BY TOBY PORTER
Samuel Pepys was a very naughty boy. He wrote his diary in code – probably because it contained details of his regular casual flings with servants, barmaids, cooks and wenches, plus the wives, daughters and mothers of friends and colleagues.
That may be one reason why it took 150 years for it to be translated in full. He also enjoyed a bit of one of the other ‘delights’ of South London – bear-baiting.
On May 27, 1667, Pepys said: “So to my chamber, and there did some little business, and then abroad, and stopped at the Bear-garden-stairs, there to see a prize fought. But the house was so full there was no getting in there, so forced to go through an alehouse into the pit, where the bears are baited; and upon a stool did see them fight, which they did very furiously, a butcher and a waterman….it was pleasant to see, but that I stood in the pit and feared that in the tumult I might get some hurt. At last the rabble broke up and so I away to White Hall and so to St James’s.”
Those words were not revealed – along with the other more salacious shenanigans – until at least 1825, with the first publication of his diaries.
In fact, the prim Victorians left out the sex entirely and Pepys’ roistering wasn’t revealed until a full translation appeared for the first time in 1970.
Soon after the first coy version, in 1860, a house was built on the site of the bear pit, in what is now Park Street, and the home bears his name.
It is now on the market, so you can have a very important part of English cultural history – for a mere £3.5million. Some excavation work discovered elements of the venue still exist underneath the house, so veggies would be advised not to venture into the cellar.
The house, yards from the Globe Theatre on the South Bank, between New Globe Walk and Bear Gardens, is on the site of the bear pit.
The gruesome sport would pit bears against dogs, horses and bulls, for entertainment and betting. The arenas could fit around 1,000 baying fans. Our most licentious king, Henry VIII, loved it so much, he had one built on the other side of the Thames, near Whitehall Palace.
The house, though, might be harder to view. It has four bedrooms, a vaulted ceiling and original wooden beams, a utility room, under-floor heating, modern kitchen (without the cooks) and bathroom fixtures and a private terrace off the living room.
Laura Laws, the agent handling the sale for Savills, said: “Its fascinating history makes Pepys House a rare find, particularly in this part of the capital. We have already received interest from City workers looking for a home within walking distance of their workplace.
“Additionally, the flexible accommodation and contemporary specification make the property ideal for a downsizer wanting ample living space for entertaining and hosting family and friends, while also being just moments from the South Bank’s cultural and dining scene.
“In the SE1 area, housing stock at this price point tends to be modern apartments, so Pepys House offers something different for buyers at this level; a reminder of the London of yesteryear.”
Pepys kept his diary from the coronation of King Charles II in 1660, through the Great Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London a year later to 1669. The original diary is at Cambridge University.
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