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Epsom and Ewell - The 6 visits of Mr. Pepys
The exhibition, and this text prepared for it, is based on the work of Matt Skipp of Ewell
Samuel Pepys, the diarist, lived for seventy years - but his diary covers only nine and a half of those years: January 1660 to May 1669. It was started when he was twenty-six and he stopped writing it (because he thought he was going blind) when he was thirty-six. Pepys’ whole life is well-documented because he was a key figure in the running of what was then England’s largest ‘business’ - the Royal Navy - but the nine-year period covered by the diary gives a unique insight into the daily actions and innermost thoughts of this most interesting of history’s figures.
During the diary period Pepys visited our area on six occasions: once in 1663, four times in 1665 and once in 1667. He makes it clear that he was already well-acquainted with the area: a cousin lived at Ashtead and Sam spent time there as a boy. Because of the diary, it is possible to detail Pepys’ activities on each of his visits.
FIRST VISIT; 25-27th July 1663
The first recorded visit to Epsom was occasioned by Sam’s intention of seeing a horse-race on the Downs, but that having been cancelled because the House of Lords was in session on that day, Pepys and two companions decided to visit Denis Gauden (a navy victualler) at Clapham instead.
At Clapham the trio were entertained to dinnner (in those days the mid-day meal) during which there was a good deal of merry chat with Gauden’s large family. After dinner they entertained themselves with music - Pepys himself playing some pieces on the viall, a kind of cello.
‘Towards the evening’ the trio decided to go to ‘Epsum’ on horseback, but Pepys sent his servant Hewer back to London to ‘look to the house’. Unfortunately, on arriving at Epsom Sam and his remaining companion, John Creed, found the town so full of visitors that no lodgings could be found, so on they went to Ashtead, Sam’s ‘old place of pleasure’. During the journey from Clapham they had been followed by a little dog which Pepys thought probably belonged to Mrs.Gauden - so he felt he had to look after it.
On the way to Ashtead a ‘goodman Arthur’ suggested trying Farmer Page’s (in Farm lane) for lodging for the night, which they obtained - but ‘in a litle hole we could not stand upright in, upon a low truckle bed’. Before retiring for the night Pepys and Creed went for a stroll in the area and behind ‘my Cosen Pepys’ house’. We have all experienced Sam’s surprise that things appeared smaller than when he was a boy! After a good supper the duo spent an uncomfortable night in their little room on their tiny bed.
The next morning they rode to the Wells on Epsom Common and drank two pots of water each and met many people Sam knew. Pepys was amused by the way ‘everybody turns up his tail, here one, there another, in a bush - and the women in their quarters the like’ - a testimony to the effects of the Epsom Salts in the water.
Then followed a walk to ‘Mr.Minne’s house’ and after that to Durdans - then owned by Lord Berkeley - and a stroll by Minne’s Wood where Pepys reminisced about ‘Mrs.Hely...with whom I had the first sentiments of love and pleasure in woman’s company...and taking her by the hand - she being a pretty woman’.
As it was Sunday, Pepys and Creed, like all good seventeenth-century upright citizens, went to service in Ashtead church where Parson Downe preached a ‘dull’ sermon. Back to the farmhouse for a meal of chicken - followed by cream!
The post-prandial period was spent wandering in the woods (and getting lost) with the little dog for added company. An hour’s lie down on the grass restored their energies for going back to London or for finding different lodgings on the way.
Going through Epsom Pepys remarks on how little entertainment there appeared to be for the visitors apart from drinking the waters in the morning.
The way towards London took the pair through Ewell and Nonsuch. About a mile beyond Nonsuch the little dog, which had stayed with them all this time, took it into his head to chase a flock of sheep and got lost. Pepys and Creed searched everywhere for the dog - going almost all the way back to Epsom and then back to Nonsuch, but in vain. Having lost the dog - and all the time spent looking for it - they returned to Ewell and took lodgings in an inn. They asked people to keep a look out for the dog,’but can hear nothing of him’. While supper was being prepared they strolled through Nonsuch Park to view the Palace which Sam believed ‘to have been a very noble house’. ‘So walked back again; and by and by, our supper being ready - a good leg of mutton boiled - we supped and to bed, upon two good beds...we slept most excellently all night’.
Next morning they rose at 7 o’clock and rode back all the way to Epsom Wells in another vain attempt to find the dog. There were people singing on the Common and Pepys, being an accomplished musician and singer, hurried to listen - and was amazed to discover that it was not a choir but merely some people who had met by chance and had started to sing. (The diary is peppered with accounts of impromptu singing by groups of friends on the oddest of occasions).
After three cups of water they went back to Ewell for breakfast - last night’s leftovers - and departed for home, Creed’s horse having been re-shod with two new shoes. They hurried past Gauden’s house at Clapham, feeling guilty about losing the dog, and left the horse (which Pepys had borrowed from Gauden) at Vauxhall. Pepys returned to his home by boat - it was now about one o’clock in the afternoon.
SECOND VISIT: 21st September 1665
The Receipt of the Exchequer and the Tally Office moved from Westminster to Nonsuch Palace during the Great Plague of 1665, not returning until January 1666.. In 1665 Pepys had taken a second job - Treaurer to the Committee for Tangier - which involved him in dealings with the Exchequer He had been an Exchequer clerk under Sir George Downing during the earlier part of his career, hence his familiarity with members of its staff.
Pepys left for Nonsuch, taking £100 with him to pay in, soon after 6.00am in a coach specially sent for him by his patron the Earl of Sandwich. Throughout the journey he was worried about the dangers of robbery. As was so often the case in seventeenth-century English official life, when Pepys arrived he found that nothing was prepared for the transaction of his business - in fact the appropriate clerks were still in bed having been on watch during the night.
Annoyed though he was, Sam had to swallow his annoyance and spent some time viewing the house and park: ‘and a fine place it hath heretofore been, and a fine prospect about the house - a great walk of an elme and a walnutt set one after another in order and all the house on the outside filled with figures...And one great thing is that most of the house is covered...with lead and gilded’. During his perambulation, Sam came across a young girl singing ‘very finely’ and thought she might, one day, make a useful addition to his household staff (her name was Barker and she did join his staff, in October 1666).
Off to Ewell for dinner with his Exchequer friends Jack Spicer, Edward Woodroffe, William Bowyer and a member of the Duke’s Guard - a friend of Spicer’s. Pepys remarks that Bowyer, at 41, had the appearance of a man of less than 24 ‘and is one of the greatest wonders that I ever did see’.
About four in the afternoon the party broke up and, escorted by Spicer’s military friend for the sake of the £100 he was forced to take back with him to London, Pepys reached home ‘before night’. Never a man to waste time, Sam had spent his time in the coach, both going and returning, studying music theory!
THIRD VISIT: 29th September 1665
Sam rose at five o’clock, borrowed a horse and accompanied by William Lashmore, a member of the Navy Office staff, rode off for Nonsuch again. It was a fine day and a good journey. He had left Greenwich (where he was in temporary lodgings) soon after five and reached Nonsuch by about eight o’clock. He joined the Exchequer people for a service in the chapel - although it was a weekday - after which he went to the appropriate offices for his tallies. These were pieces of wood notched to represent amounts of money and split lengthwise to provide a duplicate. Again seventeenth-century incompetence meant that the tallies had been made out for the wrong amounts. After much argument Pepys made them see matters his way - but he still had to return home without the tallies - ‘left my tallies there against another day’.
He walked to Ewell, apparently with some old Exchequer chums, and treated them to dinner: a merry occasion due largely to the banter with ‘an old maid lately married to a Lieutenant of a company that quarters there’. After dinner he set off ‘and came to Greenwich before night; and so to my lodging’.
FOURTH VISIT: 20th November 1665
The account of Pepys’ fourth visit is very sketchy - it runs to a mere ten lines in the full printed version of the Diary. Sam is still lodging at Greenwich. ‘Up before day’ - and then on horseback with two men in wind and rain along very bad roads. he arrived at Nonsuch ‘in good time’ and collected his tallies - presumably those found wanting on his previous visit. Having done his work he collected a few of his acquaintances and took them to Ewell for dinner once more: ‘and I saw my Besse, a well-favoured country lass there’. Having splashed out ‘a piece’, worth in those days four shillings and sixpence , on his refreshment he and his escort set out along a different road:’but it rained hard and blew, but got home very well’.
FIFTH VISIT: 28th November 1665
Just a week later Pepys was back in our area. Having stayed the previous night at Sir George Smith’s in Throgmorton Street, Sam left before daylight with Captain George Cocke, who was not only a friend but also a business and official associate. They took a hackney coach over London Bridge towards Nonsuch. It was typical of Pepys to stop the coach to write a letter - with pen, ink and wax that he always carried with him.
Having started off again they popped into Sir Dennis Gauden’s house in Clapham for breakfast and to borrow a book (where Sam had lunched en route to Epsom in July 1663, we may recall) although Gauden was away at the time. A brief stop at Nonsuch (Pepys doesn’t give us a reason) was followed by a visit to Sir Robert Long, Auditor of the Receipt of the Exchequer, who lived in Worcester House in the Great Park of Nonsuch. This was probably the main object of the journey.
Sir Robert provided a good dinner - accompanied by the usual merriment and the company of two ladies ‘not handsome, though, but rich’.
After the meal the men got down to the real object of the visit, a discussion regarding the effects expected from the Additional Aid Act - one of a never-ending series of attempts to organise the fiscal life of the country, which would eventually result in the establishment of the Bank of England and the National Debt. The contemporary means for spending departments to obtain hard cash was for officials to borrow from bankers; some of the interest charged found its way into the officials’ pockets, so any attempt to diminish the returns provided by the existing system were not likely to find favour with men in Pepys’ position.
One of those present at this discussion was Sir George Carteret, Treasurer of the Navy and Pepys’ colleague on the Navy Board, who stood to lose much of his perks by the act. In spite of their fears the effects of the Act were not as bad as they had anticipated, in fact Pepys became quite enthusiastic for it later on.
Closeted alone, Pepys and Carteret discussed affairs connected with Sam’s kinsman and patron the Earl of Sandwich. Carteret had been putting in a good word for Sandwich with the Duke of Albemarle - the erstwhile General Monck, a principal architect of the return of Charles II from exile.
After all these weighty matters had been discussed, Pepys and Cocke took their leave and returned to London through Wandsworth.
SIXTH VISIT: 14th July 1667
Pepys’ last diary record of a visit to our area is that of a purely social visit with no business overtones. Its purpose was just pleasure, and as we read his account we can only marvel at what he, his wife Elizabeth, Mrs.Turner (wife of a colleague) and Will Hewer crammed into the day.
They left Seething Lane by coach just after five in the morning, and arrived at Epsom Wells at 8 o’clock, having passed the journey pleasantly with the sort of gossip that might well take place today. Sam drank some water from the well - with the usual physical results, described in fine detail!
Back in the coach to the Kings Head in Epsom where dinner was ordered in a private room. There was more gossip: Nell Gwynn was lodging next door to the Kings Head in a menage-a-trois with Lord Buckhurst and Sir Charles Sedley - ‘and keeps a merry house. Poor girl, I pity her’ (by all accounts Nell was doing well out of it: Buckhurst apparently paying her £100 a year for her companionship).
Sam decided to go to the parish church, it being Sunday, and went alone. There were not many in the congregation, but the five brothers Houblon - great friends of Pepys - were there and after the sermon they walked back to the inn with Sam as it was on the way to their lodgings. One of these brothers, John, became the first Governor of the Bank of England.
Dinner was served They were joined by one Pendleton and all had the customary merry time. After a post-prandial nap there was another caller, Tom Willson - a Navy Office colleague - who apparently knew Dr.Thomas Fuller very well - he of the prodigious memory. Sam was always fascinated by anything out of the ordinary and one can imagine his attention being held by such chat.
After Willson had gone, Pepys and his party went again by coach to the Wells and filled some bottles with water to take home. A conversation followed with the two ladies who farmed the well by arrangement with Richard Evelyn the Lord of the Manor.
Off again by coach to Ashtead so that Sam could show them his cousin’s house in Farm Lane and take them for a walk in the woods thereabouts - only Sam could no longer find the pleasant paths of his childhood. Not only that, but he sprained his ankle when he jumped down on leaving the woods.
Although in some pain, Pepys walked with the others to the downs where he recounts a meeting with a shepherd and his little boy: ‘the most pleasant and innocent sight that ever I saw in my life’. Surrounded by the sheep, the boy was reading the Bible to his father. Pepys enjoyed a conversation with the man who, it turned out, had been a servant in Sam’s uncle’s house in Ashtead years before. The man’s clothes and shoes were also objects of Sam’s wonder, as was the sheepdog ‘that would turn a sheep any way which he would have him when he goes to fold them’. The shepherd’s pay was four shillings a week the year round. After Mrs.Turner had gathered a pretty nosegay in the fields roundabout, they took coach once more and went through Mr.Minne’s wood to view Richard Evelyn’s house, Woodcote Park.
From there the party made its way back to the Kings Head, on the way buying some milk from a woman with her milkpail. After a dish of some rather nasty cream in the inn, they paid the bill and left at about seven o’clock and started the journey homewards in the cool of the summer’s evening.
The conversation in the coach was, as usual with Pepys, lively. He talked of his preference for owning, one day, a coach rather than a country house - how a coach would allow him and Elizabeth to go here and there rather than always stay in one place (he was later to own a coach, in December 1668).
They saw some glow-worms as it grew darker, but Sam was still in pain from his sprained ankle and Mrs.Turner was kind enough to ‘keep her warm hand on it’, which eased the pain somewhat.
Seething Lane was reached at eleven o’clock at night and poor Sam had to be helped from the coach at the end of the Lane to his house. That night, with his ankle wrapped up in a medicated waxed cloth, Sam slept alone ‘but in great pain all night long’.
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