Categories
Blog

Shopping with Elisabeth Pepys in Restoration London

 

Royal Exchange 1569Through the diary of Samuel Pepys, we get a remarkable insight into the City of London in the seventeenth century. Here, amongst Samuel Pepys’ political exploits, and his reports of the Navy, the King and the Court, we can also get a picture of where and how his wife Elisabeth shopped at the time.

Elisabeth loved clothes and fashion, and both she and her husband aspired to move upwards in society. The Restoration was a fabulous time for fashion as people reacted against Cromwell’s Puritan repression with lace, bows, frilled petticoat breeches, and yards of flowing ribbon, even for men.

In 1661 the diarist John Evelyn commented on one young man had ‘as much Ribbon on him as would have plundered six shops, and set up Twenty Country Pedlars; all his body was dres’t like a May-pole’.

Elisabeth often shopped at Unthank’s the tailors, a large shop in Charing Cross, where she was measured for her gowns, and would choose fabric and cloth. Unlike shoemakers and bootmakers, whose leather work could be done on stalls in the open air, tailors usually worked indoors out of the weather. ByV & A Ribbon Gloves the end of the 17th century more exotic and valuable fabrics from abroad such as East Indian chintz became popular.

Sometimes more expensive fabric, such as chintz or silk, was supplied by the client, leading to tailors being seen as cheaters, because the client suspected they skimped when making up the fabric and used the left-overs to make smaller garments they would then sell on. Many pamphlets of the time describe tailors in this rather unflattering way.

A range of accessories that were both decorative and practical were available. Decorative muffs acted as a place to store handkerchiefs, purses and perfumes. Hoods, both attached to, and unattached to cloaks were popular too, with some shops only selling hoods. Opposite – ribbon-trimmed gloves from the V&A.

In the diary, arguments between Samuel and Elisabeth were frequent, especially over money.  For example after the Duke of Gloucester died and everyone was in mourning, Elisabeth overspent the fifteen pounds she’d been given for her mourning costume, and Pepys says ‘after I had looked over the things my wife had bought today…they costing too much, I went to bed in a discontent.’

Elisabeth would have taken her coins and tokens (coins were in short supply during Charles II’s reign) and go to the Royal Exchange, which before the great fire was the great centre of commerce in the city. The coins illustrated read:  ‘Coffee Tobacco Sherbet tea and Chocolat retail’d in Exchange Ally’. The Exchange was officially opened in 1565 by Queen Elizabeth I, who awarded the building its Royal title. It had a central courtyard surrounded by more than 160 galleried shops. Some of these were little bigger than booths, and were so poky and gloomy that they had to be lit by candles, even in the daytime. The covered walks were decorated with statues of English kings.

London Bridge by Claude de Jongh
London Bridge by Claude de Jongh

Unfortunately, the Royal Exchange was destroyed in the Great Fire and had to be rebuilt. A statue of Gresham, who founded the Exchange, stood near the north end of the western piazza. After the Fire of 1666 this statue alone remained unharmed, according to Pepys’ records. Unlike today, only shopping, or the exchange of goods took place. Stockbrokers were not allowed into the Royal Exchange because of their loudness and rude manners, so they had to meet at Jonathan’s Coffee-House which was nearby.

 

 

trade-token-002

Another street that was for fashionable ladies was Paternoster Row, which according to Stow in his book about London, ‘their shops were so resorted to by the nobility and gentry in their coaches, that oft-times the street was so stop’d up that there was no passage for foot passengers.’

Elisabeth also shopped for small linens in Westminster Hall, where it appears you were allowed to run up a bill on account. Mrs Mitchell and Betty Lane both had stalls there, where Samuel Pepys dallied with more than just lace and linen. Westminster Hall was a magnificent arched and lofty building, part of the Palace of Westminster, and some people were disgusted it should be used for trade. But it appears that chapels and palaces were all a part of Elisabeth Pepys’s shopping experience in the hedonistic era of the Restoration.

Pictures: The Ropleasing mr pepysyal Exchange, wikipedia

Leather Tokens: London Museum via the Guardian

My book featuring Elizabeth Pepys is out now. myBook.to/MrPepys

CLICK HERE  to tweet this post!

 

Find me on Facebook or on Pinterest or @swiftstory

 

 

Categories
Blog

Publication Day for Pleasing Mr Pepys – Read an extract!

pleasing mr pepysPublication Day Pleasing Mr Pepys

I’m delighted to announce that Pleasing Mr Pepys is out today with Accent Press. In years gone by, when there were far less books produced, and all of them physical copies, publishing a book was a much more unique and celebrated event. Now there are thousands of e-books released every day and we have a new information age which is transforming the way we find and digest information.

But the beauty of books is that, like people, each one is unique. There is no other book that re-imagines the story of the events in Pepys’ famous diary from the point of view of Deb Willet, the maid he fell in love with. My portrayal of her is different from the Radio and TV interpretations which lost sight of the fact that she was very well-educated. I have given her a vibrant life which takes place both within the confines of the diary and within my imagination – a life that involves espionage, double-dealing, and treason.

I started the novel in 2013, so it is a joy to finally hold a copy in my hands.

The book has three women from Pepys’s diary as major point of view characters – Deb the maidservant, Elisabeth Pepys (wife of the famous diarist) and Abigail Williams, an actress who is mistress to Lord Bruncker and despised by Elisabeth. Here’s the first chapter to give you a flavour of Abigail.

 

Pleasing Mr Pepys

Chapter 1

September 1667

A metallic rattle – the key in the lock. Abigail Williams stiffened her spine as the draught from the downstairs door and the stink of the Fleet River blew round her ankles. Harrington closed the door and she heard him scratch the flint to light the wall sconces. Lighting up time already. It had been daylight when she had broken into his house. With one hand, she held her skirts closer to her thighs; with the other, she gripped the flat-bladed knife – a small weapon, but the edge sharpened razor-thin. She pressed back against the wall behind the door as the light from the hall flickered across her kidskin shoes.

Harrington’s footsteps lumbered up the stairs, his breathing laboured. She tightened her hold on the knife, preparing herself. These breaths would be his last. She found death harder to bear than she used to, now she had seen so much suffering – the plague years, the fire. Oddly, Harrington paused on the threshold of the room, as if he could sense her waiting presence. Through the crack of the open door she saw him standing motionless, his steeple hat a silhouette in the wavering light, his head cocked, listening.

He was an old hand, like her. She repressed a flash of compassion, the foolish urge to call out, to warn him. But then his dark back came through the door and he stepped in front of her, and without even thinking she moved like quicksilver. The knife slid easily across the side of his neck. With the other hand she pushed as hard as she could. He tried to turn, but it was too late, he was already falling, clutching his collar, blood slippery over his hands, hat rolling away under the table.

Experience told Abigail it had been enough. She ran, hoisting up her skirts, down the stairs, flinging the front door open, out into the cramped back alley. Nobody followed her; the passage to Fleet Street was empty. A brownish fog wreathed around her hem. When she finally slowed, she took a rag from inside her sleeve and wiped her blade, wrapped it, and stowed it in the pocket hanging next to her petticoats. She put a hand up to the bare skin at her chest, feeling the hot rise and fall of her collarbone.

She emerged onto the main thoroughfare where the houses were lit with torches, and walked, heart thudding, down towards the King’s playhouse. Arriving at the theatre, she saw Lord Bruncker’s carriage was where he had left it, across the road. His coachman was leaning against the wall, a smoking pipe in his mouth, waiting. She didn’t want to go in the front way – someone might ask why she was late – so instead she made for the tiring house behind.

The stage doorman knew her and nodded to her as she entered. The dressing room was empty, the actors ready to enter by the shutters for act two. From there, the audience sounded like the sea, the swell of all those voices. She checked her face and the satin of her dress for stains: a few dark spots on her sleeve, easily explained away.

Only now did she begin to shake. It was always like this: afterwards the weakness, nausea and trembling would set in. The moment when she wished she could turn back the day, the moment when she remembered their eyes, hollow with their unspoken question. Why?

Legs as unsteady as a newborn calf, she paused, leaned heavily on the trestle table, took out a phial of camphor from her pocket and inhaled. Better.

She arranged her face into a smile. Her performance for Lord Bruncker was about to begin. Her petticoat rustled against the boards as she went along the corridor and up the stairs into the box. On the way she almost bumped into Mr Pepys hurrying up the same stairs with a supply of nuts and oranges.

‘For Elisabeth,’ he said, obviously feeling the need to apologise for the sheer number of squashed bags hugged to his chest.

She nodded and stood aside, lowering her eyes to avoid his conversation. He could talk the baggage off a donkey. To her relief, he squeezed past and hurried into his own box further along the row.

When she got to her own, the candelabra had been lit, and upon her arrival Lord Bruncker drew out the chair so that she could sit.

‘Ah, there you are,’ he whispered. ‘You’re late. You missed the first act.’

She shook her head. ‘The traffic through town—’

‘Hush, they’re about to start again. Have a confit.’

She reached out her hand and smiled, took a marchpane cherry, but dropped it under her seat as soon as Lord Bruncker turned back to look at the stage. She was glad his attention was diverted, so he did not notice her pallid face or that she could not swallow.

The actor who had just entered rapped three times for silence, his face ghoulish from the footlights, which smoked in their holders. The hubbub fell to a hush. But Abigail’s thoughts would not lie quiet; she was thinking of Harrington, of how long it would be before they found him.

He should have listened to Piet. Then his mouth wouldn’t have had to be shut the hard way. She’d liked him, but in her business, liking was a luxury she was ill able to afford.

*****

Samuel_Pepys

You can buy the book here on Amazon in the UK or in the US , Waterstones, Guardian Bookshop or your local bookseller.

Deb Willet, Elizabeth Pepys’s maid and the object of Samuel Pepys’s attentions, is finally given centre-stage after 350 years, and her tale was worth waiting for. This is exceptional story-telling. L. C. Tyler author of the Historical John Grey Mysteries

Laced with emotional intensity and drama. Reader’s Favorite

The first chapter will suck you right in immediately; there is drama and intensity…before you even know who these characters are! I was hooked!  The Maiden’s Court Blog