There was a large garden at the Navy Office where Pepys lived and worked during the diary years. It stretched from behind the Office buildings down to the “Merchant’s Gate” or tradesman’s entrance, on Tower Hill.

The premises on Seething Lane (where Pepys lived during the diary years) had been acquired by the Navy Office in 1654 and had once been the home of Sir John Wolstenholme. Adjacent to this was a house and gardens belonging to Lord Lumley, which can be seen (middle right, north of Tower Hill) in the Agas map of 1591.

In 1598 John Stow wrote:

Next to these [almshouses on Tower Hill] is the Lord Lumley’s house, builded in the time of King Henry the eight by Sir Thomas Wiat the father, upon one plot of ground of late pertaining to the …Crossed Friars, where part of their house stood: and this is the furthest part of Ealdgate Ward towards the South and joineth to the Tower Hill.

(John Stow, A Survey of London, p.148)

In 1641 Lord Lumley’s descendents applied for a licence to demolish the house because it had had fallen into ruin, but the garden seems to have remained intact. This was the garden which bordered Tower Hill and through which Pepys came and went in secret when he was avoiding the bailiffs:

…and so the back way over Little Tower Hill; and with my cloak over my face, took one of the watermen along with me, and staid behind a wall in the New-buildings behind our garden, while he went to see whether any body stood within the Merchants’ Gate, under which we pass to go into our garden, and there standing but a little dirty boy before the gate, did make me quake and sweat to think he might be a Trepan. But there was nobody, and so I got safe into the garden, and coming to open my office door, something behind it fell in the opening, which made me start.

(Diary, 23 February 1663)

This 1742 print shows the wall and gate as they were in 1597 at the north-west edge of Tower Hill:

Tower Hill

Lord Lumley was an extremely wealthy Elizabethan and while this had been his London home, he also owned Lumley Castle in Durham and, for a time, the famous Nonsuch Palace where the original garden had been laid out by Henry VIII. It was at Nonsuch that he created an acclaimed garden with gravel walks, formal beds, flowers in pots and fountains. It seems possible that Lumley’s knowledge and taste should have also been applied to the less extensive garden spaces of his London property and judging by this conversation between Pepys the architect Hugh May, the Navy Office garden was in this formal style:

Among other things, discoursing of the present fashion of gardens to make them plain, that we have the best walks of gravell in the world, France having no nor Italy; and our green of our bowling allies is better than any they have. So our business here being ayre, this is the best way, only with a little mixture of statues, or pots, which may be handsome, and so filled with another pot of such and such a flower or greene as the season of the year will bear. And then for flowers, they are best seen in a little plat by themselves; besides, their borders spoil the walks of another garden: and then for fruit, the best way is to have walls built circularly one within another, to the South, on purpose for fruit, and leave the walking garden only for that use.

(Diary, 22 July 1666)

In other words, a garden’s main function in Pepys’ opinion, was to provide an opportunity for outdoor exercise.

Although Pepys did not have the time or the opportunity to develop a garden of his own, he enjoyed the garden as a place of exercise and recreation. He used the space as a meeting-place when he wanted to conduct conversations off the record, and a favourite pastime was to sit among the flowers on a balmy evening, singing or playing his flageolet in the company of his wife and one or other of their female companions:

About 11 home, it being a fine moonshine and so my wife and Mercer come into the garden, and, my business being done, we sang till about twelve at night, with mighty pleasure to ourselves and neighbours, by their casements opening, and so home to supper and to bed.

(Diary, 25 April 1666)

The garden was also the place where he famously buried his parmesan cheese when the Great Fire was raging:

[Sir W Batten] did dig a pit in the garden, and laid (his wine) in there; and I took the opportunity of laying all the papers of my office that I could not otherwise dispose of. And in the evening Sir W. Pen and I did dig another, and put our wine in it; and I my Parmazan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.

(Diary, 4 September 1666)

Another garden fashion of the 17th century was the Wildernesse which was not a wilderness at all but rather a stand of well-manicured trees. Something of the kind seems to have existed outside Pepys’ parlour window for in his encounter with Mrs Daniel, (whom Samuel Daniel had sent to Pepys to win favour for him in the usual manner of the time) he was concerned:

…and by and by they tell Mrs. Daniel would speak with me, so I down to the parlour to her, and sat down together and talked about getting her husband a place … I do promise, and mean to do what kindness I can to her husband. After having been there hasti je was ashamed de peur that my people pensait … de it, or lest they might espy nous through some trees.

(Diary, 23 May 1667)

The servants may well have been in the garden hanging out the washing. (The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes…) It was the custom to spread linen to dry on fragrant bushes such as lavender:

And in the Privy-garden saw the finest smocks and linnen petticoats of my Lady Castlemaine’s, laced with rich lace at the bottom, that ever I saw; and did me good to look upon them.

(Diary, 21 May 1662)

Pepys’ great friend John Evelyn created a beautiful garden at his home, Sayes Court, viewable in this detailed period plan.

Evelyn wrote several well-known books and papers on the subject of horticulture. In 1661 in “Fumifugium” he suggested that sweet-smelling trees should be planted in London to help clear the air. In “Sylva” published in 1664 he explored the cultivation of trees and his 1693 translation from the French of De La Quintinier’s book on English gardenswas published as “The Compleat Gardener”. He planned to write “The Plan of a Royal Garden” but this was never completed. An extract, “Acetaria” a treatise on salads, was published separately in 1699.

And here he [Evelyn] showed me his gardens, which are for variety of evergreens, and hedge of holly, the finest things I ever saw in my life. Thence in his coach to Greenwich, and there to my office, all the way having fine discourse of trees and the nature of vegetables.

(Diary, 4 October 1665)

Charles II employed the French gardener Andre Mollet to develop St James’ Park where he dug a large canal surrounded by walks radiating out from a semicircle of trees. The following year he began work at Hampton Court where he planted 800 lime trees. For the garden at Greenwich Palace Charles employed Andre le Notre, who had made his name in France with his designs for Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte. Le Notre was unwilling to travel to the English court but designed plans for formal avenues, terraces and steps which were executed by Charles’ gardeners. The money ran out before the planned parterres and fountains could be installed.

Pepys does not detail the plants growing in the Navy Office garden beyond “trees” and “flowers” but John Tradescant, head gardener to Charles I, had done much to extend the range of plants available to 17th century gardeners especially fruit trees and vines such as medlar, pear, quince, cherries and mulberries. He and his son, also John, travelled abroad collecting plants and introduced among others. new varieties of roses, anemones, daphne, fritillaries and daffodils.

Gardeners in wealthy establishments were learning how to cultivate exotic fruits. In 1675 John Rose presented Charles with the first pineapple grown in England:

Painting of Charles II being given the first pineapple

Oranges were a fashionable novelty in Pepys’ time. Available for a shilling a box at the theatre, sold by Nell Gwynne before she became the King’s favourite, they were also beginning to be grown in the gardens of the wealthy:

Up and to St. James’s, where long with Mr. Coventry, Povy, &c., in their Tangier accounts, but such the folly of that coxcomb Povy that we could do little in it, and so parted for the time, and I to walk with Creed and Vernaty in the Physique Garden in St. James’s Parke; where I first saw orange-trees, and other fine trees.

(Diary, 19 April 1664)


… being come home did go out to Aldgate, there to be overtaken by Mrs. Margot Pen in her father’s coach, and my wife and Mercer with her, and Mrs. Pen carried us to two gardens at Hackny, (which I every day grow more and more in love with,) Mr. Drake’s one, where the garden is good, and house and the prospect admirable; the other my Lord Brooke’s, where the gardens are much better, but the house not so good, nor the prospect good at all. But the gardens are excellent; and here I first saw oranges grow: some green, some half, some a quarter, and some full ripe, on the same tree, and one fruit of the same tree do come a year or two after the other. I pulled off a little one by stealth (the man being mighty curious of them) and eat it, and it was just as other little green small oranges are; as big as half the end of my little finger. Here were also great variety of other exotique plants, and several labarinths, and a pretty aviary.

(Diary, 25 June 1666)

Wealthy and fashionable Londoners could enjoy one of the public outdoor venues such as the Spring Garden at Fox Hall (Vauxhall). They were not parks in the Victorian sense of outdoor spaces for the masses, rather places of (exclusive) entertainment:

Thence home, and with my wife and the two maids, and the boy, took boat and to Foxhall, where I had not been a great while. To the Old Spring Garden, and there walked long, and the wenches gathered pinks. Here we staid, and seeing that we could not have anything to eat, but very dear, and with long stay, we went forth again without any notice taken of us, and so we might have done if we had had anything. Thence to the New one, where I never was before, which much exceeds the other; and here we also walked, and the boy crept through the hedge and gathered abundance of roses, and, after a long walk, passed out of doors as we did in the other place, and here we had cakes and powdered beef and ale, and so home again by water with much pleasure.

(Diary, 29 May 1662)

Thence to Westminster palace, and there took boat and to Fox Hall, where we walked, and eat, and drank, and sang, and very merry.

(Diary, 18 May 1668)

Although Pepys visited Fox Hall more than once in the diary period, reviews seem to have been mixed. Latham and Matthews quote the comments of a visitor in 1710, one Von Uffenbach:

[Fox Hall gardens] consisted entirely of avenues and covered walks where people stroll up and down and green huts in which one can get a glass of wine … although everything is very dear and bad.

A more appealing venue was the Cherry Orchard at Redriffe (Rotherhithe):

And anon at noon comes Mr. Creed by chance, and by and by the three young ladies: —[Lord Sandwich’s daughters]— and very merry we were with our pasty, very well baked; and a good dish of roasted chickens; pease, lobsters, strawberries. And after dinner to cards: and about five o’clock, by water down to Greenwich; and up to the top of the hill, and there played upon the ground at cards. And so to the Cherry Garden, and then by water singing finely to the Bridge, and there landed;

(Diary, 15 June 1664)

Surprisingly, Pepys does not seem to have favoured the garden as a place of amorous encounter:

… and it being night, I did walk in the dusk up and down, round through our garden, over Tower Hill, and so through Crutched Friars, three or four times, and once did meet Mercer and another pretty lady, but being surprized I could say little to them, although I had an opportunity of pleasing myself with them, but left them, and then I did see our Nell, Payne’s daughter, and her je did desire venir after me, and so elle did see me to, Tower Hill to our back entry there that comes upon the degres entrant into nostra garden … and so parted.

(Diary, 6 May 1668)

Perhaps he was too afraid that someone would “espy nous through some trees”.

Further Reading

  • Tudor and Stuart Gardens by Anne Jennings. English Heritage, 2005
  • The Medieval Garden by Sylvia Landsberg. British Museum Press, 1998
  • Sir Christopher Wren’s Navy Office by TF Reddaway. University of London IHR, 1957
  • Savage Fortune by Lyn Boothman and Sir Richard Hyde Parker. Suffolk Records Society, Boydell Press, 2006
  • The Diary of Samuel Pepys Companion (Vol. X) by R. Latham and W Matthews. Harper Collins, 1995


Second Reading

Terry Foreman  •  Link

Sue Nicholson, This is a very fine contribution to the site and digital Pepys scholarship.

It provides a much better sense than there was of the garden in which Samuel and Elizabeth sang for the appreciation of their neighbors -- and SP's "backdoor" access to the Navy Board property on Seething Lane!

Thanks very much -- and to Phil for the formatting!

Lex Lector  •  Link

This is a really illuminating article - a big "Thank you" to Sue Nicholson.

Weavethe hawk  •  Link

I would love to know where I could see a larger version of the 1742 print showing the wall and gate in 1597.

Third Reading

Roger Hoefling  •  Link

Noting the reference to the Navy Office in Seething Lane as the former home of Sir John Wolstenholme, does not Sir Francis Walsingham have a part in the story? To this day, no 35 Seething Lane bears the name 'Walsingham House’.

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

Roger Hoefling -- using the SEARCH button top right, type in WALSINGHAM, and chose the ANNOTATIONS option, and you'll find a few mentions of Queen Elizabeth's spymaster. It's said two of those spies are buried at St. Olave's.

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