A gentleman spends his time exclusively among respectable society!
Pride and Prejudice is a play about people, but also very much a play about place - who is welcome where? Where is it respectable to be seen? Here, John Hedley explores Gracechurch Street, where his character, Mr Gardiner, lives and where Jane hopes to reunite with Bingley.
Gracechurch Street, in the heart of the City of London, is mentioned in Pride & Prejudice as the home of Mr and Mrs Gardiner. He is the brother of Mrs Bennet and uncle of the Bennet daughters.
Jane Bennet readily accepts an invitation for an extended stay in Gracechurch Street in the hope of again meeting Mr Bingley, with whom she has fallen in love, but who has returned from his country residence to London at the behest of his scheming sister and the disapproving Mr Darcy (who both consider Jane a poor match for Bingley).
Jane’s hopes of meeting Mr Bingley come to nothing – Gracechurch Street is simply not the sort of place a gentleman would frequent. It is, after all, an area of “Trade”. A gentleman sends his servants to attend to matters of trade. A gentleman spends his time exclusively among respectable society in the more fashionable parts of London.
Off Gracechurch Street, then as now, is the entrance to Leadenhall Market, today a trendy and attractive complex of upmarket shops and restaurants. In Jane Austen’s time it was a wholesale meat, poultry and fish market, surrounded by alleyways concealing small pubs, many of which still survive today. Mr Gardiner’s profession is never specified in the book, but the reference to Gracechurch Street suggests he was a market merchant of some sort.
One other famous resident of Gracechurch Street in Jane Austen’s time was Old Tom, a gander who somehow managed to survive being slaughtered, unlike all the thousands of other geese and ganders. He was adopted by the traders and wandered freely around Leadenhall Market until he died of natural causes at the grand old age of 38 and was buried in the Market.
Gracechurch Street today is dominated by high-rise office blocks, but the alleyways and pubs and the market building are still there – well worth a gander, even if Mr Bingley would not deign to grace Gracechurch Street with his presence.
John plays Mr Gardiner in the Dulwich Players' production of Pride and Prejudice, directed by Rebecca Dallaway and Hannah Tomlinson.
To be performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College from 19th to 22nd February.
For ticket information, visit https://www.dulwichplayers.org/book-now
[Images: Painting, Cheapside from Ackermann's Repository, June 1813. All other photos taken by Johnn Hedley]