Friday 9 November 1666

Up and to the office, where did a good deale of business, and then at noon to the Exchange and to my little goldsmith’s, whose wife is very pretty and modest, that ever I saw any. Upon the ’Change, where I seldom have of late been, I find all people mightily at a losse what to expect, but confusion and fears in every man’s head and heart. Whether war or peace, all fear the event will be bad. Thence home and with my brother to dinner, my wife being dressing herself against night; after dinner I to my closett all the afternoon, till the porter brought my vest back from the taylor’s, and then to dress myself very fine, about 4 or 5 o’clock, and by that time comes Mr. Batelier and Mercer, and away by coach to Mrs. Pierce’s, by appointment, where we find good company: a fair lady, my Lady Prettyman, Mrs. Corbet, Knipp; and for men, Captain Downing, Mr. Lloyd, Sir W. Coventry’s clerk, and one Mr. Tripp, who dances well. After some trifling discourse, we to dancing, and very good sport, and mightily pleased I was with the company. After our first bout of dancing, Knipp and I to sing, and Mercer and Captain Downing (who loves and understands musique) would by all means have my song of “Beauty, retire.” which Knipp had spread abroad; and he extols it above any thing he ever heard, and, without flattery, I know it is good in its kind. This being done and going to dance again, comes news that White Hall was on fire; and presently more particulars, that the Horse-guard was on fire;1 and so we run up to the garret, and find it so; a horrid great fire; and by and by we saw and heard part of it blown up with powder. The ladies begun presently to be afeard: one fell into fits. The whole town in an alarme. Drums beat and trumpets, and the guards every were spread, running up and down in the street. And I begun to have mighty apprehensions how things might be at home, and so was in mighty pain to get home, and that that encreased all is that we are in expectation, from common fame, this night, or to-morrow, to have a massacre, by the having so many fires one after another, as that in the City, and at same time begun in Westminster, by the Palace, but put out; and since in Southwarke, to the burning down some houses; and now this do make all people conclude there is something extraordinary in it; but nobody knows what. By and by comes news that the fire has slackened; so then we were a little cheered up again, and to supper, and pretty merry. But, above all, there comes in the dumb boy that I knew in Oliver’s time, who is mightily acquainted here, and with Downing; and he made strange signs of the fire, and how the King was abroad, and many things they understood, but I could not, which I wondering at, and discoursing with Downing about it, “Why,” says he, “it is only a little use, and you will understand him, and make him understand you with as much ease as may be.” So I prayed him to tell him that I was afeard that my coach would be gone, and that he should go down and steal one of the seats out of the coach and keep it, and that would make the coachman to stay. He did this, so that the dumb boy did go down, and, like a cunning rogue, went into the coach, pretending to sleep; and, by and by, fell to his work, but finds the seats nailed to the coach. So he did all he could, but could not do it; however, stayed there, and stayed the coach till the coachman’s patience was quite spent, and beat the dumb boy by force, and so went away. So the dumb boy come up and told him all the story, which they below did see all that passed, and knew it to be true. After supper, another dance or two, and then newes that the fire is as great as ever, which put us all to our wit’s-end; and I mightily [anxious] to go home, but the coach being gone, and it being about ten at night, and rainy dirty weather, I knew not what to do; but to walk out with Mr. Batelier, myself resolving to go home on foot, and leave the women there. And so did; but at the Savoy got a coach, and come back and took up the women; and so, having, by people come from the fire, understood that the fire was overcome, and all well, we merrily parted, and home. Stopped by several guards and constables quite through the town, round the wall, as we went, all being in armes. We got well home … [and in the way I did con mi mano tocar la jambe de Mercer sa chair. Elle retirait sa jambe modestement, but I did tocar sa peau with my naked hand. And the truth is, la fille hath something that is assez jolie. – L&M] Being come home, we to cards, till two in the morning, and drinking lamb’s-wool. So to bed.

27 Annotations

First Reading

Michael L  •  Link

"Up and to the office, where did a good deale of business, and then at noon to the Exchange..."

Sam's work day ends at noon, the rest is taken up with shopping and parties, and he still calls this "a good deale of business"? Nice work if you can get it!

Michael Robinson  •  Link

"We got well home … Being come home, ..."


“We got well home; and in the way I did con mi mano tocar la jambe de Mercer sa chair. Elle retirait sa jambe modestement, but I did tocar sa peau with my naked hand. And the truth is, la fille hath something that is assez jolie. Being come home ...”

Glyn  •  Link

Maybe, although he is working a 6 day week, but it's part of his job to go to the Exchange to negotiate with the various merchants and find out news about their own ships, whether they encountered the Dutch or pirates etc. Also it gets dark in London very early without electric or gas street lighting in winter. But yes, he has it a lot easier than others down the social scale, and he knows it.

cape henry  •  Link

"...there comes in the dumb boy..." And therein one of the stranger, more interesting anecdotes we've encountered in a while.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Sounds like spymaster Downing has made use of disabled agents before.

Of course Sam could have given the boy a note for the coachman but there'd have been no fun in that... On the other hand the kid seems willing enough to try a little seat heist...One wonders just what jobs Downing has used him for in the past.

I'd say the city authorities are at last doing a fine job. Security right at hand, remarkably efficient and effective response given the limited means, and no signs of mob panic being allowed to get the upper hand, despite the understandable fear. Would this had been in place a couple of months ago...

Nate  •  Link

"Of course Sam could have given the boy a note for the coachman"

You are making the assumption that the coachman was literate. Even so, he was probably nervous about the fire and wanted to go home.

JWB  •  Link

Spymaster Downing?

I think we have a confusion of Downings. Graduating w/ 1st Harvard class of 9, George knew no dumb boys.

Ruben  •  Link

"You are making the assumption that the coachman was literate. Even so, he was probably nervous about the fire and wanted to go home."
Of course the coachman was iliterate. But he was not dumb either!
Who wants to go home?
Having a fire in town take his fees to the stratosphere, but not if he is standing there waiting for the rich fools inside that big house!

Mary  •  Link

The Pierces' address.

They had moved to Bedford Street, Covent Garden, in 1664 so Pepys did not have far to walk before he found an available coach at the Savoy.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Sides, literate or not, Sam could have found an easier way to tell the coachman to stay...Than having a deaf mute stealing a seat. But where would be the fun?

As to Downing, my mistake on taking Capt D. for the fearsome Sir George. But it makes for such an interesting tale of spymaster Downing and his agents that I will have to fit it into a story.

Mary  •  Link

Fires in London.

Of course Pepys and his immediate contemporaries are particularly alert to the dangers of fire at present and also prey to fears that there may be arsonists at work. However, fire was an all-too-frequent occurrence in the city and, in the 1640s the Lord Mayor had enumerated the many causes of such incidents, before issuing instructions for the prevention of fires.

"Some hath been burnt by bad Harths, Chimnies, Ovens or by pans of fire set upon boards; some by Cloaths hanging against the fire; some by leaving great fires in chimnies where the sparks.... fell and fired the boards, painted cloths, Wainscots, Rushes, Mats ... some by ... shooting off pieces [firing shot-guns up the chimney, a brisk way of cleaning it].... some by setting candles under shelves; some by leaving candles neere their beds; some by snuffs of candles, Tobacco snuffs [pipe dottles]; some by drunkards, some by warming beds; some by looking under beds with Candles; some by sleeping at Work, leaving their Candles by them ... or by foul chimnies.... some by Candles falling out of their Candlesticks; some by sticking their Candles upon posts .... and some have been fired a purpose by villany or Treason"

Quoted by Liza Pickard in "Restoration London."

Barry P. Reich  •  Link

"...Mr. Tripp, who dances well...." Love the unconscious pun.

Barry P. Reich  •  Link

"...Mr. Tripp, who dances well...." Love the unconscious pun.

CS  •  Link

Maybe everyone else caught this reference, but I had to look it up in the OED, "drinking lamb's-wool."

2. A drink consisting of hot ale mixed with the pulp of roasted apples, and sugared and spiced.

1592 G. HARVEY Pierce's Super. 33 Drinking a Cupp of Lammeswool. 1595 PEELE Old Wives T. Wks. (Rtldg.) 446/1 Lay a crab in the fire to roast for lamb's-wool. 1621 BURTON Anat. Mel. II. V. III. i. (1651) 399, I finde those that commend use of Apples in Splenatick and this kinde of Melancholy (Lambswooll some call it). 1666 PEPYS Diary 9 Nov., We to cards till two in the morning, and drinking lamb's-wool. 1725 SLOANE Jamaica II. 147 They roast a ripe plantain and mix it with a pint and half of water, and it is like Lamb's Wool. 1766 GOLDSM. Vic. W. xi, The lamb's wool, even in the opinion of my wife, who was a connoisseur, was excellent. 1839 MRS. PALMER Devon. Dial. iv. 59 ‘There is two special stubberd trees, vor making squab pies and lambs wool.’

FJA  •  Link

More than just fear of fire, Sam's recent entries (possibly written up after the fact of this fire) show the entire City has been on edge expecting dire plots and possible invasion. With a fire in or near White Hall, punctuated by a powder explosion, some would have thought it was the Second Coming, or the Papists, or the French, or the Dutch, or insurrection by all the unpaid sailors. Many fearful people would take to the streets, especially if they were themselves away from home. What enterprising coachman could stand his ground while the chance to charge exorbitant fares surges past him, or the next block over. No wonder Sam was anxious about getting home, especially in the rain, even though the fire did not itself cut them off from the homeward journey.

CGS  •  Link

I wonder what caused this evaluation?
"...whose wife is very pretty and modest, that ever I saw any..."
Same as we may think today? as we peruse the Ladies mags of today as they did in those times when they espied the Ladies of the Court in their latest inflaming fashions parading at the "Harrods of the Carlos II" era.

Robert Gertz  •  Link

Perhaps it was more like... "Whose wife is very pretty (Heh-heh-hur-ha)..."

"...and modest..." (rats, sigh)

Linda Levitan  •  Link

George Downing grew up in Maidstone, Kent, which had a high incidence of deafness, and must have learned what we now call Old Kentish Sign Language from his neighbors. Other residents of Kent, deaf and hearing, emigrated to Martha's Vineyard and brought their signing with them; this ultimately became a "tributary" of American Sign Language. The "dumb boy" was simply deaf—obviously, a bright lad who could converse with Downing in Kentish Sign. Downing evidently employed a circle of deaf spies, the belief being that wouldn't—couldn't—spill secrets, even under torture.

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

The fire had been foretold; Wednesday, November 7, 1666:

"By the Duke of York his discourse to-day in his chamber, they have it at Court, as well as we here, that a fatal day is to be expected shortly, of some great mischiefe to the remainder of this day; whether by the Papists, or what, they are not certain. But the day is disputed; some say next Friday, others a day sooner, others later, and I hope all will prove a foolery. But it is observable how every body’s fears are busy at this time."…

Samuel Powrie  •  Link

I recommend the book, 'Everybody Here Spoke Sign Language' as a study of this immigrant community.

Mary K  •  Link


Could you please post author, ISBN etc. for the book on sign language?

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Just to let you all know, CGS on 10 Nov 2009 said:

H o Lauds. [free press??????????]
Regulating the Press.
Ordered, ...
Preventing Fire.
Resolved, &c. ...
AND CGS on 10 Nov 2009
Errata: H o Commons not the upper branch.

I checked both HoC and HoL links and see nothing about the above. They are dealing with setting up 2 committees to review Pepys' accounts again, and banning Irish cattle.

The HoC is taking steps to identify Catholics.

The HoL released the man who attacked Lord Crewe's servant on Nov. 6. from the Fleet prison on receipt of his apology.

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