How did you clean your teeth in the 1660s? What make-up did you wear? What pets did you keep?
Making use of every possible contemporary source, Liza Picard presents an engrossing picture of how life in London was really lived in an age of Samuel Pepys, the libertine court of Charles II and the Great Fire of London. The topics covered include houses and streets, gardens and parks, cooking, clothes and jewellery, cosmetics, hairdressing, housework, laundry and shopping, medicine and dentistry, sex education, hobbies, etiquette, law and crime, religion and popular belief. The London of 350 years ago is brought (and sometimes horrifyingly) to life.
'A joy of a book ... It radiates throughout that quality so essential in a good historian: infinite curiosity' Observer
Picard, a former barrister, attempts to provide not a history but a description of how people lived in London in the decade (1660-1670) following the restoration of the Stuarts. Parceled among four broad thematic sections, like "The Urban Environment" and "The Human Condition," are self-contained chapters on such subjects as gardens, parks and public spaces; housework, laundry and shopping. Each is subsequently divided into brief articles. Picard relies on primary sources, notably Pepys's (called "Samuel" throughout) famed diary, along with various other contemporary documents and records. The result is lively and informative, with a distinctly eccentric feel. This enthusiastic, conversational work conveys the immediacy of a guided tour as the author points out the furnishings of the age and dispenses colorful anecdotes. She veers between fact and hypothesis, insight and cliche, with regular personal asides. The observation, for example, that "the best hats were made from beaver fur" from Canada is followed by the news that "Samuel's hat fell off into a puddle one day, when he was riding, and was ruined.... He should have been wearing his velvet riding hat." Life was not necessarily nasty, brutish and short; it was both circumscribed and enriched by elaborate codes of behavior (as observed in "The Social Context"), and made interesting by the inventiveness and limitations of 17th-century science and technology (covered in chapters on medicine and dentistry). Rummaging in the ragbag of history, Picard has come up with a hybrid that is entertaining, if taken in small doses. 39 b&w illus.