Samuel Pepys was anxious. He had been promised a house to go with his new job at the Navy Office, at the extraordinary salary of £350 per annum. The newly restored Monarchy meant a complete changeover of staff in all areas of the administration. The Commonwealth mandarins were being superseded by the King’s Men and Samuel Pepys, having played an active role in returning Charles to the throne alongside his cousin and patron Sir Edward Mountagu, was rewarded with the position of Clerk of the Acts.
When he went for an initial look round on 4th July 1660, he could barely contain his excitement. The houses belonging to the Navy Office on Seething Lane all looked very attractive (“the worst very good”) and his first thought was that he risked being “shuffled out” by the older, more powerful men he was working alongside. It would be a huge step up from his current “little house” in Axe Yard, in the sprawling complex of Westminster. When just a week later he noticed a “busy fellow come to look out the best lodgings for Lord Berkely“, he acted quickly and decisively. He finished the business of the day and then rushed home to Axe Yard, gathered up a pair of sheets and hurried to the Navy Office, where he boldly knocked on the door of Commissioner Willoughby’s house, to which he had taken a fancy, and invited himself in for the night. “where I was received by him very civilly and slept well”.
Two days later he took his wife to see “my house” and records that they were both “mightily pleased”. They moved in on 17th July, by which time Sam had already got the Navy carpenters to create a door out of their chamber onto the flat, leaded roof space (“the leads“); he was looking forward to airing himself on the roof, with a view over the Navy Office site with its extensive gardens.
No time was wasted in ordering further improvements. On 6th September the joiners were in, putting a new floor in the dining room, on 25th there were plasterers in all the rooms and by 4th October the painters were busy. Elizabeth bought a new bed and furniture for her chamber. On the 9th the upholsterer was putting up new hangings in Elizabeth’s chamber and on the 13th Pepys set up his bookshelves in his study/closet. By 19th October, the ground floor dining room was finished with green serge hangings and “gilt leather” (leather with a gilded and coloured embossed pattern) on the walls.
Young Sam’s instincts in claiming a house for himself were well-founded. Powerful and experienced men were also moving in all around him and there was a certain amount of jostling. Sam found that another, more senior neighbour Sir William Batten had “stopped up” one of his cellar windows and he called the carpenters in to create a new one. Sadly “going down into my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of …, by which I find Mr Turner’s house of office is full and comes into my cellar”. Thomas Turner was a senior clerk at the Navy Office. On 29th October Sir John Davis, Lord Berkeley’s Clerk, and his wife moved in next door. Their first action was to wait until Sam was out at work and then to send their servants in to break down his chamber door and block up the newly made door onto the leads, which Sam had apparently done without permission. The comptroller Sir Robert Slingsby didn’t side with the young Pepys, saying only that he didn’t want to offend Lady Davis. Things got worse; on 12th November, foul water started coming into the parlour under the wall adjoining the Davis’ house. Presumably whatever had caused the leak was repaired because on 17th December Sam happily recorded that “this day my parlour is gilded”, in time for Christmas.
Come the Spring and a new staircase was being constructed, going up from the parlour. It may have been intricately carved as Sam later submitted a bill on 1st September 1663 for 21l. 15s. 4d. for all the “carved work” he had installed, which the Navy kindly paid. The diary records that he was delighted but also guilty for this “vanity”. While the new staircase was being installed on 27th March 1661, it had to be temporarily replaced with a ladder; Elizabeth stayed up in her room all day.
Finally a new coat of paint was applied to the whole house and on 21st June 1661, there were new green curtains in the parlour and the painters had finished at last.
In June 1662, Navy joiners built the wooden frames to create a third storey for Pepys’ and Batten’s houses. This work took several months, including a time when Sam had to remove his belongings to Sir William Penn’s house (Penn was away) and then when Penn returned unexpectedly, had to rely on the good offices of Griffith the caretaker to find him alternative lodgings. A junior clerk was persuaded by Griffith to move out of his rooms on Tower Hill on 30th August, “he do provide himself elsewhere and I am to have his chamber”.
Pepys soon found himself with another new neighbour. The Davises moved with Lord Berkeley to Ireland and their lodgings, above the Turners, were taken over by Sir John Mennes. He was soon complaining that the new storey had blocked the light onto his stairway and access to his house of office on the leads (8 September 1662). Pepys thought he had reassured him but a few days later Mennes took Sir William Coventry with Pepys to look at how the building work had “blinded all his lights and stopped up his garden door”. He was also outraged that one of Pepys’ servants had been looking in at his window.
The major worry for Pepys at this time was that Mennes might revenge himself by claiming the first floor “best chamber” as part of his own lodgings. The plasterer and bricklayer who had created the original dividing walls reassured him that the room belonged to his part of the property but he worried about it in his diary for weeks to come.
Location and layout
The Navy Office site was acquired initially by the Commonwealth Government for the Navy Board in 1654 from John Wolstenholme who had suffered a financial reversal. It was bounded on the west by Seething Lane (29th April 1667 Pepys went out into “our Lane” to observe a fire in Southwark) and to the North by Crutched Friars and Hart St (9th Septmber 1667 “our Street” is where the Three Tuns Tavern was, where two brothers fought and one was killed.)
At the time the Navy Board must have been relieved to get away from their previous offices alongside the Victualling Board on Tower Hill, with its brewhouse and abattoir. The newly acquired premises had originally been a large house built on the site of the old Crutched Friars monastery after the Suppression in 1538. The property was known as Lord Lumley’s House and benefited from the original gardens. The Navy Office owned the gardens and the larger part of the house, taxed on 48 hearths in 1666, while a smaller but still substantial part (18 hearths) to the south belonged to Sir Richard Ford, a wealthy merchant who traded with the Navy Office and became Lord Mayor of London in 1670. Pepys was instrumental in negotiating with Ford for the Navy Office to take over his part (20th August 1661) and refers to the Prize Office using it on 25th January 1665, however given the Hearth Tax records, it seems to have remained in Ford’s hands.
On 25th April 1666, Samuel, Elizabeth and Mercer were enjoying the air on the leads “by our bedchamber” where they had recently made a little balcony with a bench and railing. From this point they were able to chat with their friend Mary Batelier. The Bateliers lived on the north side of Crutched Friars (Latham and Matthews edition of the diary, vii p. 117 note 1) which suggests that Pepys’ house was on the North side of the Navy Office site.
The original mansion had extensive gardens reaching to the north-west boundary of the site with a backyard behind the Office and foreyard in front. The gate onto Seething Lane was manned by Griffith the caretaker. On 10th July 1666 there was a noisy demonstration by the 300 (or more) wives of unpaid seamen being held prisoner in Holland. When they moved into the foreyard, Sam was able to slip into the office, so he must have lived to the rear of the office with a convenient entrance. The women later got into the garden at the back of the office and came to his window to press their case. There was a further entrance to the site on Tower Hill, “the merchants’ gate” or servants’ entrance, which Sam once used when he was avoiding the bailiffs (23rd February 1663). The Pepys’ parlour window looked out onto the garden. On 23rd May 1667 Sam was afraid of being spotted in a compromising position with the wife of a colleague, Mrs Daniel, “lest they might espy nous through some trees”.
It is difficult to be certain about the exact layout of Pepys’ house because the diary is not explicit on this point and also because from the moment he gained tenancy, Sam undertook an energetic programme of alteration and interior decoration. Many rooms were redecorated and refurnished repeatedly and Sam used different names for the same room as its use and decor evolved.
SPOILER. The clearest indication comes in the entry for 2nd March 1669 when Sam held the only major house party of the diary period. A large family gathering descended upon Seething Lane for one night only and Sam lists the various sleeping arrangements:
- Cousin Pepys and his wife in our blue chamber
- Cousin Turner, her sister and The. in our best chamber
- Bab., Betty and Betty Turner in our own chamber
- Myself and my wife in the maid’s bed which is very good
- Our maids in the coachman’s bed
- The coachman with the boy in his settle bed
- And Tom where he uses to lie (in a little room off the Hall?)
This is helpful in that it definitively lists all the sleeping chambers. In addition we know that on the ground floor there was a kitchen, an entrance hall (lit by pewter wall sconces), and a parlour. The parlour had green curtains and was gilded. (On 27th September 1662 the partition was pulled down between the entrance hall and the boy’s room; “it do make my coming in very handsome”. There is no record of how the boy felt about his loss of privacy).
A new staircase went up to the first floor where there was the most important public room of the house, a sumptuously decorated and furnished dining room. This room came to symbolise Pepys’ meteoric rise in wealth and status during the diary period. On 16th October 1662 a fine chimney piece was added and the room was wainscoted. On 31st October it was refloored and it was repainted on 5th November. The room was first used as a dining room on 7th December in time for Christmas. Thereafter a new dining table was bought on 8th January 1663 and “fine pictures” hung. An expensive, probably silver-framed looking-glass was hung on 17th December 1664 together with Hayles’ portraits of Samuel and Elizabeth. On 8th April 1667 Pepys had a party of 12 to dinner, all eating off fine plate. In July 1668 after being taken on a tour of the newly refurbished royal apartments at Whitehall, he returned with Simpson the joiner to show him the overmantel as he wanted one in a similar style for himself. SPOILER By 22nd January 1669, he was employing the famous landscape artist Dankaerts to paint four panels representing the four houses of the King: Whitehall, Hampton Court, Greenwich and Windsor. (Hampton Court was later replaced by a vista of Rome) This was the day before a dinner party (see below) and Samuel must have relished the opportunity to tell his illustrious guests about the plan.
Samuel retained his own closet and chamber on this floor. His closet had the green hangings from the old dining room. Mouldings were added on 21st August 1663 and a new floor put in on 24th August. The door was moved on 11th May 1664 and the first two book presses, made by Mr Simpson the Navy joiner, were set up on 23rd July 1666. Will Hewer’s room was also on this floor and when he moved out Samuel initially used it as a wardrobe (16th October 1663) and then later had it redecorated for use as a music room, retaining the bed and thus it became their “best chamber”.
On the new second floor was the Pepys’ (Elizabeth’s) own bedroom and closet. When the new storey was added, Samuel moved his wife’s chamber and closet upstairs and this became the red chamber. New, blue hangings were put up on 10th January 1666. Elizabeth’s closet had a chimney piece installed on 29th September 1663 and was repainted two days later. On 11th April 1666, a rail was set up on the leads to make a balcony and a seat installed. The Pepys’ sat out there on 25th April, talking across Crutched Friars with their neighbour Mary Batelier. There was a maids’ room next to the Pepys’ bedroom (from which he first observed the Fire in 1666) and a room for Elizabeth’s personal maid which on 26th November 1662 acquired red hangings.
There were extensive cellars beneath the house, some of which could be locked up and where the wine was kept. On 3rd March 1663 Sam “broached a tierce of claret”. (A tierce is 42 gallons, one third of a “pipe” of 126 gallons). On 2nd June he found the door unlocked and half the wine gone — the servants! In spite of the new window he had installed, he still needed to take a candle with him to search for his boy to give him a beating for not doing his homework.
On 27th July 1664 the Navy colliers delivered a “great store of coals”; 10 chaldron (about 13 tons) which gives some idea of the extent of these cellars. When The Fire broke out in London, Sam was keen to clear all the old lumber out of the cellar to reduce the fire risk and to make more room for storage should it be necessary. (10th September 1666.) The following day he got help to move “all my chests and money into the further cellar” After the fire he had a new stairway built from the cellar to the yard (21st September), presumably to make it easier to evacuate in case of emergency.
Samuel Pepys was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable collector of books for most of his adult life and his bequest to Magdalene College Cambridge is world famous. The Pepys Library consists of over 3000 books, beautifully bound and arranged by size in 12 stately bookcases. His position at the Navy Office gave him access to the excellent craftsmen who were employed by the Navy. Among other work, Thomas Simpson, master-joiner at Deptford and Woolwich yards, was responsible for constructing the first two exquisite book presses which are now in the Pepys Library along with ten further matching examples. He came to Seething Lane on the 23rd July 1666 and spent some time with Samuel working on the design; by 24th August two presses were installed in the new purple closet. The books were gilded on the spines to add to the aesthetic effect of the matching bindings. The work was interrupted by the Fire and Pepys spent some anxious days mourning a lost crate of books, however they were subsequently found and on 28th September the presses were glazed and the newly gilded books installed. On 18th January 1665 he had had his old books rebound so that all would be of the same binding. On Christmas Day 1666, he and his brother Tom spent the afternoon making an alphabetical list of his books. On 11th November 1667 Pepys was sorry to hear of the death of Kirton his old bookseller, “of grief for his losses by the fire”. The booksellers of St Paul’s churchyard, seeing the fire coming their way, had removed their stock into St Faith’s in the undercroft of St Paul’s. Sadly, and here we see devastatingly for Kirton at least, the fire was so intense that the floor of St Paul’s collapsed and all was lost.
Pepys and his wife used their new dining room for the first time on 7th December 1662. On 6th January 1663 he spent 50 shillings on a new dining table and organised a dinner party for 13th January, inviting Dr Clarke (friend and royal physician), his wife and sister and a “she-cousin”, also Mr Pierce and his wife. Eight for dinner in all, three men and five women (the new table would seat up to ten). Elizabeth was up at 5am to get to market and a chine of beef was delivered by 6am and roasted on a jack. A cook was drafted in to help. They had oysters, rabbit hash, lamb as well as the beef, then 30 shillings’ worth of roasted fowls, a tart and fruit and cheese.
The downstairs room was heated with a good fire to welcome the guests then they went up to the fine new dining room, with Samyel’s and Elizabeth’s chambers serving as withdrawing rooms for the gentlemen and ladies respectively, after dinner. Unfortunately the gentlemen as well as the ladies had to withdraw after dinner because the fire in the new room smoked. (Pepys ruefully notes that this could have been cured by burning charcoal but they didn’t have any; no doubt this was conveyed to Elizabeth at the time.) Cards were played in the afternoon and then supper (the cold meat) and a sack posset before the guests left at 10pm. The whole affair cost nearly £5.
On 14th November 1666 he was planning to hold another, more stately dinner party for Lord Hinchingbroke. This time he began by buying a case of knives, some new glasses and by employing some bricklayers to come round the day before and fix the smoking chimney. They didn’t finish until midnight (picture the scene with an impatient Samuel standing over them) and then after all this effort, sadly his lordship was not well enough to attend.
On 19th July 1668 he invited the talented miniaturist, Samuel Cooper, John Hayles the portraitist, the actor Henry Harris, poet and satirist Samuel Butler who as Sam says, wrote “Hudibras” and the optical lens manufacturer Richard Reeve. This was a stellar group of artists and it is disappointing that not only are we not told what was eaten on this occasion but neither does Samuel record any of the conversation. That he could gather together such eminent company under his roof is surely a reflection of his own growing reputation as a connoisseur of the arts.
SPOILER On 23rd January 1669 the Pepys held the grandest dinner of the diary years. Guests were Lord Sandwich, Peterborough, Sir Charles Harbord, Lord Hinchingbroke, Mr Sidney and Sir William Godolphin. The day before, a caterer arrived to lay the cloth and fold the napkins. Sam toyed with the idea of having him give lessons in napkin-folding to Elizabeth. The food was professionally catered with “six or eight dishes, as noble as any man need to have” and excellent wines. The meal “was done in the noblest manner that ever I had any, and rarely have seen in my life better anywhere else, even at court” After dinner there were cards and conversation; Samuel showed off his books and pictures as well as his (absent) wife’s drawings.
And finally, the plumbing!
Although there were no foul water drains in Pepys’ time, there were bye-laws governing the management of human waste in London. Every house had to have a cess pit, linked to the “house of office” by a chute, usually made of wood and concealed within the walls of the house and emptied by “night soil” men who worked during the hours of darkness. The proceeds of their collection were sold to farmers as fertiliser. When Mr Turner failed to have his cess pit emptied it overflowed into Sam’s cellar, as we have seen.
There was apparently some kind of running water supply in the better houses on the site but the pressure was unreliable. Elizabeth annoyed Lady Batten on 10th March 1663 by sending her boy Wayneman to turn off the stop cock to the Battens’ house so that she could have a more copious supply to do the washing. Sam had to smooth it all over later, saying that it was his wife’s fault. Griffith the doorman had to make do with a pump in the yard. On 21st August 1664 Samuel was alarmed at the sight of people coming to fetch water; was there a fire? No it was just Griffith’s maid fetching water.
Bathrooms had yet to be invented and washing of the body is rarely mentioned in the diary with one notable exception. On 21st February 1665, Elizabeth visited a “hot-house” (Turkish Bath). Sam ruefully noted “how long it will hold I can guess”. The following night she would not let Sam sleep with her and he complained of being cold, alone in his bed. The following night he gave in and “cleaned himself with warm water, my wife will have me because she do herself, and so to bed”. Elizabeth had made her point and bathing was never mentioned again.
The end of Samuel’s Navy Office
SPOILER There is a print in the Guildhall Library of the new Navy Office “on Crutched Friars”. This was the building designed by Wren to replace the building which Samuel would have known on that site and which burned down on 29th January 1673. A fire started in the early hours of the morning and resulted in the entire site being burned to the ground. As always Sam must have acted quickly and decisively in saving his precious books and bookcases as they can still be seen today at the Pepys Library in Cambridge. The Ogilby and Morgan map of 1676 shows an empty site before rebuilding was completed and this is the clearest evidence we have for where the old building stood. The new Navy Office finally opened in 1683.
Quotations come from Pepys’ Diary, 1893, edited by Henry B. Wheatley.
- The Diary of Samuel Pepys Companion, R. Latham and W. Matthews (Harper Collins) 1983
- Medieval London Houses, John Schofield(Yale University Press) 1995
- The London Surveys of Ralph Tresswell, ed. John Schofield (London Topographical Society) 1987
- Restoration London, L. Picard (Phoenix Press) 1997
- Samuel Pepys; the Unequalled Self, C. Tomalin (Viking) 2002
- British History Online:
Terry Foreman • Link
What a splendid reconstruction of the Pepys's Seething lane housing -- adventures with the neighbors, the reconstruction, the plumbing, the presses, the leads, the wine! So many details and helpful links. What a catalog!!
Thank you for this!
Paul Chapin • Link
Terrific. Thanks so much.
arby • Link
I'd like to add my thanks, Sue. I wish there were Google Earth images from then, I'd really like to see the layout, it's hard for me to imagine it.
Matthew newton • Link
Great to read all the info in Mr. P's pad.
Has anyone ever drawn plans and a projection/image of his house?
sue nicholson • Link
I've never seen an artist's impression of Pepys' house; it would be lovely to put one together. Any artists out there?
mscease • Link
Well done article, thanks. So did Pepys ever actually own the house, or was it just a perk of his Navy job? The "claiming" of it seems very informal. Why would he invest so much of wealth into the house if it could be taken from him? I realize that the accumulation of wealth, position and royal favor were somewhat tricky and capricious at the time.
Mary K • Link
No, the house was 'company' accommodation that went with the job. Building work/remodelling was generally done at the Navy Office's expense and by their employees. Pepys generally put his own money into moveable goods - artwork, plate, hangings etc.
Matt Newton • Link
What an excellent post.
Just the kind of details I like.
I could almost walk around Pepys house now.
San Diego Sarah • Link
This wonderful post ignores what we know about the cellars. Since the original building was altered into housing, it is likely the cellars had communal aspects. We know that the Turners were more than neighbors ... their "house of office" emptied into Pepys' part of the cellars.
Cf. http://www.pepysdiary.com/diary/1660/10/20/ : 'This morning one came to me to advise with me where to make me a window into my cellar in lieu of one that Sir W. Batten had stopped up; and going down my cellar to look, I put my foot into a great heap of turds, by which I find that Mr. Turner's house of office is full and comes into my cellar, which doth trouble me; but I will have it helped.'
L&M transcribe the mess being transported in the dark from the cellar: "This night, Mr. Turner's house [of office] being to be emptied out of my cellar, and therefore I think to sit up a little longer than ordinary. ... I called late for some victuals, and so to bed, leaving the men below in the cellar emptying the turds up through Mr. Turner's own house; and so, with more content, to bed late."
It's likely you could go from one subterranean area to another only by opening up the insert walls. Doors, walls, stairs or fixtures would be added or deleted as needed. Only in the abundant wealth of modern era does one tear down the existing structure to make the new ideal arrangements based on ergonomic and practical uses and requirements. Structures like the Palace of Whitehall were really just a collection of dilapidated buildings constantly altered to meet current needs.
Pepys' basement probably included a cellar for his coals (which he purchases once a year), a cellar which could be locked where he kept his collection of gifts from satisfied clients and his best imported wines, a root cellar to keep turnips and potatoes, and then there was a designated cellar or area with pipes coming down from the houses of office in the upper regions into a barrel for the collection of nite soil.
San Diego Sarah • Link
In the Navy Office part of our Encyclopedia there is a link to a picture of the complex ... not at all how I pictured it:
I had something much more Tudor and ramshackled in mind.
Sue Nicholson • Link
Dear San Diego Sarah
This is not a picture of Pepys' Navy Office during the diary period. That burned down in 1673 and was rebuilt to a different orientation .The old office entrance was onto Seething Lane, while the new office, pictured in your link, oened onto Crutched Friars.
The old building was indeed rambling but never ramshackle.