Wednesday 26 October 2022

Other Lives in Samuel Pepys's Diary: A Collection of Creative Writing Inspired by Pepys's Journal of the 1660s

By Kate Loveman

Samuel Pepys’s diary of the 1660s is famous for detailing his hectic private life, alongside major events such as the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London. In the diary, there are also glimpses of female servants, enslaved Black people, and other Londoners whose lives barely appear in more conventional historical records. The diary is a tremendous source for historians and a great inspiration for creative writers.  

The Reimagining the Restoration project was set up to investigate the history and reception of the diary. In May 2022, the project funded online Creative Writing workshops for the public, led by Yvonne Battle-Felton (a historical novelist and Creative Writing tutor) and by me, Kate Loveman (the project’s lead researcher and a specialist on Pepys).  

Over the next few months, some of our writers developed their work for an online collection, Other Lives in Samuel Pepys’s Diary. They produced lively, witty and provocative pieces based on three figures mentioned in the diary: Jane Birch (a servant in the Pepys household); an unnamed Deaf boy whom Pepys encountered at a party; and Mingo, a young Black man who had been enslaved as a child and who lived next door to Pepys. The collection features an introduction to each figure (with diary excerpts), followed by the imaginative responses from our authors.

You can download the ebook here.

By way of example, below are excerpts from Pepys’s description of the Great Fire of London and a story from one of our authors, Sue Wright. Here Sue imagines Jane Birch writing to her mother following the disaster.

If you’d like more information about the collection or the project, please see our website or email Kate Loveman (

If you’d like to hear a story performed, listen to Elizabeth Uter read her work "The Glorious Life of Mingo – William Battenby – In Service to Life" here.

Reimagining the Restoration is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Samuel Pepys’s diary, 2 September 1666

(Lords day) [Sunday]. Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about 3 in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Markelane at the farthest; but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett [study] to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently [immediately], and walked to the Tower ...

(Text from the 1890s Wheatley edition, more here).

"Too Weary to Write All Week," by Sue Wright

… Do not be alarmed when I tell you about a fire. All is well. James saw the first signs when he went out to fetch more wood for the stove. He called me outside where I witnessed an orange glow over the rooftops, black smoke darkening the night sky hiding any stars. My master was not alarmed when, frightened, I roused him. Indeed, he cursed me and soon returned to his bed and seemed undisturbed by the commotion in the streets as people fled the fire. Sarah wept until dawn for fear we would be burned. My teeth were on edge with all her sobbing and wailing, and her complaints about the smell of fish causing her to feel ill. James sought to comfort her when my back was turned but I soon sent him back out to keep an eye on the fire and for the watchman for any word. 

Although many houses were lost in the fire, we remained safe, thank the Lord. Our neighbours were uninjured, but I feared there are people without homes. My master woke early, demanding breakfast. I told him of houses burned down in the night and he ventured out to explore, returning with his clothes and wig smelling of smoke and smeared with ash, hurriedly changing before his guests arrived. He has no thought for the laundry he creates or the laundry-maid’s chilblains. 

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