Quilting the Thames Part Two: Samuel Pepys at the Lower Pool

Thames Quilt Panel Two - Samuel Pepys

Lower Pool – Thames Quilt Section Two

My quilted journey down the Thames continues at the Lower Pool, which runs from the Cherry Garden Pier to Limekiln Creek. And at the Lower Pool I am joined by celebrated Seventeenth Century diarist, Mr Samuel Pepys.

NPG D30958;  Samuel Pepys by Robert White, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt

Samuel Pepys by Robert White, after Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt, line engraving, published 1690, National Portrait Gallery *

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) lived through turbulent times – the Civil War, the execution of one king (Charles I), and the coronation of another (Pepys was on the ship that brought Charles II home from exile in the Netherlands). He wrote his daily observations in diaries that lasted through the 1660s. Pepys wrote of events of great national import such as the Great Fire of London, the Plague, and the Anglo-Dutch war; and wrote more intimately of his career as a naval administrator, of his wife Elisabeth and his many extra-marital philanderings, his household servants, of concerts and the theatre, of playing the flageolet at home, and of being jealous of his wife’s dancing master.

Everybody's Pepys

The Diary of Samuel Pepys

As a London resident and employee of the Navy Board, Pepys naturally wrote about the Thames in his diaries – and of his working life around Greenwich, Woolwich, Tilbury, Deptford, and Rotherhithe, or, as he knew it, Redriffe or Redriff, which had been a centre of shipbuilding since Elizabethan times. He often travelled between different places on the Thames during the course of the day – taking boats up and down the river, or walking through the fields between the shipyards of Redriffe and Deptford. For example, on September 5 1662, he started his working day at 5.00am and travelled by boat to Woolwich: Here I staid and mustered the yard and looked into the storehouses; and so walked all alone to Greenwich, and thence by water to Deptford, and there examined some stores, and did some of my own business in hastening my work there, and so walked to Redriffe, being by this time pretty weary and all in a sweat; took boat there for the Tower, which made me a little fearful, it being a cold, windy morning.

Redriff Road

A glimpse of Redriff in Rotherhithe

Travelling by river in the 1660s was just part of life – often the only way of getting around London and the surrounding areas. Pepys usually simply notes his journeys, if he mentions them at all. But occasionally there were difficulties. On December 27 1665, Pepys dined with Sir W Warren at the Pope’s Head … and thence to the goldsmiths, I to examine the state of my matters there too, and so with him to my house, but my wife was gone abroad to Mrs Mercer’s, so we took boat, and it being darke and the thaw having broke the ice, but not carried it quite away, the boat did pass through so much of it all along, and that with the crackling and noise that it made me fearfull indeed. So I forced the watermen to land us on the Redriffe side, and so walked together till Sir W Warren and I parted near his house and thence I walked quite over the fields home by light of linke, one of my watermen carrying it, and I reading by the light of it, it being a very fine, clear, dry night. 

Redriffe Mud

Looking up towards Lower Pool and the Redriff Mud from Nelson Wharf

According to Pepys’s London: Everyday Life in London 1650-1703 by Stephen Porter, in very cold winters the Thames above London Bridge froze over. The gaps between the bridge piers, or starlings, were so narrow that they restricted the flow of water through them, creating relatively still water upstream … The river above the bridge froze over in six winters during the second half of the century. When it froze really hard fairs were held on the ice, such as during the severe winter of 1684, the worst of the century, when the Thames could be crossed by pedestrians for seven weeks between 2 January and 20 February.

Pepys’ crossing point below London Bridge was not frozen solid, but on that December evening the sound of the ice cracking at Rotherhithe was sufficiently frightening to make him want to get off the river as quickly as possible.

Thames Quilt Panel Two - joined

Lower Pool section, work in progress on the Thames Quilt, March 2016

The pictures of ice and darkness conjured by Pepys are very vivid – you can almost hear the ice cracking as you read his diary – and when I came to the Lower Pool in my quilt, I knew his experience had to be included. I quilted him in with the words Pepys took boat but was afeared of the cracking ice at Redriffe.

I like to think of him reaching the Rotherhithe shore in relief, then reading his book by the glow of a waterman’s light as he walked for the rest of his journey on a freezing cold night.

 

* Picture of Samuel Pepys, NPG D30958 reproduced courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence

Quilting the Thames Part One: Merchants at the Upper Pool

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Upper Pool – Thames Quilt Section One

The sewing of my Thames Quilt project has commenced. My quilted journey down the Thames begins at the Pool of London with five Fourteenth Century merchants.

Charles Dickens Jnr’s Dictionary of the Thames 1890 advises that the Pool of London is divided into the Upper and the Lower Pool, the point of division being the headquarter station of the Thames Police at Wapping. The Upper Pool stretches from London Bridge to Wapping or (on the other side) Cherry Garden Pier, Bermondsey.

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Looking under Tower Bridge at the Upper Pool

I associate the Upper Pool with trade, largely because of reading historical novels by Cynthia Harnett (1893-1981) when I was growing up. Harnett’s novels always felt slightly radical because they were about merchants and traders – people who seemed ordinary, familiar – rather than about royalty or grand people at court. Her protagonists were merchants’ sons who were learning their trade as apprentices; they would happen upon a mystery, and be sharp enough to expose miscreants engaged in wrongdoing.

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Harnett wove lots of social history into her plots. In The Woolpack (1951) she explained how cloth was made in 1493 – from sheep shearing to sale – as part of the story of Nicholas and his determination to discover the identity of the thief who was tampering with his father’s wool exports. Much of the action of The Load of Unicorn (1959) took place around the Thames of 1482, when Benedict discovered why paper intended for William Caxton’s printing press was being stolen. Along with Benedict, the reader is told how to set a page of type and is advised that the King’s Customs cannot protect the Thames:  Did you know that London Customs have charge only for a few miles down the river? Beyond Gravesend it is the duty of Sandwich. And likewise on the north bank from Tilbury onwards it belongs to Ipswich… Have you ever sailed the coast of Essex, my masters? The inlets are like weevil runs in a cheese – from Pennyhole Bay right round to Mucking Creek.

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Ring Out Bow Bells! (1953) is set in 1415 and is very much a novel of the Thames. Nan, Adam and Dickon spend their time by a river that looks like a big lake shut in on three sides by banks of houses. On the north side the buildings  … crowded down to the water’s edge, ending in a broken line of wharfs and warehouses and a jumble of roofs. Opposite on the south bank, there were gardens among the houses and a background of tree-tops to mark the open country.

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“The Tower from the river looked far more imposing than it did from the land. Dickon shaded his eyes and stared at it.” (Ring Out Bow Bells!)

Cynthia Harnett habitually added a postscript to her novels in which she explained which characters were purely fictional and which were based on real people; which plot elements came from historical records; and where the reader might be able to see an item featured in the novel (in the Victoria and Albert Museum for example) or visit a location. For Ring Out Bow Bells! she described a walk from Cannon Street Station to find the London of Nan, Adam and Dickon. This is doubly interesting today; Harnett was looking for Fifteenth Century locations in 1953 when London still had much visible bomb damage – so the reader of 2016 can find layer upon layer of historical meaning in the walk she describes. (There was a bomb crater just in front of me, and as I poked about I caught sight of some squared stones which had probably been part of the very house which was to be the centre of my story – for you see Grantham’s Inn was a real house.)

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I suppose Harnett’s novels might come across as being a bit worthy and education-heavy but I always liked them. Looking back, I suspect they awakened my interest in historical research – and the idea that there might be more to a story than meets the eye.

Why is this relevant to my Thames Quilt? Well, I wanted to include “real people” in the quilt so I was very excited to find the name of five merchants from the early Fourteenth Century who traded at the Pool of London in the Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London, 1309-1314*.

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Benedict de Burgo, Henry de Banneberi and Arnald Picard

The Calendar includes the rules of trade at the Pool of London (la Pole):

That no broker in future presume to go to la Pole or elsewhere by land or by water to buy or attempt [to buy] any wines or other goods before they come to land and are exposed for sale, under penalty aforesaid. Also every broker shall tender good advice, that honest men of the trade in which he is a broker may sell their wares to trustworthy and sufficient buyers who have the wherewithal to satisfy their creditors: and if he shall put forward any insufficient purchaser to trustworthy men of the City or other merchants to purchase their wares, so that by reason of the fraud of such broker the purchaser (emptor) lose his wares, the broker shall answer therefor, if he have the wherewithal, and if he have not the wherewithal shall be committed to prison until, &c., and he shall no longer be a broker.

It also lists five men who had the necessary permission to act as brokers:

  • Arnald Picard admitted broker of wine before the Mayor and Aldermen
  • John de Rokesle admitted broker of woad before the Mayor and good men of that trade
  • Henry de Banneberi and Benedict de Burgo elected brokers of peltry by good men of the trade, and presented before John de Gysors, the Mayor, and Aldermen
  • Andrew de Salop elected loco the above Benedict, deceased, and sworn before Nicholas de Farendone, the Mayor, and Aldermen
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Andrew de Salop and John de Roksele

If I were a novelist like Cynthia Harnett, I would have been able to weave a story around these men who were brokers at the Upper Pool. Instead, I sewed them into my Thames Quilt.

* Folios ci – cx’, in Calendar of Letter-Books of the City of London: D, 1309-1314, ed. Reginald R Sharpe (London, 1902), pp. 218-238 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/london-letter-books/vold/pp218-238