1st January 1660. Start of a Diary.

If grass grows in Janiveer, it grows the worse for it all the year’: old proverb.

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January has seen some extremes of weather in Britain, notably that of 18th to 19th, 1881, arguably the worst snowstorm of the 19th century.

It raged across all regions south of a line from Liverpool to Scarborough, with heavy snow swept into massive drifts by a severe easterly gale. More than a foot (30cm) of snow fell from Kent to Pembrokeshire. In Devon, Dorset, Wiltshire and Hampshire, drifts reached two feet (60cm).

The Isle of Wight was hit by a second storm on January 21st to 22nd. At Newport the first fall measured 16in and drifts reached 15ft. Gas lamps were left alight at Ryde, as it was impossible to tuen them off. At Shorwell the village school was completely buried and a tunnel was dug to rescue the headmaster.

In the 20th century, the 1947 winter is part of English legend, starting innocuously as it did with an easterly wind. On the 23rd snow fell in the south, and was set to continue somewhere in the country for 55 days, thus constituting one of the worst winters of that century.

Until late January, the winter had been comparatively mild and the temperature had climbed to (14c) (57f) on 16th January; by the 29th  it had dropped to -16°(c) (3.2f), and didn’t rise above this level for two months. By the end of the month even the Scillies had a couple of sub-zero days with seven inches of snow on the ground,

The infamous 1963 winter saw the coldest January for 223 years with heavy snowfalls causing severe disruption to power supplies and transport. On January 10th 1982, the temperature fell to-26(c)-15(f) at Newport, Shropshire breaking the record for England which had been set only four weeks earlier.

The 2014 records for rainfall in the English South to the Midlands, show it being the wettest January since the Meteorological Office records began in 1910. This allied with violent onshore gales created havoc and destruction in the South-West, flooding the Somerset Levels and Thames Valley extensively.

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Samuel Pepys‘ ancestors were the Pepiz family, 13th century villeins from Cottenham in Cambridgeshire, before becoming reeves. Appropriately having once been a Roundhead, Pepys had attended Huntingdon Grammar School, the alma mater of Oliver Cromwell.

It was Today in 1660, that the 26 year old Pepys started his Diary with the bland opening: ‘Blessed be God, at the end of last year I was in very good health…’

Pepys born in 1633, was a turncoat, as once a supporter of Cromwell, seeing that the future was with monarchy, become an ardent Royalist, and through the nepotism of a relative, Lord Sandwich, became Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board.

Pepys organised the journey from Holland for the return of Charles II, changing the name of the Cromwellian ship Naseby to the Royal Charles, tackled corruption in the dockyards, and by 1673 was a reforming Secretary to the Admiralty.

He was to witness the execution of Charles Ist in 1649 and his entry for October 13th, 1660, recorded seeing the Cromwellian, Major-General Harrison, hanged, drawn and quartered at Charing Cross. London. He ended his day, ‘Setting up shelves in my study’.(1)

Pepys was a lecher and beater of a string of servants, ‘pawing the girls and beating the boys’. He took a broom to an untidy girl called Jane and ‘basted her till she cried extremely’. One boy was hit with a ‘cane, a birch, a whip. rope’s end and even a salted eel’ (2) Not surprisingly that he reported that ‘Wayneman the boy had run away’.(3) One was sacked for uttering ‘some sawcy (sic) words’.

Pepys and fellow diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706) were to record the changing life and scientific thought in 17th century London, though Evelyn being more high-minded in his detailed record of the years 1641-1706, seemed only concerned with only God-fearing country gentlemen.

Both lived at the time when Robert Boyle’s and Newton’s notions of time and space permeated life, when trade followed the clock relentlessly as the church had once followed the mass-bell; the beginning of the Protestant and Puritan work ethic, of ‘time well spent’.

Both were surrounded by a circle of politicians and place-seekers, detailing the court life of Charles II, and the eventful period from the coronation of Charles II in 1661, through the 1665 plague, and Great Fire of 1666. In July a year later, there was the humiliating raid by the Dutch on the English fleet in the Medway.

At the same time he recorded 17th century drama and state affairs, whilst ruminating on domestic life, quarrels, gossip, music and sermons, plays, snobbery and patriotism, whilst indulging in many sexual liaisons which were recorded in a queer mix of Latin, French and Spanish.

Pepys' Navy Office

Pepys’ Navy Office

Pepys lived a chequered life suffering imprisonment and loss of office in 1673 and again in 1679, when Shaftesbury thought him a papist and had him committed to the Tower. Reinstated in 1684 he virtually ran the Navy for James II and in 1687, introducing a daily pint of neat rum, a custom to last until the 1960’s.

Finally removed from office in 1688, for refusing to swear allegiance to the new king, William of Orange (as a Non-Juror or Jacobite), he was then arrested on suspicion of passing information to the French in 1689, resulting in another spell in the Tower.

He spent his final years in Clapham, London writing his ‘Memoirs to the Navy’, dying in 1703 after spending years bemoaning his poor eyesight.

The Diary composed to 1669, was in six notebooks, written until his eyesight began to fail, at the early age of 37. On May 31st he wrote: ‘And thus ends all I shall ever be able to do with my own eyes in the keeping of my journal. I being not able to do it any longer…’

Pepys, his wife Elizabeth and brother John were buried at St Olave’s, Hart Street, London, which untouched by the Great Fire, was damaged in WWII.(4)

(1) Harrison was born in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire.

(2) The diary was written in shorthand, invented by a Mr. Shelton in 1641 interspersed with foreign words disguising the more intimate records of his liaisons. It was not deciphered until the years 1819-1822, when they were transcribed by Cambridge undergraduate John Smith; the first edition appearing in 1825.

(3) Recorded on 30 June 1663.

(4) A plaque and annual service commemorates the diarist whose bronze in Seething Lane Gardens, London, is by Karin Jonzen (1983). His papers now repose in the Pepys’ Library at Magdalene, Cambridge.

Ref: Restoration London, Liza Picard:Wiedenfeld & Nicolson 1997.

Ref: exploring London.wordpress.com.

Ref: wikipedia.org/samuel-pepys. Pic Ref.

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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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