Workmen

by Nick

I’ve recently bought a bit of a wreck of a house – structurally it’s fine, but there’s very little by way of a kitchen and the decor is straight out of a 1970s B&B. We’re re-doing most of it ourselves but there are various bits that will need builders. All the redecorating has reminded me of Pepys’s house move in the early 1660s, but I’m just hoping that we don’t have his problems with builders… Here is a typical entry for Sunday 21 April 1661.

(Lord’s day). In the morning we were troubled to hear it rain as it did, because of the great show tomorrow. After I was ready I walked to my father’s and there found the late maid to be gone and another come by my mother’s choice, which my father do not like, and so great difference there will be between my father and mother about it. Here dined Doctor Thos. Pepys and Dr. Fayrebrother; and all our talk about to-morrow’s show, and our trouble that it is like to be a wet day. After dinner comes in my coz. Snow and his wife, and I think stay there till the show be over. Then I went home, and all the way is so thronged with people to see the triumphal arches, that I could hardly pass for them. So home, people being at church, and I got home unseen, and so up to my chamber and saw done these last five or six days’ diarys. My mind a little troubled about my workmen, which, being foreigners, are like to be troubled by a couple of lazy rogues that worked with me the other day, that are citizens, and so my work will be hindered, but I must prevent it if I can.

Note that the use of “foreigners” means workmen from outside London, as opposed to those from abroad. Presumably they were harrassed by City workmen because they were outside the relevant guild and hence biting into the monopoly held by the “natives”. There’s an interesting discussion in the footnotes for the relevant entry at Pepys’s Diary about the phrase “using a foreigner”, which apparently now means paying for a builder cash in hand (although I must admit I hadn’t ever heard of this before).