25 Annotations

First Reading

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Pronouncing "Oyster" as "Eye-ster"

Pepys apparently pronounced it "eye-ster," according to L&M (Vol. 1, page lix). Pepys's shorthand spells oyster and a number of words with "oi" in them with an "i" -- such as jin, pint, ister, bil for join, point, oyster and boil.

These spellings reflect a pronunciation "in good standing" in Pepys's day "and even later." (I recall an English professor of mine reading a poem by Alexander Pope in which "join" was pronounced "jine.") Does this pronounciation sound a little Irish?

When Pepys wrote in longhand, he consistently wrote "oy" or "oi" for these words, as we would.

Patrick W. Conner  •  Link

No, it's not particularly Irish, but the common pronunciation of Engish at the time. In fact, these pronunciations continued in American dialects until quite recently. My uncle, Marion Lake Conner of Quindocua (Somerset Co.), Md. on Maryland's Eastern Shore, used the same pronunciation for all of these words until his death in 1967 or thereabouts. Except for "oyster," which he pronounced closer to "arse-ter" (with a full "r"), all of these words are borrowed from Norman French, spelled "oi," and regularly pronounced "aye" in English. Old English had no "oi," which was pronounced "oy" to rhyme with "boy" in Old French. The sound came into English with the Normans, and was probably influenced by actual Norman pronunciation. M.L. Conner, by the way, also pronounced "boy" as "bye," in jest. "Bye," he used to say, "Yer bones ain't sot," by which he was jokingly implying that you, whom he called, "boy," had yet to arrive at manhood.

David Quidnunc  •  Link

Cheap food

Oysters, often imported from France, were cheap and plentiful, like many other shellfish in Pepys's day. They were popular with rich and poor alike.

They are the most frequently mentioned seafood in the diary -- 68 times.

-- Robert Latham's Companion volume (10)to the Latham & Matthews edition of the diary ("Food" entry, p 145).

Mary  •  Link

Whitstable oysters

It's more likely that any oysters to arrive on board the Naseby at this point would have come from Whitstable, a town on the north Kent shore famous for its oysters since Roman times. Whitstable oysters still enjoy an enormous reputation for their succulence and this small town is a fashionable destination for seafood lovers.

fimm  •  Link

Re-post of steve's annotation of the entry of 21st April 1660

Pickled oysters

“Oysters were still eaten on their own, of course, as an hors d’oeuvre or in the main meal, and since the 17th Century they had routinely been pickled for transport to inland towns or for long voyages. Small fresh oysters were eaten raw; large ones were stewed with herbs and spices, or were roasted or baked in pies.”

from the History of Oysters in Britain at

We don’t see pickled oysters much in the United States these days, though they were popular up through the first half of the century. Maybe refrigeration did them in. What about England? They sound like they could be pub food.

vincent  •  Link

Colchester Oysters compared well to oysters in Podestaria Italy ".excellent oysters, small,& well tasted, like our Colchester,..." J Evelyn 1-8 aug 1645 diary

Phil  •  Link

Barrels of Oysters. Copied from Nick Sweeney's annotation of 16 February 1659/60:

"Two barrels seems a lot of what you would think was a very perishable commodity."

This actually came up a year ago on the C18 discussion list, when talking about the barrels of oysters that Samuel Johnson bought for his cat. In fact, the barrels used to store shellfish were much smaller than the sort of barrel one now associates with real-ale houses--between 7 and 13 inches tall--, so Pepys' 'little' barrels were probably the size of a large tin can:


You'll find an entire thread on oyster barrels here:


Bing  •  Link

The River Thames had oysters for a long time

It would be reasonable that the oysters eaten by Pepys and his friends were brought up the Thames. These were eaten in large quantities and were not regarded as being as exotic as they are today.

The oyster beds were destroyed and the oysters rendered inedible by pollution of the river water.

Xjy  •  Link

Given the depollution of the Thames, does anyone know if oysters are being reintroduced? The Sam Pepys Oyster House - there's a business opportunity!

Nix  •  Link

From this website --


-- I gather that oysters are harvested in the Thames estuary (i.e., downstream from London), but that there is sometimes a risk of Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning.

All in all, I think I'd stick with the ale.

vincent  •  Link

Algae poisoning : Has any one tabbed SPs Stomach problems to Oysters, I have noticed the Walnuts. [ and they do work wonders, need only one or two. Otherwise use a Pint of Guinness topped off with some Jamaican Rum.]

vincent  •  Link

oysters appear to come in barrels ,pecks or bushells

Ian mackenzie  •  Link

I believe that Queenborough on the Isle os Sheppey was famous for oysters during these times and could also be a source of supply Sheerness was a well known dockyard visited by Peyps

Michael Robinson  •  Link

Oyster Pie - two recipes (for full text press 'transcript' button, link page right)
Wolley, Hannah, The Queen-like Closet, or Rich Cabinet
London: R.Lowndes, 1670


Mark Janello  •  Link

The 'oi' as 'i' lasted well into the 18th C. A well-known Glee from 1787 (Samuel Webb's 'Glorious Apollo') rhymes 'joining' with 'combining'.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glee…

This is an old staple of the Harvard Glee Club.

john Walton  •  Link

Not sure if anyone is interested but in my youth [45/50]years ago i recall swimmers diving by the river bank in the Thames near Hampton Court and finding Oysters in abundance.I would love to know whether their is still an Oyster bed there and/or if Oysters are still to be found in the river.

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

WHITSTABLE OYSTER FESTIVAL -- Every summer, around St. James Day (he is the Patron Saint of the oyster trade), the Whitstable Oyster Festival and blessing of the waters takes place.

This year the family-friendly festival is on from 27 to 29 July 2019.

Whitstable in Kent is famous for its shellfish. The oyster was a staple of the Whitstable economy and the focus of the festivities in the harbor area of the little town. The festival begins with the Landing of the Oysters, the first catch of the season, at Long Beach and then the main focus is at Tankerton Slopes, where the food fair and Oyster Eating Competition take place. If you want to enter the competition you need to be over 18 and the person to eat 6 oysters in the fastest time wins.


San Diego Sarah  •  Link

"He was a bold man that first eat an oyster." -- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

Third Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Oysters were a cheap source of food ... and continued to be even after improved transport enabled them to be taken to towns while they were still fresh (as shown by George Owen’s account of 1603, below).

There were large oyster beds off Tenby and the Mumbles in south Wales and in north-west Wales where the Menai Straits were seeded with oysters in about 1680, according to Richard Llwyd, writing in 1832.

It is said that the crushed shells were used with tar on the feet of geese when drovers walked them to market.

Walter Davies quoted George Owen’s 1603 description of oyster production and that of Charles Hassall (1794), then quoted Richard Fenton from an unidentified source:
“In various parts of Milford Haven are inexhaustible beds of oysters, of superior excellence, in such abundance, as to render them a cheap article of luxury. Llangwm, on Milford Haven, is famous for its oyster fishery: all the inhabitants of this little village derive their subsistence from them: they are small, and least estimable of the different sorts which Milford Haven produces: they are brought to Haverfordwest market, now by a late Act of Parliament as to oysters (other flat fish being also brought there) limited to a precise time, and sold at from 6d. to 8d. per hundred: besides vast quantities are pickled, in little barrels and jars, for Bristol and the interior: in this state they are most esteemed.”

"The oysters of Tenby, Caldey, Stackpool, &c. are remarkable for their large size, but deemed inferior in quality to those of Milford. … The limestone coast also of Gower, in Glamorganshire, abounds in oysters. Porth Einion, 16′ W. by S. of Swansea, employs about 20 boats, 4 men to each, during the season: those of the Mumbles (Ystum Llwynarth) near Oystermouth, 5′ S. of Swansea, are deemed the finest, and those of Porth Einion the largest.

"When the fishermen return from dredgeing, the oysters are deposited, within low-water mark, upon beds which are pointed out by buoys; and when a sufficient quantity are got together, they are shipped to Bristol, Bath, and the interior counties along the Severn.

"Dredging begins 4 August, which the dredgers keep as a festival: it being the Eve of St. James’s; that Saint may have formerly been considered as the patron or protector of fishermen.

"The sea shore in Gower is in many places heaps of oyster shells, and the sands full of fragments of them, and broken and abraded limestone: but here, lime being so convenient, little or no notice is taken of these circumstances. Immense heaps of oyster shells are also at Llangwm, on Milford Haven: these, being more contiguous to the cold clay soils of the coal tract, might be used to greater advantage." -- Davies, Walter, General view of the agriculture and domestic economy of South Wales (London: 1815), pp. 306-308

More at https://sublimewales.wordpress.co…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

There were famous oyster-fisheries at Reculver, Whitstable, Faversham, Milton Regis and in the mouth of the Medway [all in Kent].
So valuable were they that from time to time they were raided by men from Essex and by Dutchmen.

EXCERPT FROM “Industries in the 15th to 18th Centuries“ [in Kent]

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Between the 8th and 16th centuries, the oyster became popular with the rich and poor alike. Oysters were often cooked in their liquor (the small pool of clear seawater found in the oysters' cupped shells) with a splash of ale and black pepper.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, oysters were used in many varied dishes. Smaller oysters were often eaten raw, and larger oysters were often used in stews or cooked in pies. Oysters were used with pork or mutton to make sausages. Oysters were stuffed inside fowl, such as turkey or duck, and then roasted; and the oysters' liquor would be poured over the fowl!

Oysters were also pickled for transport to inland towns.

Famous satirist, essayist, poet and author Jonathon Swift (1667 to 1745) once said: "He was a bold man that first ate an oyster."
Swift overcame his fear of oysters to become a convert and enthusiastic advocate of oysters:
In Swift's most famous book 'Gulliver's Travels' (1726); the main character and ship's captain 'Gulliver' became shipwrecked and landed at a place called Lilliput, where he collected and ate raw oysters on the beach in order to conserve his food provisions.
Swift even penned instructions on how to boil oysters: "Take oysters, wash them clean that is wash their shells clean, then put the oysters into an earthen pot, with their hollow sides down, then put this pot into a kettle of water, and so let them boil. Your oysters are boiled in their own liquor, and not mixed with water."

FROM https://simplyoysters.com/oyster-…

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