Pepys Exhibition

“With great content in my mind” – Samuel Pepys exhibition review

My novel is set in 1650s, between the violence of the English Civil Wars and the flamboyant return of King Charles II. It’s not a very well-known historical period. At school, I think there was mention of Oliver Cromwell cancelling Christmas, but that was about it.

Here is the late, great Alan Rickman calling off Christmas:

Note: Not Oliver Cromwell

So as a research-starved time traveller, the arrival of an exhibition called ‘Samuel Pepys – Plague, Fire, Revolution’ was much welcomed. On a rather stormy November afternoon, I took a ferry down the Thames to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich.

What light through yonder window breaks?

The exhibition is a veritable smorgasbord of audio-visual effects. The first one is a very cleverly spotlit picture of Charles I’s execution. The spotlight changes with the narrative, literally highlighting the pertinent section.

I think I’ve been too influenced by the Blackadder III episode about actors to be able to take the miniature theatre seriously. But the Fire of London panorama was amazing. Flames superimposed on a map really gave a sense of how far and fast the fire spread.

My favourite though was the Royal Society animation flowering with names of scientists and great thinkers. It’s a shame it’s tucked away in a corner, as it really deserves more recognition.

No[i]se out of joint

The problem with so many elements is that sound travels. After about a quarter of an hour, the executioner’s blade effect was getting rather repetitive. Unfortunately this seems to be a weak point of many specialist exhibits which have to take place in one large space. I can only imagine sections are parcelled out and aren’t seen together until just before the launch. Maybe some baffle boards or screens could help?

A voice from the past

I really enjoyed the scattering of Pepyisms around the exhibition. My favourite was:

“the most impertinent slut in the world”

A love for all time?

Given Pepys’ oft-quoted dalliances and crushes, I found the little hints of his admiration for his wife Elizabeth rather sweet.

Practicalities of visiting Mr Samuel Pepys

Do not underestimate how long it will take to get there! We only had 40 minutes before it closed. You can take a boat from Westminster Pier to Greenwich Pier. This is next to the Cutty Sark and a five minute walk to the museum. If you use your Oyster card you’ll get a saving.

The exhibition is in the National Maritime Museum, Sammy Ofer Wing, at the back next to Greenwich Park.

Runs until 28 March 2016 every day 10am to 5pm.

Price: £12 adults, £6 children, £10 concessions and £31.50 for a family ticket

Check out the Samuel Pepys Exhibition web page for more details.

About the author

H.J. Reynolds has written A Treachery Of Spies, focusing on Royalist spies in Oliver Cromwell’s England. The manuscript is complete and she is now seeking an agent. If you’d like her to submit some sample chapters, you can contact her at helen[at]hjreynolds.co.uk

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