Did you know Samuel Pepys, the famous London diarist visited Bristol in the 17th century? No neither did I. However when Pepys visited in 1668 as part of his work as a naval clerk he was very impressed with the city calling it a second London.
This week our “walk in the past” history walking group tried to recreate his visit. Our leader very gallantly dressed in costume
Historians regard his diary as one of the most important contemporary accounts of British history. More unusually it is a very entertaining read chronicling life in the restoration London of Charles II. One day in December 1659 Pepys a twenty seven year old civil servant and Cambridge graduate went to Mr. Cade’s shop in London and bought a fat notebook. For the next ten years he chronicled his life and the events around him.
He knew many of the important people of the time and was part of the party who went to the Netherlands to help escort Charles II back to London in 1660. He also experienced at first hand the bubonic plague of 1665 and the great fire of 1666. Despite this he remained full of joie de vivre recording details of the good food and wine he had as well as the pretty women he met. My son Richard and I went on a previous Pepys walk in London to learn more about the Great Fire and were impressed at how easily he mixed important and trivial details. He talks about meeting the King to recommend pulling down houses to make a fire break then goes home to bury his cheese.
Bristol in the 17th century
Bristol was an important and growing city in the 17th century. Its west coast position was ideal for trade with America. Many of the early settlers to Canada, New England or the West Indies left through Bristol. Rich traders imported luxuries such as sugar and tobacco. unfortunately this was to lead to the slave trade. During the civil war loyalty was divided but it escaped major damage. Most Bristolians seemed to want to avoid the conflict. Oliver Cromwell ordered the destruction of the castle.
We met Samuel Pepys in cafe revival, Brisol’s oldest coffee house near St. Nicholas market. He was one of the first people to mention drinking tea which was brought to England by Katherine of Braganza Charles II’s Portugese wife. Pepys himself seems to have preferred alcoholic beverages and on his visit enjoyed Bristol milk the forerunner of Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry. When Pepys visited boats were moored in the centre of the city. He recorded inspecting a war ship that was being constructed. He also noted that carts were banned from the city centre because of the danger to the wine cellars which ran under the streets. Goods were transported by sleds. Pepys dined on cold venison pasty and strawberries. Unfortunately we were not as fortunate but enjoyed a drink in the Christmas Steps.
Traces of restoration Bristol
If you would like to join Steve for future “walks in the past” you can find more details here. I advise you book early as these walks are very popular. If you want to find out more about Samuel Pepys diary I recommend this site.
The real Samuel Pepys National Portrait gallery