Pepys House in Brampton
‘the largest and most flowery spot the sun ever beheld’ Samuel Pepys
Visits to Pepys House by appointment: please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pepys House in Brampton is often referred to in the Diary, and is his only extant abode. It lies in meadowland in a flat fenland landscape to the east of the village of Brampton near Huntingdon, downhill from Hinchingbrooke House, the home of Pepys’s patron and cousin, Sir Edward Montagu, later 1st Earl of Sandwich.
It is one of the few Grade I listed buildings in the area. Its core comprises a long rectangular timber framed house. Although there is no clear date of its origin it was probably built towards the end of the 16th century as a single pile (one room deep) with a cross-wing of an uncertain date. A parallel wing, absorbing the cross-wing was added, probably in the 18th century. In the 19th century the cross wing was gabled and had a canted bay window added, A lean-to scullery existed where the 20th century kitchen was added.
The house and “estate” (84 acres in Brampton manor at Pepys’s death) were originally owned by Pepys’s uncle, Robert, who was probably employed as a bailiff by the Montagus at Hinchingbrooke. Pepys’s family and forebears came from Huntingdonshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, and he attended Huntingdon grammar school (alma mater of both Cromwell and Montagu) for a short spell during the Civil War, probably staying in Brampton. Later, when an undergraduate at Magdalene College, Cambridge he must also have visited his uncle.
On Robert’s death in 1661 the greater part of the property, with the house, was bequeathed to his brother John, Pepys’s father, with whom Pepys was to act as executor of Robert’s will. After John’s death Pepys was to inherit his share, he meanwhile receiving an annuity from the revenues of the estate. He installed his father and mother in the house with his sister Paulina to look after them. Although he never lived there permanently Pepys regularly visited Brampton for the rest of his life, and his wife often spent periods of time there with her maid.
In 1668 his mother died and his father moved to Ellington, a few miles away, where Paulina had gone to live with her husband, John Jackson whom she married – also in 1668. The house was then let until 1677: one tenant (Merrett) is known by name; he may in fact have occupied it for the whole period. But in 1677, or shortly afterwards, Jackson and his household, including his father-in-law, moved to Brampton. Jackson was a bad manager and under his supervision the house suffered neglect, but in 1680 both he and John Pepys died.
Pepys then installed another dependant: his sister-in-law, Esther St Michel, whose husband, Balty, was away in the navy. She and her children shared the house for a few months with the widow Paulina and her children. Pepys paid them an allowance and arranged for his cousin, John Matthews, master of Huntingdon grammar school, to keep an eye on them, as well as on the house. Esther and her family left in 1682 and Paulina and her two sons had the house to themselves for the rest of her life. She died in 1689 and the house was once more let.
After Pepys’s death in 1703 his heir and nephew, John Jackson (Paulina’s younger son), continued to let the house to a succession of tenants. In Pepys’s lifetime, and for some time after, the occupants did not farm the land. Pepys had advised his father not to keep any animals beyond a horse, and the land originally attached to the estate had been let out in nine parcels. In the 1640s and 1680s there were recurrent disputes about the boundaries of the property, both Robert and Pepys being fined for encroachments on the waste of the manor. In the early years of Queen Anne’s reign the tenant of the house was Thomas Cook, a “labouring man”, who had it on a yearly lease and who, in Jackson’s words, was “of no condition suitable to the place.” Jackson seems to have taken his responsibilities as an absentee landlord seriously, as he took most things.
After 1709 he installed a new tenant, Holmes, in place of Cook. Jackson died in 1723 and he had already put in train the transfer of his uncle’s library to Magdalene which his (Jackson’s) widow completed in 1724. Sometime later in the 18th century, probably at the death in 1780 of John Jackson’s childless heir, John Pepys Jackson, the property was absorbed into the Hinchingbrooke estate. The southeast wing with a grand, high ceilinged upper room over a dairy may have been added by the 4th Earl of Sandwich who died in 1792. It has been suggested that a Mary Elizabeth Montagu lived there with her family around that time. The house became known as Sycamore House, later as Pepys Farm. The farmyard extended 100 yards to the west of the present house and included a barn which is now part of the house next door. In more recent times the Page family held the tenancy: Charles Page at some time before 1879, and his son, Ernest, after him until 1925. The poster advertising the sale of the stock in 1925 is displayed in the house.
At this time the 9th Earl of Sandwich sought to convert the rather dilapidated house into a Pepys museum but failed through lack of funds. Consequently, in 1927, he granted a 99 year lease to the Samuel Pepys Club which commissioned the Scottish architect, W A Forsyth, to restore the house. His work had a considerable impact and is important to the the history of the building. He created the parallel wing, containing the grand room, cross-wing and scullery, as more of a piece to complement the original house. New bathrooms, kitchen and staircase rendered the house habitable for the 20th century.
The Club subsequently continued to let Pepys House, its first tenant being the poet John Drinkwater who wrote Pepys: his Life and Character in 1930, and speculated that the southeast wing might have been added by Pepys, 100 years earlier than its style of building possibly indicates. The Fletchers followed after the war and they were succeeded by the Floods in the 1970s and then the Curtises in the 1990s. In 1963 six acres of surrounding meadowland were purchased freehold to maintain the site’s integrity and, in 1971, the Club’s leasehold was transferred to a charitable trust (Pepys House Trust).
In 2017 the Pepys House Trust was fortunate in being able to acquire the freehold of the house (now combined with the freehold of the meadow) thanks to generous private loans. The trustees are now considering the future of the house and its setting in order to increase public access to the house with a view to its use as a visitor destination and base for Pepysian activities aimed at schools, students, and to raise the funds needed to secure an endowment for the property.