From Samuel Pepys to Denis Howell, extracts from memoirsby Ian Irvine / July 20, 2017 / Leave a comment
On 7th June 1665, Samuel Pepys records in his diary:
“It being the hottest day that ever I felt in my life, and it is confessed so by all other people the hottest they ever knew in England in the beginning of June, we to the New Exchange, and there drunk whey, with much entreaty getting it for our money, and [they] would not be entreated to let us have one glasse more. So took water and to Fox Hall, to the Spring Garden, and there walked an houre or two with great pleasure, saving our minds ill at ease concerning the fleete and my Lord Sandwich, that we have no newes of them, and ill reports run up and down of his being killed, but without ground… So by water home, where, weary with walking and with the mighty heat of the weather, and for my wife’s not coming home, I staying walking in the garden till twelve at night, when it begun to lighten [lightning] exceedingly, through the greatness of the heat. Then despairing of her coming home, I to bed. This day, much against my will, I did in Drury Lane see two or three houses marked with a red cross upon the doors, and “Lord have mercy upon us” writ there; which was a sad sight to me, being the first of the kind that, to my remembrance, I ever saw. It put me into an ill conception of myself and my smell, so that I was forced to buy some roll-tobacco to smell to and chaw, which took away the apprehension.”
This was the beginning of the Great Plague, the last major outbreak of bubonic plague in the UK, which over the next year eventually killed around 100,000 people, a quarter of the capital’s citizens.
On 16th June 1858, the American historian John Lothrop Motley notes in his diary after a London dinner party:
“The thermometer has been at 90 [Fahrenheit, equivalent to 32.2 Celsius] all day, and you may imagine what the effect on wax candles, steaming dishes and a parboiled dozen or two of human creatures must have been. For my own feelings I can only say that St Lawrence on his gridiron was an emblem of cool comfort in comparison.”