Pepys’ Broadsides

A Bookhounds of London adventure seed by Adam Gauntlett

The Bookhounds are asked whether or not some broadside ballads found by a builder really belonged to famed diarist Samuel Pepys, only to discover that the ballads might get them killed.

Broadside Ballads

This information is a 0 point spend, Bibliography, History, Library Use or similar:

So called because they are printed on broadside sheets, these single-page narrative poems tell gossipy stories, spread political news, and promulgate scurrilous lies. Broadsides are early children of the printing press, popular from the 16th century, and reach their apogee in the 18th century. They’re cheap to make and easy to distribute, and though they’re very disposable some collectors prize them. Samuel Pepys was one.

Also a 0 point:

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) was Chief Secretary of the Navy and a Member of Parliament, but he’s most famous for his Diaries, which tell a colloquial tale of London life during the Restoration. His book collection is justly famous, and was donated to Magdalene College, Cambridge, after his death. He once lived in a house on Axe Yard, near Downing Street; the exact address is unknown.

This information is a 1 point spend:

Pepys had a passion for order and conformity. He wanted a definite aesthetic look for his collection, and to achieve it he cut down ballads to the appropriate size for his albums, arranging his finds in identical album sets. He obsessively catalogued everything he collected, and his broadside collection was given to Magdalene College, along with the rest of his library.

Also a 1 point:

The Pepys Club, founded 1903 by a small group of Garrick Club members, is the best place to find out odd and obscure facts about the life of Samuel Pepys. Cultivating a member, say through a 2 point Flattery spend or similar, creates a 2-point dedicated pool concerning the life, times and loves of Samuel Pepys.

Bob Chapman’s Lucky Find

Bob’s a builder, a subcontractor for Bentley’s, a general contracting firm. While on the job – a renovation at Axe Yard, in Westminster – he ‘recovered’ some items from the rubble skip, including this old bag with funny papers in it. Is it worth anything?

Assess Honesty (0 point): Bob’s not lying, exactly, but he’s being very careful with the truth. He did get it from the Axe Yard job site, but not from the skip. It was hidden behind the wall he was meant to be repairing, and one careless swing with the sledgehammer revealed the hidden alcove. He knows his boss, Mr. Bentley, would take it for himself, if he knew about it. Bob admits as much, if pressed.

Bob Chapman, Lucky Builder: Athletics 6, Fleeing 6, Health 4, Scuffling 4; Architecture 1, Craft (Bricklaying) 1. Tall, slim, shock of curly black hair, eager as a puppy. “Well I’ll be blowed!”

Broadsides: This collection doesn’t conform to the Pepys standard. Pepys cut his sheets down to fit inside a leatherbound book approximately 340 by 358 mm, usually about 70 mm thick. Most of Bob’s find are older broadsides, which would have gone into Volume 1 of Pepys’ bound books. Bob’s find is unbound, uncut, stuffed loosely inside a battered leather folder. They could be papers Pepys didn’t bother to put into his main collection, but it’s difficult to imagine why, since Pepys was an obsessive collector. Condition’s not good, not after several centuries stuffed inside a damp wall alcove, but the ballads are interesting. Some are quite scurrilous tales about prancers [highwaymen], lascivious pricklouse [tailor, pejorative], roaring boys, and rigges [wanton women] playing with correl [toy dildoes]. Law (0 point): It’s just on the edge of prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act, but it would have been tame stuff for Pepys’ generation.

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 0 point: Some of the sheets have been annotated, whether by Pepys or someone else is anyone’s guess. Still, if it could be proved it was Pepys, the price goes up. Not that Bob realizes this …

Document Analysis, Evidence Collection 1 point: The paper’s genuine and of the period. There’s odd insect pattern damage on some of the sheets, as if a collection of small spiders got caught between the pages and decayed there. No solid matter, just liquefied imprints on the paper.

Bargain gets it from Bob, cheaply. No spend, no broadsides. Filch gets the most interesting sheets, without Bob noticing.

Axe Yard

If the Hounds go to Axe Yard, they find the house Bob’s working on. Some of the twenty-five houses on this lane have already been swallowed up by the Government for offices, but the general outline of the Yard can still be seen. Nobody’s sure which of these would have been Pepys’ ‘poor little house.’

Streetwise or Sense Trouble Difficulty 5 notices a beggar hanging round near the skip, a pasty gent in ragged clothing, who retreats as soon as someone notices him. In a Fleeing contest his parting trick is to vanish down a drain or sewer outlet, leaving his clothes behind. There’s an odd, wet residue on the skip near where he stood – and a tiny, spidery creature that runs off quick.

Bentley’s Drama

However the negotiation with Bob goes, Bentley’s finds out about it, somehow. If Bob sold the papers, it’s because Bob talked too freely at the pub. If Bob didn’t sell, it’s because he blabbed to his foreman, bragging about how he’d get rich from his find.

Mr. Bentley is outraged. He thinks the Hounds put one over on Bob, and stole property that rightfully belongs to Bentley’s. Mr. Bentley is a devotee of the Pepys Club; one of the reasons he took this job was so he could work at Axe Yard. If Bob didn’t sell to the Hounds then Mr. Bentley now has the broadsides, and accuses the Hounds of stealing the best ones, when they inspected the bundle. If the Hounds have the broadsides, then he demands their return.

Mr. Bentley: Athletics 3, Filch 3, Health 6; Architecture 3 (Restoration era). Melancholic, pipe smoker, unkind to animals, especially cats. “Dear me! My solicitor will be here any second, and then you’ll be for it!”

If things get unpleasant. Mr. Bentley knows a lot of builders willing to do him a favor. Treat them as Rough Lads for combat purposes.

Further Examination

Several of the broadsides deal with Mythos subjects, in particular a series called ‘The Beggar’s Daughters.’ This is the most insect-stained and annotated set of broadsides, and there are four of them, all variations on the same theme. A pale, blind beggar has four daughters, all of whom wish to marry. They go out in search of swains, but their chosen beloved – the gallant young knight, the gentleman’s son, the merchant and the publican – are horrified on their wedding night, when they discover their pretty maids are not what they seem. The scenes at the church during the wedding are gruesome, but water damage makes the worst bits unreadable. Study confers 1 Mythos, concerning Eihort and its Brood.

Whoever collected this was making a study of variant Beggars in different broadsides, and drew a map on the back of one of them. The Knowledge realizes these are streets near the Hoop & Toy pub, Kensington. The Hoop & Toy, built 1760, is said to be haunted by five specters; priests, according to the legend. Their crypt, in the Hoop & Toy’s basement, was long forgotten until rediscovered, and destroyed, during the construction of the Circle underground tunnel in the 1870s. The ghosts wander eternally, looking for a way back to the church they once served. Occult spends can work out where the ghosts are most often seen, and what they look like – pale, nondescript people, with skin like wax. They leave a strange, wet residue wherever they go. The basement of the Hoop & Toy, it’s said, is alive with peculiar spiders.

The map on the broadside shows a church, where the Hoop & Toy currently stands.

The Ghastly Brood

Eihort’s strange children are the ‘ghosts’ at the Hoop & Toy. The crypt that the underground workers disturbed all those years ago once belonged to a blasphemous church which held strange ceremonies in its crypt, in honor of the Pale Beast. Those who wished to learn hideous secrets sought to parley with the creature, but Eihort is only interested in its Bargain, and spreading its Brood.

After the destruction of the church Eihort no longer visits its Fane, but its Brood remain. They use it as a kind of meeting place, where hundreds of thousands of Brood gather in the basement to mingle, and share secrets. Seeing this massive wave of Brood in one place is a Stability 5 challenge, possibly going as high as Stability 7 if the Brood attack.

The Brood are very interested in the broadsides, for one of several reasons:

  • They want to establish a final link with those of the Brood whose physical form became imprinted in the broadside paper.
  • They want to see if humans are still interested in making a Bargain with Eihort, as they did before.
  • They want to prevent anyone from finding the location of the Fane.

They will seek out the Beggar’s Daughters broadsides, injuring or killing the ones who have them, as needed.

The Last Word

It’s impossible to determine beyond question whether the broadsides, and their annotations, are Pepys’. However it’s a nice find, and counts as 1 point book stock, History (Restoration London).

Though Pepys was superstitious, he’s not known for being anything other than conventionally superstitious. Charms for luck, or against disease, yes. Rollicking battles against the Mythos, no. Still, they had peculiar notions in Pepys’ day. Perhaps that library at Magdalen is worth a visit, to see what Pepys really did believe …

The basement of the Hoop & Toy is a Fane, a place of power, and can be drawn on by necromancers and would-be magical power places. See Rough Magicks for further details. If not using Rough Magicks, assume the place provides 1 point of Magic potential/year, and can be used as a Megapolisomantic lever. Of course, the Brood will have something to say about that …

Bob the brickie would never bargain with Eihort, but Mr. Bentley might.

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