A Sightseer's Guide To Samuel Pepys's London

By M@ Last edited 37 months ago
A Sightseer's Guide To Samuel Pepys's London

Londonist is the exclusive media partner of National Maritime Museum.

Pepys is perhaps the world's most famous diarist. But he was much more besides. Naval bigwig, Member of Parliament, bibliophile, philanderer and President of the Royal Society just begins to cover it. He lived through one of the most momentous chapters in London's history, witnessing the English civil wars, the Great Plague, the Great Fire and the threat of Dutch invasion. Above all, Pepys was a Londoner through and through. Born in the Square Mile, he lived in the capital for much of his life, before dying in Clapham in 1703. Follow this 3km self-guided tour to learn more about Pepys's London.

All Hallows by the Tower

Start at this prominent church close to the Tower of London.

Although much rebuilt over the centuries, All Hallows (sometimes known as All Hallows Barking) is among the most ancient churches in London. A 7th century Anglo-Saxon arch adorns the interior, a unique survivor in the Square Mile. Pepys, who lived across the road on Seething Lane, would have known the church well. It was from the tower of All Hallows that our man watched the Great Fire unfold:

I up to the top of Barking steeple, and there saw the saddest sight of desolation that I ever saw; every where great fires, oyle-cellars, and brimstone, and other things burning. I became afeard to stay there long, and therefore down again as fast as I could, the fire being spread as far as I could see it.

A portal on the western side of the church is known as the Pepys Door — it would have been from here that he ascended the tower.

Carefully cross the busy Byward Street and head along Seething Lane until you reach the entrance to St Olave's church.

St Olave's

Pepys's parish church offers a most macabre greeting. Look out for the crest of skulls above the churchyard entrance. This fearful sculpture prompted Dickens to nickname the church St Ghastly Grim. Pepys spent many a morning in this building. He even had his own special entrance. A plaque on the church wall commemorates the Navy Office Pew entrance, now bricked up. Inside, the Pepsyian references continue. A memorial to the diarist can be found on the south wall. Most endearingly of all is the bust of Elisabeth Pepys gazing down from the nave wall towards her husband's pew. The church is also custodian of Pepys's prayer book, which is on show at the National Maritime Museum for the duration of the exhibition. Finally, Pepys has his own bust in the churchyard, shown at the top of this article.

Elisabeth Pepys.

Head out of the church onto Hart Street and follow it west to Mark Lane. Here, turn right, then left into Munster Court.

Clothworkers' Hall

On your right stands Clothworkers' Hall. The Clothworkers' Company have used this site since 1456, and the building is their sixth hall on the site. Pepys was a regular visitor in his capacity as Master of the company. His diary concluded before he assumed the roll, but he has left his mark among the company treasures. In 1678, he presented the company with a 'Loving Cup', used in ceremonies to this day. This and other plates from the company's vaults are on show at the NMM exhibition.

Sadly, you're unlikely to be granted entry, so continue along Dunster Court and head left along Mincing Lane. Take a right onto Eastcheap and follow this to Pudding Lane on the left.

Monument and Pudding Lane

Pudding Lane, it hardly needs relating, is where the Great Fire of London began. An understated plaque marks the site where Thomas Faryner's bakery caught flame. Nearby stands the towering Monument to the fire. Its height (62m) is the same as the distance from its base to Faryner's furnace. Completed in 1677, it was one of the first tall structures to arise on the skyline following the Great Fire, and Pepys must surely have climbed it. Either way, the Great Fire and Pepys are inextricably linked. His diary is one of the key sources for historians of the event.

Now head out onto Lower Thames Street and track a few hundred metres west. A narrow alley called Stew Lane leads down toward the Thames, where you'll find...

The Pepys bar

This modern gastropub-cum-bar has no real connection to the big man, but it's a convenient and well-named place to stop at this point in the walk. It can get busy in the evenings and around lunch, but at other times makes for an excellent respite from the bustling city, and a great spot from which to watch the Thames roll by.

After relaxing, head back up to Upper Thames Street and carry on westward, before heading north up to St Paul's Churchyard.

St Paul's Cathedral

This world-famous landmark needs no introduction. It is not as Pepys would have known it, however. Before the Great Fire, St Paul's was a bulky medieval building in the gothic style. The diarist watched it all burn:

Up by five o'clock, and blessed be God! find all well, and by water to Paul's Wharf. Walked thence and saw all the town burned, and a miserable sight of Paul's Church, with all the roof fallen, and the body of the choir fallen into St. Faith's; Paul's School also, Ludgate, and Fleet Street.

The area held strong memories for Pepys. His earliest years were spent nearby (see below) and he attended St Paul's School.  

Descend Ludgate into the valley of the River Fleet (now Farringdon Street). Cross over into Fleet Street and take the second left into Salisbury Court.

St Bride's and Salisbury Court

Pepys was born on 23 February 1633 and baptised in St Bride's on 3 March 1633. He entered the world the son of a tailor named John and butcher's daughter Margaret. Although the fifth of 11 children, all his older siblings died young, leaving him as the eldest child. At least one brother, Tom, is buried somewhere within the church.

Pepys spent his earliest years round the back of the church in a house on Salisbury Court, as the handsome plaque above attests. Can you spot the anomaly? It's the birth year: 1632 instead of 1633. The confusion arises because of a change in the calendar at a later date, when the beginning of the year was shifted from March to January.

Our tour ends here. More hardy walkers might care to stroll along to Westminster, a regular haunt of Pepys in his capacity as both MP and Chief Secretary to the Admiralty. Here you will find many buildings known to Pepys, including Westminster Hall, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church, and Banqueting House. Pepys also lived in the area for a time, in a now-vanished road near Downing Street.

Find out more at Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich until 28 March 2016. Tickets £12 adult/£6 child.

Continue your sightseeing south of the river on the Pepys and Greenwich Walking Tour on 12 February, 11am with National Maritime Museum. The tour also includes an exclusive viewing of manuscript material relating to the diarist's time in Greenwich.

All photos by Matt Brown.

Last Updated 14 December 2015

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