Famous Londoners – William Hewer…

November 23, 2015

The National Maritime Museum is hosting a new exhibition on the life of Samuel Pepys and, while we’ve looked at the life of the famous diarist before (see our earlier post here), we thought we’d take a look at his not-so-famous manservant and clerk William Hewer.

“Will” Hewer, who is mentioned several times in Pepys’ diary and, as well as being a business partner also became a fast friend of Pepys, is thought to have been born in about 1642.

He was first introduced to Pepys when still a young man – about 17 – by his uncle Robert Blackborne in 1660. They obviously hit it off because Hewer, who was the son of a stationer, was soon working as a manservant and clerk for Pepys in his role as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board.

Hewer, who was subjected to some bullying by Pepys who apparently could reduce him to tears (but at the same time Pepys also defended him at work from attacks from others), at first lived with Pepys at his Seething Lane home. However, by late 1663 – apparently thanks to his misbehaviour which included staying out late, drunkenness and corrupting maids – he was told to leave Pepys’ house and moved into his own lodgings.

Pepys moved to the Admiralty in 1673 and Hewer went with him, appointed Chief Clerk the following year. In 1677, he was appointed as Judge Advocate-General.

Hewer’s star continued to climb and in 1685, he was appointed MP for Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight. The following year he was appointed to the Special Commission which replaced the Navy Board and had a special responsibility for accounts.

After King James II fled the country in 1688, Hewer, along with Pepys, lost their patronage from the Crown; both were briefly imprisoned, but were released without trial.

Thanks largely to his involvement in trading with his uncle Blackborne – who served as both Secretary to the Admiralty and Secretary to the British East India Company and to an inheritance he received from his father, Hewer became a wealthy man (as was the case with Pepys, there have been suggestions he may have made considerable illicit sums from people doing trade with the Navy thanks to his position, but these claims have not been substantiated).

Hewer, who never married (but he did apparently have a special attachment to Pepys wife Elizabeth who was of a similar age), owned a house near The Strand which became the Admiralty Office when he followed Pepys from the Navy Board. Pepys lived with him in the house when he was at the Admiralty.

He also owned other properties, including a country retreat on Clapham Common which he bought in 1688. It was here that Pepys lived in during his latter years (and where he died in 1703).

Hewer was the executor of Pepys’ will and kept his library – including, of course, his famous diary until his own death on 3rd December, 1715. He was buried in St Paul’s Church, Clapham. In an odd twist, his estate was left to his godson Hewer Edgeley but only on the condition that he change his surname to Hewer, becoming Hewer Edgeley-Hewer.

Hewer is depicted in a painting by Godfrey Kneller (1689) now in the National Maritime Museum’s collection. It was a pair with another painting by Kneller of Pepys.

WHERE: Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution is at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark; nearest railway stations are Greenwich and Maze Hill; and nearest river pier is Greenwich); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily; COST: £12 adults/£6 children WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/exhibitions-events/samuel-pepys-plague-fire-revolution-exhibition.

For more on Pepys, see Margarette Lincoln’s book Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution.

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