Hanging with my Pepys

I know how real the struggle can be – I most recently felt it after rocking up at Aldgate station to go on another TfL Winter Walk following a night on the pop and about three hours sleep. I think it was about worth it – let’s see.

The subject was much more focused than previous walks – rather than general historical periods, we were wandering around remnants of the life and times of Samuel Pepys and Christopher Wren. Understandably, the latter had much more stuff knocking around that he actually had a hand in creating.

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St Olave’s with its delightful skull motif

That notwithstanding, we started with Pepys – I knew he’d done the diaries in the 1660s, when it was all kicking off with plague and conflagration, but by the end, I felt that Bruce the tour guide had given us possibly too much of a glimpse into his life.

It began with a detailed description of how he was treated for bladder stones (invasive procedures where no man wants invasive procedures) and featured the story of how he was caught having a cheeky Tommy Tank at St Olave’s church over a particularly attractive lady in the congregation.

In between all that, he did lots of stuff with the navy, helped restore the monarchy after Cromwell, and persuaded the future James II to do something to stop the Great Fire of London.

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Just looks like a regular church…

The only thing that directly linked Pepys and Wren was the fact they were both presidents of the Royal Society in the 1680s – apparently, they weren’t the bezzies I figured they would have been when I saw the walk was about the pair of them.

Still, it meant there was a clean break into the Wren part, which started at the remains of St Dunstan in the East – a victim of the Luftwaffe that made me feel slightly less bad about the mess that the RAF had made of Berlin.

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… Ah, quite a few important bits missing

After passing by more churches than your average series of Songs of Praise – including St Mary Abchurch, which is probably the most unchanged chapel since Wren’s time – the walk started getting a bit samey for me. I guess the City isn’t the biggest, so you’re bound to experience crossover after doing a few of them.

First, it was back to Monument, where Bruce passed on much of the same information as previous guides, although he did add that Wren wanted to stick a statue of Charles II on the top, although the monarch vetoed it in case people thought he had caused the Fire. 

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Arty – didn’t even notice the vine going perfectly down the left of the Shard until just now

We ended, of course, at St Paul’s. As well as Bruce waxing lyrical about the architecture involved, he also told us how Wren had helped to destroy the previous cathedral. As a surveyor of works in the mid-1660s, he’d covered the old St Paul’s in wood scaffolding, which acted as the perfect kindling once the flames made their way over from Pudding Lane.

So was it worth the lack of sleep? Yeah, probably – obviously there was the omniscient tale of the etymology of ‘at sixes and sevens’, plus other stuff I’d heard before, but there were plenty of new snippets and hey – it was free!

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