Samuel Pepys - A True Londoner

Award-winning blogger and creator of Look Up London, Katie Wignall explores why Samuel Pepys was a true Londoner. 

I always see Samuel Pepys as London's original man-about-town. Part of the establishment, but not afraid to get down and dirty with the commoners, his invaluable diary is not just a historical artefact but a window into the life of a true Londoner. The exhibition highlights these eccentricities brilliantly and here my four London lessons we can learn from Pepys.  

1. Stoic in the face of surgery

A treatise of lithotomy by François Tolet, 1683 (Wellcome Library, London)
A treatise of lithotomy by François Tolet, 1683 (Wellcome Library, London)
It's not like Londoners to grumble (we've faced fire, plague and revolution after all) so when Pepys had to undergo surgery in 1658 he was always going to take it like a champ. The removal of a large bladder stone (apparently snooker ball-sized) without sterilisation or pain relief is possibly one of the worst things imaginable. Despite the surgeon being the celebrated Thomas Hollier, risks of the procedure were high but Pepys pulled through. To mark his incredible survival he used to have lavish meals on the anniversary of the operation, he called these 'Stone Feasts'. Any excuse for a party.

2. Pepys the polymath

An early form of mathematical calculator called Napier's bones at the National Maritime Museum
An early form of mathematical calculator called Napier's bones
Not content with simply being the President of Royal Society, an MP and Secretary to the Admiralty, Pepys loved his culture too. Everyone's a critic, but Pepys had a particular (cutting) way of summarising plays he didn't like and he was also a dab hand on the lute and various other instruments. He even employed a private guitar teacher called Cesare. If alive now he'd probably be running open mic nights in Peckham.

3. He was a foodie  

Great Fire of London

While the Great Fire of London was raging, Pepys borrowed a cart house to “to carry away all my money, and plate, and best things”. The next day (3rd September 1666) fearing the security of his house in the path of the fire, he buried some items in his garden; “I did dig another [hole], and put my Parmesan cheese, as well as my wine and some other things.” Truly he had he priorities straight.

4. Hipster Tendencies

Green-tinted spectacles (The College of Optometrists)
Green-tinted spectacles, about 1650 (The College of Optometrists)
Pepys often complained of eye strain; 'I perceive my overworking of my eyes by candle light doth hurt them … So I intend to get some green spectacles.’ There’s a record of him buying two new pairs from John Turlington in 1667, opting for a perfectly circular bottle green design, a kind that wouldn’t look out of place on Kingsland Road. 
To find out more about Samuel Pepys and Stuart London visit Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution
To read posts from Katie Wignall see Look Up London