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What did you get for Christmas Sam?

Samuel Pepys

The Sam in question being Samuel Pepys, the answer is obviously a new diary. I decided that this year I’ll try and read each of his diary entries on the day he wrote them over three hundred and sixty years ago. Luckily his first ever entry is January 1st 1660, so I can start right at the beginning.

I have dipped into his offerings occasionally but have only skimmed the text for the relevant facts that I was looking for, this time I want to fully understand the who, what, when and where of each entry. As a little exercise as I sit here doing cold turkey (as in not eating cold turkey for the first time in six days) I thought I’d follow Sam on his first days doings for 1660.

Sunday 1st January 1660


Blessed be God, at the end of the last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain, but upon taking of cold.” Sam’s “Old Pain” were both bladder and kidney stones. He had undergone an operation, “Cutting” about eighteen months before and not only had he survived the surgery he had been free of discomfort.

I lived in Axe Yard having my wife, and servant Jane, and no more in family than us three.” Axe Yard was a street adjacent to modern day Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister. Downing Street wasn’t built until 1680, so the street that ran in it’s place was at the time of the diary entry knowns as Duffins Alley (170).

Elizabeth Pepys

Pepys’ wife was Elizabeth St Michel who a the time of the entry would have been around twenty. The couple had married when she was fifteen and Pepys was twenty two. Sadly Elizabeth died in 1690 of Typhoid Fever. Pepys’ in-laws the St Michel’s lived just off of Fleet Street and it is believed that Pepys didn’t get on with them, leaving Elizabeth to visit them alone on many occasions. Jane, the Pepys’ maid servant was Jane Birch and had been in their employ since 1658. She was held in high regard by both husband and wife. She married Pepys’ clerk Tom Edwards and Pepys was Godfather to their first child which was named Sam. Jane was widowed twice during her life and in 1690 Pepys settled a £15 annuity on her.

My own private condition very handsome, and esteemed rich, but indeed very poor; besides my goods of my house, and my office, which at present is somewhat uncertain. Mr. Downing master of my office.” Pepys worked in offices on the eastern side of the yard which at the time would have been overlooking the river Thames.

New Palace Yard

Today, his office would have been roughly around the position in which Big Ben now sits.

Sir George Downing

Pepys’ boss, “Mr Downing” was Sir George Downing. Downing had sided with Oliver Cromwell during the Civil War, but on the restoration had pledged allegiance to Charles II and had been rewarded with the continuance of his position as Teller of the Exchequer (responsible for the receipt and payment of money). He was also granted a parcel of land bordering St James’s Park for building purposes, and in one of those quirky twists that happen in life, built Downing Street, right next to Axe Yard where Pepys lived.

Went to Mr. Gunning’s chapel at Exeter House, where he made a very good sermon...” Mr Gunning was later to become the Bishop of Chichester. Exeter House was situated in the Strand just opposite where the Savoy Hotel is today, although the Savoy shown on the map is the site of the former Savoy Palace. At the time of Pepys’ diary it was being used as a hospital.

Burley Street (now Burliegh Street still exists today). The house, later known as Exeter Exchange was demolished in 1827.

Exeter Exchange

Dined at home in the garret, where my wife dressed the remains of a turkey, and in the doing of it she burned her hand.” Nice to know that the problem of finishing up the left over Turkey was being experienced back then.

Then went with my wife to my father’s, and in going observed the great posts which the City have set up at the Conduit in Fleet-street.” Pepys’ father was John Pepys, he had moved to London from Cambridgeshire when he was fourteen. He had his own Tailoring business just off Fleet Street, later run by his other son Tom. The shop and house where he lived and Samuel was born in stood in Salisbury Place.

Salisbury Court

The conduit he refers to is a large water storage device that sat in the middle of Fleet Street just outside Salisbury Court. It had been there since 1471, unfortunately there is no explanation concerning what the great posts were that he refers to.

Fleet Street Conduit

“….and so to our own home.” Pepys is better known for his “…and to bed” to sign off his daily entry, but I suppose he was just finding his feet. It didn’t take him long though as he included it the following day. And there I think I’ll take my cue from the now slightly inebriated Mr Pepys.

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