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Review: Walking Pepys’s London by Jacky Colliss Harvey, a guest post by London Historians member Margaret Willes. 

pepys walksJacky takes us on five walks around London to recreate the world of Samuel Pepys, the 17th century diarist. This is a brilliant idea, for Pepys was a diarist like no other. Unlike his friend and contemporary, John Evelyn, who wanted to record the events he witnessed for the benefit of posterity, Pepys did not think that his words would be read by anybody beyond himself. Instead, he brought into the diary not only the stirring events of the time, but also all kinds of what others might consider the trivia of daily life. As a result, we have the most wonderful portrait of London in the 1660s.

Four of the walks will take half a day at the least, with the fifth recommended for a whole day. The author packs them with many buildings, characters and ideas, not only of the 17th century, but also from other periods so that the book will be of interest to anybody who loves London and its history. Although I have written a book about Pepys, I found many new things here. For example, she clarifies how the navy office complex was organised in Seething Lane. Pepys enjoyed the shortest of daily commutes.

The book is written with wit and brio, and the author never hesitates to bring in her own responses and experiences. I could have done without the image of a pelican in St James’s Park swallowing a pigeon in its entirety, but loved the likening of Rubens’ depiction of James I on the ceiling of the Whitehall Banqueting House to a man who has just found that he has won a Baroque game show.

There is so much material included, that I recommend anybody to read the information about the walk several times before setting out on it. There are maps, with little details of some of the buildings, and we are assured that the app can be used, but I found that did not work well: but then, I am not technically savvy. The book was written in a time of pandemic so, as Jacky points out, some places may not have a future, including perhaps some of the pubs that she introduces. However, this is a time also to be able to savour London when it is not full of people and traffic on the streets.

Walking Pepys’s London (220 pp) by Jacky Colliss Harvey is published in hardback by Haus Armchair Traveller series with a cover price of £12.99

The author is presenting London Historians monthly talk for June this Wednesday 9 June via Zoom. You can book a place via Eventbrite here

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Margaret Willes, historian and former publisher, has written books about print, publishing, gardening as well as The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn which was London Historians Book of the Year in 2017. 

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