Scenes from Cheapside

I’m working on a new story; it’s a variation on Pride and Prejudice that centers on the mayhem caused by Lydia’s elopement with Wickham.

Some of the scenes will take place in the London home of the Gardiners in Cheapside.

Since my memory and imagination are sparked by visual cues, I’ve collected quite a few images of Cheapside for inspiration. Today I’ll share some of those images with you..

A map of the City of London in 1799, bounded in red, bordering the River Thames.

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For orientation, Cheapside is located in the City of London (not to be confused with London. Yes, London and the City of London are two different places.).

A close-up view of the 1799 map showing Cheapside and Gracechurch streets (in rectangles). St Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower of London are highlighted in circles.

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Cheapside is located in the heart of The City. For hundreds of years it’s been the country’s main center of commerce and trade. In fact, it gained its name from the old Saxon word Chepe, meaning market or bargain.

A 1911 postcard showing bustling Cheapside; Mansion House is the structure with columns on the left

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Street names like Poultry, Milk, Pudding, Ironmonger, Bread, and Shoemaker serve as reminders of the area’s old market origins.

The gateway to Cheapside as it appeared in 1903. Mansion House is the building with columns on the left. The road that angles off to the right is Cheapside, with the church spire of St. Mary-le-Bow.

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Geographically, Cheapside covers less than a mile but more tradesmen were packed into the length of this street than any other avenue in the City of London.

A view of Mansion House, residence of the Lord Mayor of London, as it appeared in 1837.

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Mr. Gardiner was engaged in trade in Cheapside, while his home was located on Gracechurch Street. The Gardiners lived within blocks of London Bridge on the east end of The City. I like to imagine they may have had a very good view of the Tower of London from their windows.

Cheapside, looking east down the street. The Church of St Mary-le-Bow is on the right. circa 1760.

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The Gardiner home would have been within walking distance of the center of England’s economic power.

The Bank of England (building on the right with columns) and Royal Exchange (on the left) as they appeared in 1907.

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Nearby was Mansion House (the residence of the Lord Mayor of London), the Bank of England, the Treasury, Custom House, and Royal Exchange.

The Bank of England, the Royal Exchange, and Mansion House by Nicholas-Toussaint Charlet.

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Beside great houses of commerce, Cheapside was famous for its retail establishments. Some of the best shopping to be had in Jane Austen’s time was in Cheapside.

A booksellers shop at No. 73 Cheapside, about 1790.

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From hat-makers to perfumeries, stationers to pianofortes, time-pieces to cottons and silks—the finest merchandise could be found in the warehouses and shops at Cheapside.

The London to Brighton Coach making a stop at Cheapside about 1830, by William Turner.

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Even on Gracechurch Street, where the Gardiners lived, shops and businesses of all sorts mingled with family homes.

The interior yard of the Spread Eagle Inn on Gracechurch street, about 1850.

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It’s no wonder, then, that merchants in Cheapside were extremely successful, and Mr. Gardiner was no exception.

The old Royal Exchange with the dome of St. Paul’s in the background, depicted in 1795 by Thomas Girtin. The Royal Exchange pictured burned down in 1838 but was rebuilt on the same site. It’s located on Threadneedle Street at the east end of Cheapside.

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Mr. Gardiner supported his family very well, indeed. Jane Austen described the Gardiners as well-bred and elegant. His income allowed him to host parties at the theater, while Mrs. Gardiner was free to squire Elizabeth, Sir William Lucas, and Maria Lucas through a day of shopping in London.

A 1930 photograph of the oldest house in Cheapside. Legend has it this building on the corner of Cheapside and Friday Street survived the Great Fire of 1666.

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Mr. Gardiner’s business was sound enough to allow him to take time off on a fairly regular basis. He and his family made frequent trips to visit the Bennets for as long as a week at a time.

View of The Monument from the south end of Gracechurch Street. Beydon The Monument is Fish Street Hill and old London Bridge. The church spire belongs to St. Magnus Martyr. The Monument was erected to commemorate the Great Fire of 1666.

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And in March 1812 the Gardiners invited Elizabeth to join them on a lengthy “pleasure tour” of the Lakes. In the end, unexpected business concerns forced Mr. Gardiner to postpone their travels until July of that year, but they still intended to spend a month touring Derbyshire.

Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the BBC miniseries looks over the countryside of the Peak District in Derbyshire.

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I have to admit Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are two of my favorite Pride and Prejudice characters. Mr. Gardiner is an effective foil for his sister Mrs. Bennet, and Mrs. Gardiner is a loving and trusted confidante to the two eldest Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth.

Joanna David and Tim Wylton as Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner in the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice

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I’m looking forward to writing about the Gardiners’ home in Cheapside and the many visitors they receive there. (Hint: one of their callers will be a very proud young man from Derbyshire.)

Stay tuned for more . . .

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