Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Liza Picard’s Elizabethan London, I knew I was in for a real treat when I discovered her book, Restoration London: Everyday Life in the 1660s. I wasn’t disappointed. Using sources from the era (in particular, extracts from Samuel Pepys diary) as well as almanacs, government papers, letters, tourists of the times’ impressions, Picard paints a wonderful picture of one of the most eminent cities in the world from 1660-1670, London.
Emerging out of the chaos of the last decade and a half, which saw one king (Charles I) beheaded and an Interregnum government headed by The Protector, Oliver Cromwell established, before the heir to the throne, the apparently, pleasure-loving but also diplomatic and lusty Charles II was restored, Picard immerses the reader in life during this last stage – a stage that involved the casting off of parliamentary rule and Puritan shackles and return to monarchy and all that entailed.
We enter stately homes, shops, ships as well as wander the streets and learn everything from what the rich, “middling” and poor ate (or didn’t), their superstitions, sexual habits, toileting, washing, and even how they cleaned their teeth. We discover the sicknesses they succumbed to (not forgetting the Plague that struck in 1665), the dreadful remedies offered; what they bought, wore, how they addressed each other and even their secret desires. Religion played a huge role in this period of conflict and xenophobia, and Picard doesn’t hold back on addressing this either and how and where people prayed and the kinds of communities they established.
The insights she gives are so beautifully written and, at times, imagined, and she has this wonderful quirky way of sometimes commenting on habits and idiosyncrasies of individuals or, indeed, the general populace, that had me bursting out laughing.
I will read this again in hardback (when the copy I ordered arrives) as I read this on Kindle and marked up so many passages, I need to be able to enjoy them again, but this time in print where I can access her extensive footnotes as well.
Highly recommended for lovers of history or even those who enjoy entertaining and really informative reads that keep an eye on the reader and the time they are writing from as well.