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Pepys and the Barber-Surgeons Hall

Alec Samuels

Today barbers and surgeons are two distinct (and largely unconnected) professions. Not so in Pepys time. He referred to them as CHYRURGEONS. As clerk and secretary to the Navy they were of interest to Pepys, because they claimed the right or privilege of nominating ships’ doctors and supplying surgical goods to the ships.

27 February 1663
Pepys attended lectures at the Barber-Surgeons Hall on the kidneys, ureters, the flap valve that prevents urine leaking from the bladder, stones, the heart and the lungs. The Doctors of Physique (sic) were treated with great respect; and they all had a fine dinner and good learned company. They used the grace cup, with bells, presented by Henry VIII. Pepys must have had in mind his own operation, the removal of the stone in 1658. This was done by Hollier, 1609-1690, of St Thomas, later St Bartholomew, who was Master of the Barber-Surgeons 1673-1674, and whose portrait hangs in the Royal College of Surgeons. Hollier treated Elizabeth for her genital abcess or cyst and considered surgery (before the days of anti-biotics), but she refused. He attended her on her last illness in 1669. He “looked after” Pepys throughout Pepys life and kept him in good health.
Pepys saw the corpse of a robber, touched it, found it to be cold and thought it a very unpleasant sight. There was discussion on the practice of hanging. Apparently persons of gentle birth were entitled to choose a silken rope, because it was believed to be more “immediate” than rope.

15 September 1664
Pepys received many people at his house, among others the Master and Wardens of the Chyrurgeons, who came to argue their case for the privilege of nominating ships’ surgeons and supplying surgical goods, and there was searching and animated discussion.

29 August 1668
In the great fire of London in 1666 the Barber-Surgeons Hall was badly burned, though the adjoining theatre survived. Pepys visited the site and was pleased to see the progress of the rebuilding.
The famous Holbein picture of Henry VIII granting a charter (though in fact apparently it was the acknowledgment of the statute of 1540) to the Master and senior Fellows of the Barber-Surgeons belongs to the Barber-Surgeons and is appropriately displayed. It was damaged in the fire. Pepys thought to give £200 for it – it was said to be worth £1,000 – but decided against it because it was in poor condition. It was subsequently restored.