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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..
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.).
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.
Street names like Poultry, Milk, Pudding, Ironmonger, Bread, and Shoemaker serve as reminders of the area’s old market origins.
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.
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.
The Gardiner home would have been within walking distance of the center of England’s economic power.
Nearby was Mansion House (the residence of the Lord Mayor of London), the Bank of England, the Treasury, Custom House, and Royal Exchange.
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.
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.
Even on Gracechurch Street, where the Gardiners lived, shops and businesses of all sorts mingled with family homes.
It’s no wonder, then, that merchants in Cheapside were extremely successful, and Mr. Gardiner was no exception.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
Brenda S. Cox
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