Monday 3 September 1666

About four o’clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things, to Sir W. Rider’s at Bednall-greene. Which I did riding myself in my night-gowne in the cart; and, Lord! to see how the streets and the highways are crowded with people running and riding, and getting of carts at any rate to fetch away things. I find Sir W. Rider tired with being called up all night, and receiving things from several friends. His house full of goods, and much of Sir W. Batten’s and Sir W. Pen’s. I am eased at my heart to have my treasure so well secured. Then home, with much ado to find a way, nor any sleep all this night to me nor my poor wife. But then and all this day she and I, and all my people labouring to get away the rest of our things, and did get Mr. Tooker to get me a lighter to take them in, and we did carry them (myself some) over Tower Hill, which was by this time full of people’s goods, bringing their goods thither; and down to the lighter, which lay at next quay, above the Tower Docke. And here was my neighbour’s wife, Mrs. ———, with her pretty child, and some few of her things, which I did willingly give way to be saved with mine; but there was no passing with any thing through the postern, the crowd was so great.

The Duke of Yorke of this day by the office, and spoke to us, and did ride with his guard up and down the City, to keep all quiet (he being now Generall, and having the care of all).

This day, Mercer being not at home, but against her mistress’s order gone to her mother’s, and my wife going thither to speak with W. Hewer, met her there, and was angry; and her mother saying that she was not a ’prentice girl, to ask leave every time she goes abroad, my wife with good reason was angry, and, when she came home, bid her be gone again. And so she went away, which troubled me, but yet less than it would, because of the condition we are in, fear of coming into in a little time of being less able to keepe one in her quality. At night lay down a little upon a quilt of W. Hewer’s in the office, all my owne things being packed up or gone; and after me my poor wife did the like, we having fed upon the remains of yesterday’s dinner, having no fire nor dishes, nor any opportunity of dressing any thing.

33 Annotations

First Reading

mary k mcintyre  •  Link

Can’t read yesterday and today's entries w/o feeling hot ashes in the back of my throat.

The Museum of London has this amazing diorama of the city on fire — a scale model, tiny and perfect, backlit with flickering red and orange. Over the sound system, an actor reads excerpts from today’s diary entry. Had tears in my eyes.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Understandably Bess was frightened to be left alone without her companion while Sam was busy but it seems harsh to fire poor Mary M over a natural desire to see Mum at such a time. I like Mrs. Mercer's spirit though.

Great of Sam to show such compassion and give such support to his frightened neighbors as he is here...And Jamie is doing well I see, trying to keep things together as best he can.

Andrew Hamilton  •  Link

Wee Sammy Winkle runs through the town, upstairs downstairs in his night gown

Larry Bunce  •  Link

Pepys has no fire in his house today. This misfoutune becomes a blessing on a day like this.
Not much news about the progress of the fire, but it was suggested yesterday that Sam wrote these entries some time after the fact.
Another topic yesterday was Sam's orders to the Lord Mayor to pull down houses. They were already doing that, but so close to the fire (for fear of what it would cost the city if the fire didn't reach the demolished blocks) that the razed houses were still in splinters across the streets when the fire reached them, and only aided the spread of the fire.
Pepy's orders were to build firebreaks far enough away to do some good. However, I don't suppose anyone thought the whole city could burn.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"...and my wife going thither to speak with W. Hewer..."

Presumably Will's lodgings are for the moment in a fairly safe area...

What a terrifying day for Bess...Sam gone at 4:00am and as he notes getting back only with great difficulty...Batten, Penn, and probably Minnes all busy trying to get their goods and office materials to safety so only Tom Edwards and perhaps a few of the other clerks, Hayter possibly, around...Reports of the fire's progress pouring in...

Hmmn...Sounds like a bit of a double standard, Will being away from the office at his place...And probably from there off to see his own mother and family...While Mercer gets the sack for running home.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"And so she went away, which troubled me, but yet less than it would, because of the condition we are in, fear of coming into in a little time of being less able to keepe one in her quality."

Glass half full kinda guy even at such a time is our Pepys.

Michael Powell  •  Link

Been reading the site a few years but of course this is particularly exciting!

I'm finding it quite hard to visualize the fire - sometimes images and paintings show the whole of the City ablaze but presumably like a forest fire there is a relatively thin "front" of active flames? And behind the front would be all the smouldering ruins of the previously burned area?

Also presumably Pepys has been lucky in that there is an unusual easterly wind which he doesn't mention?

jeannine  •  Link

"About four o’clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things"

As much as Sam trashes the Batten's, the Lady pulled through for him in a big way today.

A. De Araujo  •  Link

"About four o'clock in the morning, my Lady Batten sent me a cart"
Did she send it without asking Mr Batten?if not, then Samuel should have said "the Battens".

Don McCahill  •  Link

In rereading these entries my mind has to go to where the people of the times would have been. This was a very religious time, with more people believing in Acts of God than in science.

I wonder if they felt this was Armageddon? First a terrible plague of nearly two years and then those who survive are faced with conflagration. (Hellfire?)

Both Pepys and Evelyn seem amazed that St. Pauls and other churches are not spared by God as he burns the wicked city.

I have often thought the 1600s were the most turbulent century for England. The death of Queen Bess, writing of KJV bible, civil war and regicide, the Commonwealth, restoration, plague, Great Fire, popish plots, Glorious Revolution. Quite the historic 100 years.

Nate  •  Link

Would it have been getting light around 4 am? If not the only light would have been from the moon, if present, and from the fires reflecting from low clouds.

language hat  •  Link

"This was a very religious time, with more people believing in Acts of God than in science. I wonder if they felt this was Armageddon?"

From the DNB entry linked yesterday:

"In a society in which divine intervention in human affairs was generally accepted, accidents were attributable to God's wrath, sent as a punishment for sin, and the city could escape disasters only by repentance. Some puritan writers saw no such repentance and so issued dismal prophecies warning sinful London of a fiery fate. They included Thomas Reeve in 1657, Daniel Baker in 1659, and, most specific of all, the Quaker Humphry Smith, who in 1660 predicted a fire that could not be quenched. The plague epidemic that struck in 1665 killed roughly one-fifth of Londoners and was seen as divine punishment, but the danger was not yet past, for 666 is the number of the beast, who could bring fire from heaven, and so 1666 was anticipated with foreboding. Richard Edlin, an astrologer, had forecast the plague and now warned of great destruction by fire."…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"Sounds like a bit of a double standard, Will being away from the office at his place…And probably from there off to see his own mother and family…While Mercer gets the sack for running home."

Was Will Hewer a servant?

Mary  •  Link

Sunrise would have been closer to 5 a.m.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

"Was Will Hewer a servant?"

Frankly I think Sam would say, yes, my servant Mr. Hewer. And there is clearly a dispute in opinion between Mrs. Mercer and Bess as to Mary's status. But servant status or no...And Mercer seems to occupy a somewhat upper level position in the Pepys' household, the bottom line for me is that they're both employees and one is getting denied permission to see her mother on such a day as this while the other is being visited by Mrs. Pepys at his lodgings, presumably free to see his relatives safe, despite his duties. Now possibly Bess went to find out why Will hadn't shown up for the office (and provided an extra man about the place in a desperate time) but he clearly is not going to be fired over this.

Louise H  •  Link

"At night lay down a little upon a quilt of W. Hewer’s in the office, all my owne things being packed up or gone; and after me my poor wife did the like, we having fed upon the remains of yesterday’s dinner, having no fire nor dishes, nor any opportunity of dressing any thing."

I'm struck by how little they had left in the house, having had a single "cart to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things," and so little time with which to do so. I've had the impression that the house has plenty of rooms and he's been buying plenty of stuff to fill it. Yet here he has no bed, no dishes, no cooking pots. All gone on one cart! Can you imagine moving everything out of your own house on one cart in one day (while all our near neighbors were doing the same)?

Michael Robinson  •  Link

"her [Mercer's] mother saying that she was not a ‘prentice girl,"

Mercer's mother is making the point that Mercer is an employee; she is not an apprentice and therefore has not signed a formal indenture giving SP rights, including those of of 24 hour presence in the workplace and departure only at specified agreed holiday times, exceeding and superseding those of a parent with an under age child.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Mercer and Hewer

RG, you are surely correct about what Pepys would say. L&M say of Hewer at this time that "he combined the duties of office clerk with those of manservant," so his contractual responsibilities differ from Mercer's and are more complex.

This day, you concede, "Will being away from the office at his place...." -- where the Mercers gather? -- i.e., not away from the Pepys's house, where we have not seen him as a domestic, which Mary Mercer has been....? A subtle, but significant distinction, methinks, gender aside.

Terry Foreman  •  Link

There is also Bess's longstanding edgy relationship with maidservants, esp. Mercer, on a very understandably emotional day for all. Mercer (as Bess sees it) has left Bess even more stranded while the world burns.

CGS  •  Link

duties/pecking order: the potty carrying versus scepter, 'tis why there be contracts to be written and the struggle for equal opportunity to carry the human waste or the gold.
The struggle of not being at the bottom of the totem pole of the trickle down still goes on.

Mercer and allies quietly led the way out of male physical dominance while others pandered to it.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

My thinking on Mercer's sacking is of course strictly from a modern pov; Sam and Bess would feel entitled to sack her or Will Hewer as they wished. It just seems a rotten thing to do to her if Will has also failed to report in.

As CGS notes it is interesting the way Mercer has grabbed just a bit of respect from Sam...In spite of his for her form previously. Though our nervous, probably on edge, Bess of course is the one asserting authority here, Sam indicates he considers Mary a bit more than a girl he can kick around.

And of course Sam may have had too much to cover to mention Bess went to Will's quite ready to fire him as well for deserting her...Only his value to Sam and her need for his presence on such a day saving him.



"...'her need for his presence'?..."


"So...Whyever did you go to Will's that day?"

"You know, this was a wonderful piece you wrote during the fire...I really think they're right calling it a masterpiece."

"Yes, well...What about Hewer?"

"You see him here now? So what are you worried about?"

"You know you ask me every evening if I've happened to see..."

"...Never mention that name!"


Cactus Wren  •  Link

Courtesy Starry Night Enthusiast, at 4:00 September 3 1666 in London the sky is *barely* beginning to lighten. Not even that, really, but on a clear night you might notice that fewer stars were visible. As 5:00 approached you'd still be able to see a few. (The Moon is only a few days old and set shortly after the Sun.)

FJA  •  Link

Mercer and Hewer
Rather than the disparity of treatment between the Sackees, the real disparity is between the Sackers. As noted, Elizabeth is forever having squabbles with her servants and sacking them. Regardless of Mercer's rights to take time off and attend her own mother, Elizabeth is not unjustified in feeling that Mercer has deserted her in a moment of great crisis.
Samuel, on the other hand, as a man about London is used to the comings and goings of others, and waiting for people to turn up late for appointments or not at all. He also knows the worth of Hewer. He is more concerned at this point with saving his personal possessions than with the office, so he does not appear to be wondering where Hewer has got off to. And he's had Tom helping him, anyway.
Finally, Sam mentions (as he often does) that he disagrees with Elizabeth's summary sacking of the help, but he acquiesces (as he often does) because Elizabeth generally has the run of the household and because in this case it means one less frightened and distracted person to worry about.

CGS  •  Link

When power fails compromize

Australian Susan  •  Link

Hewer and Mercer

Hewer did not live in the household, but Mercer did, thus creating an instant difference.

No mention of the "the boy" - Thomas Edwards in all this. He must have been terrified - probably never experienced a fire before.

The Battens had a house in Wandsworth - was this thought to be too far away to transport goods to?

London had had fires in the past and would have them again, but this was was the worst of course, although not appreciated as such on the 1st day. Reading this has bought back vivid recollections of the terrible bush fires in Victoria in February this year: Bush fires happen every year and people prepare for them and expect them. It's just that in February, they prepared for a high tide, but got a tsunami - and 173 died from the horrific blazes. In the aftermath, people spoke of the terrible waste of ash and burnt homes - street after street in the worst affected townships and the silence - all wildlife fled or burnt. And some people were living in tents all through the Victorian winter, waiting to rebuild on their sites. It seems some areas will never recover - the demographics forever altered, people moved away for ever.

Nix  •  Link

My impression is that Hewer was more a business employee -- a "servant" in the sense that Samuel was Sandwich's servant when the diary began -- while Mercer was a domestic servant. The lines weren't definitive, as Terry Foreman's reference to the L&M description points out. But Hewer was a rising man, as **spoiler alert** later events will tell.…

When I was in law school in the 1970s, employment law still went under the label "master and servant."

CGS  •  Link

thus it is why there be so many masterless men floating around creating new wealth as the masters had an over abundance of mouths to feed and did not need that number of shepherds and wool gatherers.

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Sample of records from the Calendar of State Papers, September 3, 1666:

62. Petition of Cornelius Rietvelt, Dutch baker, and other Prisoners in the Gatehouse, \Vestminster, to Lord Arlington, for release; they are committed on a false rumour that they set their own house on fire, and their goods are taken from them by the violence of the multitude, so that they have not money to subsist.

63. Affirmation of five witnesses that they heard Anne Singles [English] say that five or six Frenchmen came to her master’s house, and advised him to get his goods away, for within six weeks that house and all the street would be burned down to the ground. She will not tell her master’s name nor abode.

64:. Examination of Elizabeth Green, of Chequer Alley, King Street, Rich. Doe, of Covent Garden, Anne Cave, and Alice Richards, of the Great Almonry, Westminster. Heard Ann Anglish [English] say yesterday that if her master had been wise, he might have prevented the loss of his goods by fire, for six weeks ago, five or six Dutch or French warned him of it; cannot say where they might be found. Also

Examination of Anne English. Lives with \Vm. Peek, in James Street, Covent Garden; denies saying the words objected to her, but only that she heard that the French and Dutch had kindled this fire in the city. [11} pages] 0

65. Sir W. Coventry to Lord Arlington. The Duke of York fears the want of workmen and tools to-morrow morning, and wishes the deputy lieutenants and justices of peace tofsummon the workmen with tools to. be there by break of day. In some churches and chapels, are great hooks for pulling down houses, which should be brought ready upon the place to-night against the morning.

66. John Lord Berkeley to Sir Wm. Batten. Desires a warrant for the delivery of all water engines remaining in store at Deptford and Woolwich, on account of the dreadful fire now raging ; also for the attendance of all persons, capable either by hand or judgment.…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

"The Duke of Yorke of this day by the office, and spoke to us, and did ride with his guard up and down the City, to keep all quiet (he being now General"

L&M: He had this day been put in charge of fire-fighting, and gave tireless and distinguished service. For the organization he commanded, see CSPD 1666-7, pp.94-5; T. f. Reddaway, Rebuilding of London, p. 42. He acted in the absence of Albemarle, Captain-General of the kingdom, who was away with the fleet until the 7th.

JayW  •  Link

From John Evelyn’s account for 3 September, with thanks to Terry:
The Fire having continud all this night (if I may call that night, which was as light as day for 10 miles round about after a dreadfull manner) ... so previous annotations about sunrise and starlight wouldn’t have been relevant to what was happening during the fire.

john  •  Link

These entries dredged up painful memories of when the barn burnt down. (We lost a few horses, all the hay, and most of the grain.) Our protagonists have a fair amount of sang-froid and seem cool-headed, which is what one needs at such times. But I see Elizabeth's reaction to Mercer as a bit much, despite the stress.

Dylan French  •  Link

ngl, his surname has a rather peculiar pronunciation🤔🤔

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