She was a young maid in the Pepys household from 1658 to 1661 and Pepys was very fond of her. She married his clerk, Tom Edwards, in March 1669. Pepys was godfather to their son, Sam, born in 1673. She was widowed twice and in 1690 Pepys settled a £15 annuity on her.

11 Annotations

First Reading

Phil  •  Link

Jane Birch was Pepys' maid.

language hat  •  Link

Description of Jane
from Bryant's Pepys bio:

"Perhaps to Elizabeth the most valued of these accessions to the family's possessions was the maid, Jane [Birch], who took up her duties on August 26th, 1658, and for three years formed a comfortable background to the household. She was a gentle, whimsical sort of a girl, who could not bring herself even to kill a turkey, though, as she grew older, her objection to force was so far conquered by her sense of mischief as to allow her to cut off a carpenter's mustachios... Like Mrs Pepys, Jane was inclined to be untidy so that at times Samuel took a broom and basted her with it, but the meek humility with which she bore this outrage always caused him to regret it. Her duties were of that universal domestic kind familiar to the handmaidens of young married couples of the middle-class, and ranged from rising at two to start the day's washing to lighting her master through the streets on a dark night. This paragon was remunerated at the rate of three pounds a year. After the manner of the seventeenth century, she lived with the family, shared their more humble visits and amusements and when occasion demanded it their bedroom, combed her master's hair and put him to bed. One sees her in Pepys' pages sitting by his bedside, innocently mending his breeches, as he reads himself to sleep."

Glyn  •  Link

The reference to Jane being too squeamish to kill a turkey is for 4 February 1659/1660. How many people would be able to do that anyway?…

Pauline  •  Link

Jane is 15 when the Diary begins, and she appears in the first entry.

She had two brothers, Wayneman and William Birch.

She married Sam's clerk Tom Edwards on 26 March 1669 and Sam was godfather to their son Sam, who was born in 1673. After Tom Edward's death in 1681, Jane returned to work for Pepys. She married a second time to George Penny and was widowed again.

In 1690 Sam settled a £15 annuity on her.

This information is from “Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self” by Claire Tomalin, who sums up with:

“Pepys loved Jane as you love someone who becomes a part of your life…and she appears as one of the most attractive figures in its pages. He shows her as affectionate, emotional, brave, stubborn, humorous, high-spirited, hard working and good at her work; loyal to her mother and brothers and faithful to her employers. Even Elizabeth has difficulty in picking quarrels with her. And he tells us what a hard time he often gave her and how stoutly she put up with his harshness, his unfairness and his general tiresomeness. When the day of Pepys’s funeral came, her son was there to represent her, by then Lieutenant Sam Edwards. He and his mother each received a ring by Pepy’s instructions, and she had an extra five guineas for mourning clothes in addition to the continued annuity “Settled on my old and faithfull Servant Jane Penny” in his will. Whatever scoldings, tears, beatings, fumblings in dark corners and other bad behavior he handed out to Jane were long forgotten; and in this case time allowed him to redeem himself doubly: by making the end of her life as comfortable as possible and also, though she never knew it, by leaving an admirable portrait of her to posterity.”

Pawpaw  •  Link

Reluctance to killing a turkey: Life was short and hard. Blades were drawn rather quickly over disputes. I suspect killing a turkey did not present a problem to most in that age.
Then, as now, one kills if one wishes to eat. Or, one finds someone who will attend to the preparation.

chip  •  Link

Yes, Pauline, this is a great quote from Tomalin. One of Pepys' endearing and enduring legacies is just this fact, that so many ordinary lives, his own included, are preserved for posterity, bearing witness to the timelessness of existence. Jane put up with Pepys' clumsy gropings just as so many a person in a subordinate position has had to lo these many centuries. But if not for Pepys, we would never have known her name, less her brothers. And all this more than a century before Rousseau's Confessions!

Bella  •  Link

How old was Jane when she began to work for Pepys?

CGS  •  Link

Bella, see Pauline's "Annot." above, girls started with a mop at an early age 11,12,13, just like some still do in some parts of the world today.

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Jane Birch returned to the Pepys household on March 29, 1665/66 (a quarter day):…

"This day, poor Jane, my old, little Jane, came to us again, to my wife’s and my great content, and we hope to take mighty pleasure in her, she having all the marks and qualities of a good and loving and honest servant, she coming by force away from the other place, where she hath lived ever since she went from us, and at our desire, her late mistresse having used all the stratagems she could to keepe her."

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

L&M: Jane Birch twice returned to Pepys' service, in March1662, for almost a year, and in March 1666, until in 1669 she married his manservant, Tom Edwards. She always remained a favourite with the Pepyses.

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.