This day in London history: on 1 January 1660, the 27-year-old Samuel Pepys began his now-famous diary, providing an up-close-and-personal look at 17th-century London life in general and the Pepys household in particular. He was to maintain the diary until he was 36 when his eyesight began to fail and he feared he would lose it altogether.
Pepys writes, in a preface to the actual diary entry: “Blessed be God, at the end of last year I was in very good health, without any sense of my old pain but upon taking of cold. I lived in Axe Yard, having my wife and servant Jane, and no more in family then us three.”
He and his wife remained childless, and he confides, poignantly, in his diary that: “My wife, after the absence of her terms for seven weeks, gave me hopes of her being with child, but on the last day of the year she hath them again.”
The Axe Yard of Pepys’s time is no longer in existence; it was destroyed in 1767 when Fludyer (probably from a family name) Street was built. That in turn was replaced by government buildings. The axe was used in tavern signs as early as the 15th century, when it was particularly popular; it was often found in conjunction with something else, such as the Axe and Compass: the compass represented the arms of the Company of Carpenters.
There was once an Axe and Gate tavern in Downing Street, either on or near the site of Number 10. This presumably took its name from the Axe brewery, owned by the Abbey of Abingdon in the Middle Ages. By the early 1500s, the brewery had fallen into disuse, but the tavern was there until the 19th century. (There seems to be no record of the reason for the gate part of the name.)