London Christmas (in the style of Samuel Pepys, c December 1660)
Being Christmas week of 1659-60, and latterly moved to the great city of London, I find myself two days past Boxing Day in fine health and of abstemious temperament. This Sunday, not desiring to attend church, woke late morning to find the whole world enwrapped in fog.
I put on my coat with great skirts, having this week obtained this in the High Street, and strolled to the nearby estate of the Earl of Holland to take the air. I can well imagine in future centuries that this green and pleasant spot shall become a park. I think Holland Park a fitting name. The fog was most amenable to my wish to sketch a few impressions, and remained for some hours.
Christmas Eve I borrowed £100 of the bank for my purchases of the season, and so went to my office, where there was nothing to do. Those that did attend on this day grew weary of travail by twilight, and retired to the local tavern.
Christmas Day, being without family obligations and wishing to save my £, I planned a day of exercise in the open air. Sadly, the fates did not treat me kindly with the weather, and it was bitter cold and wet. Nevertheless, I determined to be jolly, and went out regardless.
I arose early and dressed for the cold though perhaps less well the wet. As I later discovered, I chose my gloves poorly, selecting Uruguayan leather rather than good English wool, and these suffered greatly from the rain through the course of the day.
I first attended the Peter Pan Swimming Race (price £0) in that Hyde Park, kindly granted to the people in my youth by our late lamented king Charles I. Each year, much to the astonishment of the waterfowl, a group of swimmers leap like geese into the Serpentine, tho the water is bitter cold. They must exercise themselves greatly to reach the end of the race some 50yds on, for fear of dying from the cold. It is said that one poor swimmer, not prepared for the chill, did indeed die some years past. Ending the race in but 5 minutes, the brave swimmers cheer themselves with mulled wine, which they do not care to share with the spectators.
I made my way along the park toward his Majesty Charles II’s favoured promenade of Constitution Hill. I hope, with his Majesty’s recent restoration to the throne, he will take the park in hand and lay a gravel track, for the walk is fearful muddy – a veritable Rotten Row.
As I strolled along the road through St James’ Park, I was greatly taken by the disruption imposed on the park by his Majesty’s building works. It pleased me tho, to see so many new trees planted, and I look with eagerness to the spring and the growth of the new turf being laid.
Continuing my walk, I passed Lord Goring’s house to the right, and admired his mulberry garden. I have heard, that he may be in some difficulty with the freehold, for the document failed to pass the Great Seal before King Charles I fled London in 1640.
I passed Charing Cross, where King Charles I’ equestrian statue formerly stood. Grant it will be returned to its place one day – I have heard it was hidden for safe-keeping from the depredations of the Lord Protector. As I stood before the King’s Mews, I realised I had come near an hour before my appointed meeting time of 11:00. I had left the garret without breakfast, and grew irritable from hunger. Desiring a capon or perhaps some bread and cheese to settle my stomach, I searched for a public house. Alas, in this Christian country, all were fast shut until noon, and I wandered disconsolately through the streets of Whitehall until the appointed hour.
At 11:00 I returned to the square between the King’s Mews and Charing Cross to meet my companions. What a whimsical fancy – to stroll the streets of Whitehall in the footsteps of Samuel Pepys – as if the man might not step from his lodgings in Axe Yard at any moment.
The afternoon I busied myself with domestic tasks and dined well, but that is a story for another day…