A Pepys Pilgrimage

Aside from the living history, music and storytelling that we do with Pilgrims and Posies, I spend a good deal of time in character as Samuel Pepys, for school pupils exploring the Great Fire of London at Weaver Hall Museum.  Whilst I wouldn't quite call him my alter ego, I have developed quite an interest and affection for Mr Pepys. 

So, last week when Sue was attending a meeting at Kings College London about the forthcoming exhibition "Discover a Medieval City: Places, Voices, Journeys" and all the associated events that will be happening in Chester next year, I took the opportunity to go to London with her and trace some of the places associated with Sam and the Great Fire, a sort of pilgrimage for me, though not of my usual medieval style.

So I wandered from Covent Garden along Fleet Street and towards St Pauls, passing a couple of older buildings that had survived the Great Fire, and perhaps more miraculously later city developments.  Tucked away off Fleet Street was the location of Sam's birthplace and childhood home on Salisbury Court, there is a plaque but nobody seems to notice it.

Not so far away is St Bride's Church, where Sam was baptised, and would have attended services in his early years.  It was later destroyed in the Fire, rebuilt by Wren with the prototype of the wedding cake steeple, and destroyed once more in the Blitz.  The clear up of the latter devastation revealed earlier churches on the site and archaeology from Roman times to the 16th century which can be seen in the crypt. 

Then on past a great many more Wren churches and St Paul's itself.  Emblematic of the city it may be, but I've never liked his style, no character or emotion at all to my mind, especially considering what was there before.  The Great Fire may have swept away dirty cramped streets and crumbling churches, but with it lots of old tales and charm.

I paid a visit to the Museum of London, which has had several new galleries since I went a couple of years ago and very good they are too.  When you do so much work on a theme like the Great Fire, it is wonderful to see original buckets, helmets, firehooks etc, even when you've seen them many times before.  I resisted the urge to stop other visitors who were wandering by uninterested or dazed by the many thousands of treasures in the museum and tell them they should be looking at these.  The new gallery exploring the Blitz had some photographs and memories playing that just stopped me in my tracks.  These are tales, so horrific that only now are they starting to be told as those that lived through them approach the end of their time.  Yes, there was a blitz spirit, but there was also a much much darker side.  Go along to hear for yourself, I couldn't begin to do justice to the reminiscences.

Then I made my way over towards the seat of the Great Fire on Pudding Lane,

but chose not to climb the Monument on this occasion, I've done that a couple of years ago and got the certificate to prove it.

Not so very far away was Seething Lane, the site of the Navy Office buildings where Samuel Pepys lived during his diary years, though his home survived the Great Fire, it was destroyed in a smaller blaze some years later.  Today there is a small garden and a bronze of Mr Pepys and a nearby street has been named in his honour, I'm sure Sam would have been pleased and amused to see this.

Just nearby is St Olave's Hart Street where Sam and Elizabeth went to church regularly.  It was the first time I've been able to get inside for a look, and to see the beautiful monument Mr Pepys had made for his young wife Elizabeth, a vibrant image looking directly at the Navy Office pew where Sam would have been sitting each Sunday.  He was later buried under the communion altar, but didn't get his own monumental inscription until the publication of his diaries over a century and a half after his death.

So, the city is much changed since Samuel Pepys' time, but there is still a lot he would recognise and for me it was a chance to get better acquainted with both the place and the man.  Now, in two days time I will be donning the periwig once more for the first of thirty or so Great Fire of London workshops I'll be doing this autumn...

Return to the Water Tower

A couple of weekends ago we were back in the Water Tower on the Chester city walls, as it was one of the many historic places that welcomed visitors for Heritage Open Days.  We've done this event for eight years now and it always brings out a great number of people who are walking the walls and keen to have a peep inside.

We set up displays exploring pilgrimage in medieval Chester and also music as the tower's rib vaulting gives a great acoustic.

The tower was built in 1322, at the grand cost of £100, to guard the port of Chester.  At this time, the port was the most important in the North West of England with spices, wine, stone and cloth being imported and hides, wool and salt heading out.  It was also the main route to Ireland.  As the River Dee had been silting up and changing course away from the city walls, an extra spur wall had to be built and a new tower in the river itself.  This could then be used defensively and to check the amount of goods coming in so the appropriate tolls and taxes could be levied.  Within another 150 years the river had shifted its course again and the tower was left high and dry.  As it is difficult today to imagine the scene of a bustling port in its 14th century heyday, we asked Vanessa Ryall to produce a medieval style painted hanging to depict it.  She did this wonderfully as you can see, not just capturing the style of the period, but also getting in all of the city buildings in correct detail and location.  Some people are just too talented...

We'll be back at the Water Tower on Halloween Night for two sessions of "Dark Tales at the Tower".  Come along if you enjoy creepy, unsettling folk tales!