Though there’s a short street in London named after him, the actual spot where Samuel Pepys lived and worked on Seething Lane has been converted into a garden—or had been. It’s now part of a massive construction site. The above poster appears on the hoarding.
I believe this is the bust of Pepys that had previously stood in the Seething Lane Garden. It’s now in the tiny churchyard next to St. Olave’s, where Sam and the other members of the Navy board had a pew.
The church was locked up tight when we visited a few days after Christmas, so I have yet to see the fine bust of his wife Elizabeth that Sam had erected in the church after her death, but the churchyard gate was plenty photogenic as well.
The church is squeezed in among office buildings and hotels, but unlike the garden I assume it’s safe from demolition,
guarded as it is by that most sanguinary of saints.
In any case, the church seems proud of its association with Pepys,
as is the Guildhall, another essential stop on any Pepys tour.
There’s currently a major Pepys exhibition on at the National Maritime Museum, focusing on his life and times (and not exclusively his tenure as a naval administrator under Charles II and James II).
Samuel Pepys was one of the most colourful and appealing characters of the 17th century, and witness to the great events that shaped Stuart Britain, brilliantly brought to life in his famous diary. He lived through a time of turmoil which saw kings fighting for their crowns, the devastation of medieval London by plague, fire and war, and its resurrection as a world city.
The exhibition features 200 paintings and objects from museums, galleries and private collections across Britain and beyond.
Unfortunately, photography wasn’t permitted, though I did get a few shots off. Pepys refers often in the diary to the anniversary of the successful removal of his bladder stone—an extremely hazardous operation in the mid-17th century. I love the word “lithotomy” for some reason.
An illustration from the book above. The earthiness of the 17th century in general, and of Pepys’ diary in particular, is one of the things that draws me to it as a writer.
The diary itself was not on display, since Pepys willed it to Cambridge University, his alma mater, on the condition that it never be loaned out. They did however have a copy of the shorthand key he used to keep the diary private. “Tachygraphy” was my other favorite word of the day.
Of course I had to sneak a photo of the 1666 Pepys portrait by John Hayls, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery. It’s the only major portrait of him made during the diary period.
Rachel snuck this photo of a diary timeline from the very end of the exhibition. We were both a little shocked that it made no mention of Phil Gyford’s wonderful web version of the diary, though it does mention the Twitter account derived from it.
When we left the exhibition, the moon was already high in the sky.
3 Replies to “On the trail of Samuel Pepys”
Thank you for sharing this, Dave. This adds another layer to my fascination.
You’re welcome. I was just feeling a little abashed that I didn’t add any particularly profound thoughts or analysis, but I knew if I didn’t post these photos now I’d never get around to it.