John Evelyn – writer, gardener, diarist

Evelyn, a name one cannot ignore in Deptford, as there are quite a number of places with this name around the area. "Who is this person?" A question I am sure has crossed the minds of many a Deptford resident.

The quill dedicated to John Evelyn (right) at the Evelyne Triangle; The former pub named after him (inset) and a portrait.

By Aghogho Akpokiniovo

John Evelyn an English country gentleman in his time and renowned author is celebrated by many landmarks, we in Deptford, and nearby,  cannot help but notice at one point or the other as we go about our lives.

Born into a family in Sussex, whose wealth was largely founded on the production of gunpowder. John Evelyn was born into this world on the 31st October 1620 in Wotton. He was the younger son of Richard Evelyn. John Evelyn grew up in the Sussex town of Lewes. He was educated at Balliol College of the University of Oxford founded in 1263.

A young Evelyn had to travel abroad during the English Civil War. There he met and married his wife Mary Browne in Paris. She was the daughter of Sir Richard Browne; the English ambassador in Paris in 1647. John and Mary Evelyn had eight children of which he lived to bury seven.

As a young couple they moved to and settled in Deptford London at Sayes Court in 1652. Sayes Court stood adjacent to the Naval Dockyard. Whilst at Sayes Court, Evelyn showed off his talent for designing by transforming the then famous gardens which were visited by King Charles II in 1663.

John Evelyn was a prolific author of his time. He produced books on subjects as diverse as theology, politics, architecture, horticulture, chemistry, coins, copper engraving, French techniques of bread-making and town planning. He was also friends Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and Samuel Pepys (another name seen a great deal in London). And he was a key founding member of the Royal Society in 1660.

His Diary, published posthumously, which covers over 60 years of his life, considered to be an invaluable source of information on the socio-cultural, religious and political life of 17th century England. He witnessed: the deaths of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, the last Great Plague of London, the Great Fire of London. These events he recorded in his diary.

Being a lifelong bibliophile, his library is known to have consisted of 3,859 books and 822 pamphlets. He believed in reading, learning and exploring. John Evelyn was a founding member of the Royal society.

Evelyn died on the 27th February 1706, at his much beloved birthplace, Wotton House, Surrey, aged 85, and is buried in the old chapel at Wotton beneath a plain slab, praising his exemplary life, ‘in an age of extraordinary events and revolutions’.

The Evelyn Archive adds a new dimension to the study of the man and his time. The collection is enormously rich and varied consisting of 605 numbered manuscripts found in The British Library including the manuscript of his Diary. The Victoria and Albert Museum also has in its collection a cabinet owned by Evelyn which is thought to have housed his diaries.

 

Some things named after John Evelyn, in or around SE8, after he died:

Evelyn Ward, an electoral ward of the London Borough of Lewisham covering part of Deptford

Evelyn Street, part of the A200, one of the main roads through Deptford

Evelyn Estate, in Deptford

Evelyn Community Garden, Windlass Place, Deptford

John Evelyn Primary School which used to be on the corner of Rolt Street, Deptford.

The John Evelyn public house on Evelyn Street – part of what is now called the Evelyn Triangle (as featured in the BBC Television’s The Tower but now closed)

One of the houses (Evelyn House) at Addey and Stanhope School in London, England

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