THIS week in Down Memory Lane I recall an event of 347 years ago on September 24, 1665, in Grays.
From the diary of Samual Pepys, who on this Sunday had a fleeting visit to Grays: “Waked, and up and drank, and then to discourse; and then being about Grayes, and a very calme, curious morning, we took our wherry, and to the fishermen, and bought a great deal of fine fish, and to Gravesend to White’s, and had part of it dressed”.
Pepys was born on February 23, 1633, and died on May 26, 1703. He became a naval administrator and Member of Parliament and is now known for the ten year diary he kept, which was published in the 19th century – it is one of the most important primary sources for the English Restoration period.
Although Pepys had no maritime experience, he rose by patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under King Charles II and King James II.
His influence and reforms of the Admiralty were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy.
The diary records a combination of personal revelation and eye witness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.
The wherry mentioned is a type of boat traditionally used for carrying cargo or passengers on the River Thames. They were clinker-built with long overhanging bows so that patrons could step ashore dry shod before landing stages were built along the river.
It is the long angled bow that distinguishes the wherry and skiff from the gig and cutter which have steeper bows following the rise of the Royal Navy, and the building of landing stages.
My illustration is of Grays wharf in the 19th century. It was probably familiar by sight to Pepys as he passed by to buy fish from the local fisherman.