Tag Archives: Samuel Pepys

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

the-site-of-the-puppet-show-that-pepys-saw

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 … ”.

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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 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.

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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.

 

Oh, divine chocolate

a-late-seventeenth-century-chocolate-house

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.

The Plague Year (Samuel Pepys, 1665)

Plague

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

“Great fears of the Sickeness [Plague] here in the City … . God preserve us all”.

He had earlier written with mounting dread of the advance of the disease across Europe, and of  the vain attempts to stem it by the quarantining of  incoming ships; and would later write  of its devastating spread, and, with heartfelt relief,   of its ultimate departure  in October, 1665.  Incidentally, it is commonly thought that the Plague was only killed off by the Great Fire of September, 1666, but the Worshipful Company of Parish Clerks’ “Bills of Mortality” confirm Pepys’s observation   that it died out at the beginning of the winter of 1665.

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 exquisitely painful swellings or buboes in the lymph glands in the neck, armpit and groin.  It was known to lead to death in most cases, generally in a matter of days or even hours, there being no effective treatment or cure for it.  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.

Bills of Mortality 1

 

Coronacon Day (1661)

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On this  day in 1661, Charles II was formally crowned king at Westminster Abbey.

Samuel Pepys wrote of the occasion in his diary:

“About 4 I rose and got to the Abbey, … and ..,  with a great deal of patience I sat … till 11 before the King came in. And a great pleasure it was to see the Abbey raised in the middle, all covered with red, and a throne (that is a chair) and footstool on the top of it; and all the officers of all kinds, so much as the very fidlers, in red vests.

At last comes in the Dean and Prebends of Westminster, with the Bishops (many of them in cloth of gold copes), and after them the Nobility, all in their Parliament robes, which was a most magnificent sight. Then the Duke, and the King with a scepter (carried by my Lord Sandwich) and sword and mond  before him, and the crown too.

The King in his robes, bare-headed, which was very fine. And after all had placed themselves, there was a sermon and the service; and then in the Quire at the high altar, the King passed through all the ceremonies of the Coronacon, which to my great grief I and most in the Abbey could not see. The crown being put upon his head, a great shout begun, and he came forth to the throne, and there passed more ceremonies: as taking the oath, and having things read to him by the Bishop; and his lords (who put on their caps as soon as the King put on his crown),  and bishops come, and kneeled before him.

And three times the King at Arms went to the three open places on the scaffold, and proclaimed, that if any one could show any reason why Charles Stewart should not be King of England, that now he should come and speak.

And a Generall Pardon also was read by the Lord Chancellor, and meddalls flung up and down by my Lord Cornwallis, of silver, but I could not come by any.

But so great a noise that I could make but little of the musique; and indeed, it was lost to every body. But I had so great a lust to [piss] that I went out a little while before the King had done all his ceremonies, and went round the Abbey to Westminster Hall, all the way within rayles, and 10,000 people, with the ground covered with blue cloth; and scaffolds all the way. Into the Hall I got, where it was very fine with hangings and scaffolds one upon another full of brave ladies; and my wife in one little one, on the right hand.

Here I staid walking up and down, and at last upon one of the side stalls I stood and saw the King come in with all the persons (but the soldiers) that were yesterday in the cavalcade; and a most pleasant sight it was to see them in their several robes. And the King came in with his crown on, and his sceptre in his hand, under a canopy borne up by six silver staves, carried by Barons of the Cinque Ports, and little bells at every end.

And after a long time, he got up to the farther end, and all set themselves down at their several tables; and that was also a brave sight: and the King’s first course carried up by the Knights of the Bath.  And many fine ceremonies there was of the Heralds leading up people before him, and bowing; and my Lord of Albemarle’s, going to the kitchin and eat a bit of the first dish that was to go to the King’s table.

But, above all, was these three Lords, Northumberland, and Suffolk, and the Duke of Ormond,  coming before the courses on horseback, and staying so all dinner-time, and at last to bring up the King’s Champion, all in armour on horseback, with his spear and targett carried before him. And a Herald proclaims “That if any dare deny Charles Stewart to be lawful King of England, here was a Champion that would fight with him;” and with these words, the Champion flings down his gauntlet, and all this he do three times in his going up towards the King’s table. At last when he is come, the King drinks to him, and then sends him the cup which is of gold, and he drinks it off, and then rides back again with the cup in his hand.

I went from table to table to see the Bishops and all others at their dinner, and was infinitely pleased with it. And at the Lords’ table, I met with William Howe, and he spoke to my Lord for me, and he did give me four rabbits and a pullet, and so I got it and Mr. Creed and I got  Mr. Michell to give us some bread, and so we at a stall eat it, as every body else did what they could get.

I took a great deal of pleasure to go up and down, and look upon the ladies, and to hear the musique of all sorts, but above all, the 24 violins.

About six at night they had dined, and I went …  to Mr. Bowyer’s.

…  At Mr. Bowyer’s, a great deal of company, some I knew, others I did not. Here we staid upon the leads and below till it was late, expecting to see the fire-works,  but they were not performed to-night: only the City had a light like a glory round about it with bonfires.

…  And …  after a little stay more I took my wife …  to Axe-yard, in which at the further end there were three great bonfires, and a great many great gallants, men and women; and they laid hold of us, and would have us drink the King’s health upon our knees, kneeling upon a faggot, which we all did, they drinking to us one after another. Which we thought a strange frolique; but these gallants continued thus a great while, and I wondered to see how the ladies did tipple.

At last I sent my wife … to bed, and Mr. Hunt  and I went in with Mr. Thornbury  (who did give the company all their wine, he being yeoman of the wine-cellar to the King) to his house; and there, with his wife and two of his sisters, and some gallant sparks that were there, we drank the King’s health, and nothing else, till one of the gentlemen fell down stark drunk, and there lay spewing; and I went to my Lord’s pretty well. … Thus did the day end with joy every where; and blessed be God, I have not heard of any mischance to any body through it all … .

… Now, after all this, I can say that, besides the pleasure of the sight of these glorious things, I may now shut my eyes against any other objects, nor for the future trouble myself to see things of state and show, as being sure never to see the like again in this world”.

 

 

The Red Bull, Clerkenwell

Red Bull (2)

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; 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.

Red Bull (3)

 

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.  It survived the Great Fire of 1666, but nonetheless required to be rebuilt  by Robert Hooke in Moorfields in 1675.  It was subsequently  rebuilt again at the junction of Kennington Road and Lambeth Road  in the Borough of Southwark in 1815, 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).

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“Winde … such as hath not been in memory before” (Samuel Pepys, 1662)

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

“Having agreed with Sir Wm Pen and my wife to meet them at the Opera, and finding by my walking in the streets, which were everywhere full of brick battes and tyeles flung down by the extraordinary Winde the last night (such as hath not been in memory before, unless at the death of the late Protector [Oliver Cromwell]) that it was dangerous to go out of doors; and hearing how several persons have been killed by the fall of things in the streets and … that one Lady Sanderson, a person of Quality in Covent garden, was killed by the fall of the house in her bed last night, I sent my boy home to forbid them to go forth … ”.

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

Flea from Hooke's Micrographia

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”.  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 (*).

Memorial to Hooke (Monument).jpg

(*) 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.

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.

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). 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”). 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.