The “Pepys Collection” at Guildhall Library

As the library of London history Guildhall Library has recently featured Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) in our exhibitions on the Great Plague and the Great Fire.

In fact we hold two collections relating to the famous diarist. The first is that of “The Samuel Pepys Club and Samuel Pepys Trust Award”: the shortlisted books for the award are added to the collection biennially. The second, and the subject of this blog is simply called “The Samuel Pepys Collection.” It contains 560 books and pamphlets by, or about, the diarist. The collection was assembled by Colonel C D L Pepys (pronounced Pep-iss) and was deposited in 1987. This material was published between c1669 and 1996 and includes biographies, editions of the diary and Pepys’ letters, and published material relating to Pepys’ career as a naval administrator.

Through the work of Pepys and his contemporaries the collection offers information and insight into the Royal Navy of the 17th century e.g. a 1690 copy of Pepys’ “Memoires Relating to the State of the Royal Navy of England, for Ten Years, Determin’d December 1688” (Pepys 3*). It was printed in London for Benjamin Griffin, and sold by Sam Keble at the Great Turks-Head in Fleet-street over against Fetter-Lane. There is a well known engraved portrait of Pepys as frontispiece by R White (after Godfrey Kneller).


In this memoir one can see Pepys the successful administrator at work and defending his record.

“A List and State of the Whole Royal Navy of England (Whether at Sea or in Harbour) upon the 18. day of December 1688 shewing the condition of each ship and vessel therein, with respect to their repairs and Value of their Rigging and Sea Stores, upon that day, containing also an Account of the last and highest Estimates presented to his Majesty by the officers of his Navy of the defects of every ship comprehended within Mr Pepys’ Proposition; compar’d with the Real Charge of the Works perform’d thereon by the late Commissioners of the Navy between the Commencement of their Commission March 25th. 1686. and its Determination October 12. 1688.” P178-9

The collection also includes Nathaniel Boteler’s “Colloquia Maritima”. Boteler (or Butler) seems to have been a controversial figure; appointed Governor of Bermuda in 1619, he was accused of the harsh treatment of some Spaniards who were wrecked on the coast. In 1627 Boteler commanded a ship which took part in the catastrophic La Rochelle Expedition (led by George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham and favourite of Charles I) in which 4,000 men died. “Colloquia Maritima” contains six dialogues on such subjects as the office of commanders in chief, the duty of inferior officers, the victualing of ships, an explanation of the names of all the parts of a ship and the best ships of war and the ordering of fleets.
The dialogues were written in 1634. A later printed, but said to be flawed edition, was issued in 1685 (See Carr Lawton’s article in “Mariner’s Mirror” for January 1911).


Our 1688 copy (Pepys 8) was printed and sold by William Fisher and Richard Mount at the Postern on Tower-hill. It was dedicated to Samuel Pepys by the bookseller Moses Pitt.

Another volume in the collection is mentioned by Pepys in his diary for Friday 25 July 1662:

“At my office all the morning, reading Mr Holland’s discourse of the Navy, lent me by Mr Turner; and am much pleased with them, they hitting the very diseases of the Navy which we are troubled with nowadays. I shall bestow writing of them over and much reading thereof.”

There are two copies of John Holland’s (fl. 1638-1659) “Discourses of the Navy” in the Pepys Collection, both in the Navy Records Society series (Pepys 433 & Pepys 434).

John Holland was Surveyor of the Navy from 1649-52. His manuscript of ‘A Discourse of the Navy’ was written in 1638 but was not published until 1896. His work examines inefficiencies and problems in administering the Navy e.g. the organization of wages, victuals, stores and people – so it is unsurprising that Pepys was a keen reader of the work. Holland, like Boteler, is said to have been abrasive and his career was punctuated by disputes with colleagues. His second discourse appeared around 1661 and was dedicated to the Duke of York (but also not published until 1896).

“Samuel Pepys’ Naval Minutes” edited by J R Tanner (Navy Record Society edition of 1926) were taken from his manuscript in the Pepys Library at Magdalene College, Cambridge (Pepys 390). They offer an eclectic mix of Pepys’ notes on things to be investigated, naval problems he was mulling over, criticism of his predecessors, even rumination on how Noah’s ark was built. The original minutes were unclassified, meaning that Tanner’s index is invaluable. The volume also includes a list of ships mentioned by Pepys.

Pepys’ maritime career saw him appointed Clerk of the Acts at the Navy Board in 1660, admitted a younger brother of Trinity House in 1662 (later Elder Brother and Master) and nominated for the committee set up to run Tangier (part of Catherine of Braganza’s dowry 1661) in 1662.

Sir Hugh Cholmley (1632-1688) was given charge of building the ‘mole’ or breakwater at Tangier in 1663, then felt essential for defence from attack and for protection from the weather. Cholmley’s “An account of Tangier” (Pepys 45) takes us to this period of Pepys’ administrative career and Cholmley is mentioned several times in the “Diary” e.g. in this entry for Monday 12 January 1663:

“So I went to the Committee, where we spent all this night attending to Sir J. Lawson’s description of Tanger and the place for the Molde, of which he brought a very pretty draught. Concerning the making of the Molle, Mr. Cholmely did also discourse very well, having had some experience in it.” (R C Latham and W Matthews edition Volume 4)

Pepys became Treasurer of the Tangier garrison in 1665. Our 1787 copy of Cholmley’s account was taken from his manuscripts by Nathaniel Cholmley. The structure was costly and several years were spent building it. However it was unfinished when Tangier was besieged in 1680 and the colony had to be abandoned. It was then decided the mole could not be left behind to aid the besiegers and so it was destroyed – another expensive and difficult undertaking.

Pepys kept a Tangier journal from 30th July 1683 to 1st December 1684 and a 20th century publication of this is in the collection (Pepys 439), as are his Tangier papers which were edited and transcribed for the Navy Records Society series (Pepys 439).

The collection includes many volumes which look at Pepys’ other enthusiasms as in this book by Australian writer and polymath Oscar A. Mendelsohn (Pepys 378).


Other books by this author include “The Earnest Drinker’s Digest” (1946) which is in Guildhall Library’s food and drink collections. The book is in part a collection of quotations from Pepys’ diary, so if you would like to know what Pepys wrote about English wine, champagne, ale, sack, wormwood wine or metheglin, this will be of interest.

Charles A. Rivington’s “Pepys and the Booksellers” (Pepys 419) offers notes on the book sellers, book binders, stationers, printers and print sellers mentioned in Pepys’ diary, correspondence and papers, so is of value to anyone interested in the 17th century book trade. It tells us about Pepys’ good relationship with the London booksellers together with useful references to them in the “Diary”. One can also see the fruits of this relationship in the “Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College” compiled by N.A. Smith (Pepys 245).

Pepys had three volumes of what he termed “Penny Merriments” which contain 115 small chapbooks now at Magdalene College. The volumes offer 17th century broadsides, ballads, riddles, proverbs, recipes etc. which were aimed at a wide audience – hence the penny cost. Roger Thompson edited a selection of these entitled “Samuel Pepys’ ‘Penny merriments’ : being a Collection of Chapbooks, full of Histories, Jests, Magic, Amorous Tales of Courtship, Marriage and Infidelity, Accounts of Rogues and Fools, together with Comments on the Times” (Pepys 365).

Guildhall Library is a public reference library open to all. Scholars and enthusiasts are all very welcome to visit to read and enjoy these books. All you need to bring along is proof of your name and address. A post on “The Samuel Pepys Club and Samuel Pepys Trust Award” will follow in the New Year.

Jeanie Smith
Assistant Librarian & Keeper of the Lloyd’s Marine Collection

*reference in the Pepys Collection


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