The overlays that highlight 17th century London features are approximate and derived from Wenceslaus Hollar’s maps:

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4 Annotations

First Reading

Pedro  •  Link

Banstead Downs.

During his period outside London during the Great Fire Robert Hooke took advantage of the Epsom landscape, and the deep abandoned wells, to do many experiments on gravity, levity, pressure, respiration, smoke and many other phenomena.

(Info from The Curious Life of Robert Hooke by Lisa Jardine)

Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link


The Downs close to Epsom have always been one of the green lungs of the greater London area and even became something of a spa with the discovery of Epsom Salts in 1618. The popularity of Epsom Spring Water lasted for a couple of decades until it gradually went out of fashion and the old well was locked up in 1727 (Pownall, 1825). But even with a regular stream of weekend ramblers from the city, the Downs basically remained a nice place out in the middle of nowhere - and the sole reason to build a railway line terminus there was horse racing.

"There can be no doubt, that Epsom Downs (or as they are frequently, though erroneously written in old writings, Banstead Downs) early became the spot, upon which the lovers of racing induldged in their fancy. And, perhaps, the known partiality of King James I., for this species of diversion, will justify us in ascribing their commencement to the period when he resided at the palace of Nonsuch (...) When the races on Epsom Downs were first held periodically, we have not been able to trace with accuracy." (Pownall, 1825)

The first recorded race was held on the Downs in 1661, but ad hoc races both for runners and horses had taken place long before that date - sometimes even to cover up yet other reasons for the gathering of men and horses:

"Soon after the meeting, which was held at Guildford, 18th May 1648 (...) a meeting of the royalists was held on Banstead Downs under the pretence of a horse race, and six hundred horses were collected and marched to Reigate." (Clarendon, 1704)

Organised racing was held on a regular basis and was so popular that it found its way into the diaries of Samuel Pepys on three occasions in 1663.

"This day there was great thronging to Banstead Downs, upon a great horse-race and foot-race. I am sorry I could not go thither." (Samuel Pepys' Diary, 27th May 1663)

"Having intended this day to go to Banstead Downs to see a famous race, I sent Will to get himself ready to go with me (...) and so by boat to White Hall, where I hear that the race is put off, because the Lords do sit in Parliament to-day." (Samuel Pepys' Diary, 25th July 1663)

"The town talk this day is of nothing but the great foot-race run this day on Banstead Downes, between Lee, the Duke of Richmond’s footman, and a tyler, a famous runner. And Lee hath beat him; though the King and Duke of York and all men almost did bet three or four to one upon the tyler’s head." (Samuel Pepys' Diary, 30th July 1663)

On the 4th of May 1780 Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby organised a race for himself and his friends which he named The Oaks after his estate. The event - the first "Derby" - met with instant success, and in 1784 the course was extended to its current distance of a mile and a half, and Tattenham Corner was introduced.…

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Ep′som, a small town market of Surrey, England, fifteen miles southwest of London. The springs which made Epsom so fashionable a resort in the latter half of the 17th century, gave name to the Epsom salt, formerly made from them. The church, rebuilt in 1824, contains monuments by Flaxman and Chantrey. On Banstead Downs, one and a half miles south of the town, the most famous horse-races of the world are held yearly on Derby day.…

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