerkenwell had previously been leased  in 1604 to Aaron  Holland, a servant of the Earl of Devonshire,  to be converted to an open-air  play-house (or possibly a covered theatre – an illustration of it from Kirkman’s “Book of Wits”, published in 1662,  appears to show chandeliers suspended from a roof).  It had then functioned as such between the beginning of 1606/7 and 1642, when the performance of plays was banned by an Act of Parliament forced through by the Puritans (although there is some evidence to suggest that plays continued to be staged there even after the ban).  And it had re-opened as a play-house after the Restoration in 1660.  Its new lease of life was short-lived, though, and it appears to have closed by 1663, and been demolished by  1665.  It was not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, as some sources maintain.

The play-house was home to various acting troupes, including Queen Anne’s Men (or the Queen’s Servants); Prince Charles’s Men (later the King’s Men), partly financed by the theatrical impresario Edward Alleyn, who was also involved with the Fortune in nearby Finsbury (see December 9th posting); the Red Bull Company; and, after the Restoration, Michael Mohun’s Company and George Jolly’s Troupe.  A number of specially-written new plays by, among others, Heywood, Dekker and Webster were staged here.  However, the play-house was to become infamous for staging unsophisticated plays, to unappreciative audiences!

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The site of the playhouse, on Hayward’s Place (formerly Red Bull Yard), is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” 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).

 

Bedlam

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On this day in 1669, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“I to  the office, while the young people went to see Bedlam”.

The Priory of St Mary of  Bethlehem (“Bedlam”) was originally founded just outside Bishopsgate in 1247, becoming a hospital  in 1329, a mental hospital of a sort in  1403, and  infamous for the shameful ill-treatment of its inmates by all and sundry thereafter.

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It survived the Great Fire of 1666, but nonetheless required to be rebuilt  by Robert Hooke in Moorfields in 1675.

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It was subsequently  rebuilt again at the junction of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road  in the Borough of Southwark in 1815 …

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… and finally relocated to the site of a former country house estate in Beckenham in the Borough of Bromley in Kent in 1930.   Corporation “Blue Plaques” mark  the two former City sites of the hospital (the Southwark also site survives to this day, and has housed the Imperial War Museum since 1936).  The Danish sculptor Caius Gabriel Cibber’s (1630-1700) extraordinary statues of figures representing “Raving and Melancholy Madness”, that used to stand outside the old hospital in Moorfields, may now be seen inside the museum of the new one in Beckenham.

Archaeological excavation work is currently ongoing on the  associated burial ground just outside Bishopsgate, originally established in 1569.  Among the 20000 or so Londoners  known from surviving records to have been laid to rest here are Robert Lockyer, a Leveller executed by firing squad during the Civil War, in 1649; and a number of people killed in Thomas Venner’s rebellion, in 1661.  Also  a large number who died in the Great Plague in 1665 (including one Mary Godfree, whose gravestone has recently been found).

The City sites of Bedlam are visited on our “Aldgate, Bishopsgate and Beyond (Historic Shoreditch and Spitalfields)” and “London Wall” standard walks, and on our “Medieval London”, “Medieval City Highlights”, “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).

Robert Hooke and his “Microscopicall Observations” (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

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

“Before I went to bed I sat up till  two o’clock in my chamber reading of Mr Hooke’s Microscopicall Observations [Micrographia], the most  ingenious book that ever I read in my life”.

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Robert Hooke was elsewhere memorably described by Pepys as  “the most,  and promises the least, of any man in the world that I ever saw”.

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He was evidently a brilliant, but curmudgeonly, polymath: not only  a pioneer microscopist, but also one of the founder members of the Royal Society  in 1660, and an architect, who worked alongside Wren  on the reconstruction of London following the Great Fire of 1666 (*).

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Monument, where there is a memorial to him, is visited on various of our walks, including the “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London” and “Post-Medieval (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).

(*) Readers interested in further details of the life and works of this extraordinary man are referred to the biography entitled “The Curious Life of Robert Hooke … “ by the late Lisa Jardine, originally published by HarperCollins in 2003.

The church of All Hallows by the Tower

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On this day in 1650, seven barrels of gunpowder stored by the church of All Hallows by the Tower exploded, destroying fifteen houses, and killing sixty-seven people.

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The church was originally built in the Saxon period, and considerably added to in the Medieval.  It was undamaged in the Great  Fire of 1666, thanks to the action of Admiral General Sir William Penn Senior, who ordered  the blowing-up of some surrounding buildings to create a  firebreak, although it nonetheless required to be rebuilt by Pearson in the late nineteenth century. It was then gutted by bombing in the Blitz of 1940-41, when “the tower of the church acted like a chimney, drawing the flames upwards and intensifying them” and “wood blazed, stones calcinated, lead poured down walls and the bells melted”, and rebuilt again by Lord Mottistone in a “happy blend” of Ancient and Neo-Perpendicular styles, and rededicated in 1957.

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A fine Saxon arch of around 675, incorporating Roman tiles, survives in the nave; and two Saxon crosses, one of 900 and the other of 1000, in the crypt  (the former plain and simple, and bearing  a Runic inscription, and the latter  beautifully and intricately carved, and bearing  a symbolic depiction of Christ over beasts).

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Among the  many surviving Medieval to post-Medieval features are: substantial sections of tiled floor; an altar table of stone from the Crusaders’ castle at Atlit below Mount Carmel in the Holy Land; a fine Flemish painted panelled altar-piece, known as the Tate Panel, dating to at least the fifteenth century; numerous sculptures, including a carved wooden one of St James of Compostela, dating to the fifteenth century, and a carved ivory one of Christ salvaged from the flagship of the Spanish Armada in 1588; numerous monuments, including the Croke chest, dating to around 1477, and brasses; and the seventeenth-century tower, from which Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of 1666 (noting in his diary entry for Wednesday 5th September, “I up to the top of Barkinge steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation I ever saw”).

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Also of note are the pulpit, originally from St Swithin London Stone, and dating to 1678; the exquisitely intricately carved lime-wood font-cover by Grinling Gibbons, dating  to 1682; a series of ornamental sword-rests, dating to the eighteenth century; and, among the Curiosa, numerous large model ships suspended in the south aisle.

On a macabre note, the headless bodies of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More, beheaded on nearby Tower Hill in 1535, and that of Archbishop William Laud, beheaded  in 1645, were once temporarily buried here before being moved to their  final resting places (Fisher’s and More’s in the chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, and Laud’s in the chapel of St John’s College, Oxford).  Admiral William Penn’s son, also named William, was baptised here in 1644.  Famously, he went on to found Pennsylvania in 1681.

The church is visited on our “London Wall” and “Tower to Temple” standard walks, and also on our “Dark Age [Anglo-Saxon] London”, “Medieval London”, “Medieval City highlights” and “Lost 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).

Pepys’s Diary

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On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys made the first entry in the  diary he was to keep until 1669, when his eyesight finally failed him.

His New Year’s Resolution for 1661 – which, incidentally,  he failed to keep – read as follows:

“I have newly taken a solemn oath about abstaining from plays and wine, which I am resolved to keep according to the letter of the oath I keep by me”.

Later entries covered such momentous events in the history of London as the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of 1666.

Pepys was an Establishment figure, well known in official and court circles; and, as such,  less an “everyman” caught up in events than one very much of his time, and, particularly, place, that is to say, his place in the prevailing social and class hierarchy.  His thoughts and deeds were often to greater or lesser degrees self-serving: he obsessed over his wealth (“To my accounts, wherein … I … , to my great discontent, do find that my gettings this year have been … less than … last… ”); employed sycophancy  and deceitfulness to increase  the same, or otherwise to get his way; and was not beyond resorting to emotional cruelty,  especially towards his wife, Elizabeth, and even to physical violence.  He also obsessed over his health, although perhaps understandably, given that as a young man  he had survived, somewhat against the odds, a surgical operation to remove a gall-stone – the anniversary of which event he celebrated each year rather like a second birthday!  However, his written words were almost always honest and true, and unsparingly and disarmingly so when describing his own shortcomings, or otherwise to his detriment.  There was something of  a child-like quality to Pepys the man, characteristically beautifully described by Robert Louis Stevenson, in part as follows:   “Pepys was a young man for his age, came slowly to himself in the world, sowed his wild oats late, took late to industry and preserved till nearly forty the headlong gusto of a boy.  So, to come rightly at the spirit in which the Diary was written, we must recall a class of sentiments which with most of us are over and done before the age of twelve”.

I refer the reader  to the admirable biography by Claire Tomalin for a fuller account of the life and works of Pepys, especially at the Navy Office, where he worked as a civil servant and ultimately Secretary to the Admiralty (it has been said that, “without Pepys,   there could have been no Horatio  Nelson”).

Pepys is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London”, “Post-Medieval (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).

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666  (Samuel Pepys, 1666)

On this day in 1666, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

“[T]hrough the City … , observing the ruins … .  So … to the [rebuilt] Upper ‘Change, which is almost as good as the old one; only shops are but on one side”.

Remarkably, a matter of mere  weeks after the devastating Great Fire of September 2nd-6th, the City was already getting back on its feet and beginning to function as normal again.

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It would be over forty years, though,  before the  rebuilding process was completed, with Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral only finally topping out on October 26th, 1708, and not officially opening until Christmas Day, December 25th, 1711.  Wren’s grandiose plans for the redesigning of the layout of London after the Great Fire (see December 21st posting) were eventually  abandoned on the grounds of practicality and expediency in favour of  one involving much less legal wrangling and groundwork, and much more like the old one.  The  new City was to differ from the old one, though, in several  important respects.  The old narrow streets were to be replaced with new wide ones, designed to  simultaneously hinder the spread of fire and unencumber the flow of traffic.  The  old  houses were to be replaced by new ones of four categories of standard build, of fire-proof stone and brick rather than timber; and the old  breeding-grounds for disease were to be swept aside in the process, although incidentally rather than  by design.  And, as another incidental, the old organic economy was to be replaced by a modern mineral economy, considerably ahead of its time, fuelled by coal rather than wood.  The cost of the entire enterprise, incidentally, was covered by an emergency  tax on coal imposed by Act of Parliament.

The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire is discussed on various of our walks, including the “Great Fire … ” and “Lost Wren Churches” 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).

Queen Henrietta Maria returns from exile (Samuel Pepys, 1660)

On this day in 1660, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary:

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“So to White Hall, where when I came I saw the boats going very thick to Lambeth, and all the stairs to be full of people.  I was told the Queen [Henrietta Maria of France, the widow of the executed Charles I, and the mother of the then recently restored Charles II] was a-coming [home from the continent, where she had been in exile since her husband’s execution]; so I got a sculler for sixpence to carry me thither and back again, but I could not get to see the Queen; so came back, and to my Lord’s, … and I supt with him, he being very merry  … .  [Eventually] … I took leave of my Lord and Lady, and …  coach …  home … .  So to bed.  I observed this night very few bonfires in the City, not above three in all London, for the Queen’s coming; whereby I guess that (as I believed before) her coming do please but very few”.

On a related note, Somerset House, which  was once owned by Henrietta Maria, is passed on our “St Paul’s to Westminster Abbey” standard walk, and on our “Tudor and Stuart London” themed special (see also below).

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).

Somerset House

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The original Somerset House was built for the Lord Protector Somerset in 1547-50.  After Somerset’s  execution in 1552, it came to owned, occupied and modified in turn by the then-future Queen, Elizabeth I, in 1553; by    the then King, James I’s wife, Anne of Denmark, in 1603; by  the then-future King, Charles I, in 1619; and by the then King, Charles I’s wife, the French Henrietta Maria, in 1626.  It then survived the Civil War and Commonwealth of 1642-60, during which time it was temporarily appropriated by Parliamentarian authorities, as well as the Great Fire of 1666.  In 1669, the then King,  Charles II’s wife,  the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza, acquired it, and in 1692, shortly after Charles II had died and James II, who was a Catholic, had been deposed,  she relinquished it, fearing  for her safety there in the midst of what by that time had become a fiercely anti-Catholic populace.  It was then  allowed to fall into disrepair, and substantially demolished to make way for the present building in 1775.

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Of the original, only some footings survive, in the “Archaeology Room”, together with some headstones from the former – Catholic – chapel, in the “Dead House”.