Cheapside – Not So Cheap After All!

One of the neighborhoods in London that I mention in my book “A Gentleman’s Bidding” is Cheapside. I simply love the name and how incredibly misleading it is!

You mean it wasn’t a crummy, slummy, poor neighborhood? NO! In fact it was a very elegant and fashionable shopping area. It was the large array of businesses and shops that gave the neighborhood its name. The name Cheapside originated from the Saxon word “Chepe” which meant market.

So, why wasn’t Cheapside competing with the likes of Piccadilly, Park Lane and Grosvenor Square as a high-end fashionable place to live? The simple answer is trade.

In spite of its opulence, residing in Cheapside had a slightly negative connotation. People who lived in that neighborhood were often linked to trade, and the aristocratic members of the ton looked down on merchants, and for the most part anyone who had to work for a living. So, while Cheapside was the place to shop and to be seen milling around, one wouldn’t want their permanent address to be there.

It’s ironic really because the traders and other shop keepers living in Cheapside were incredibly rich. Richer than most of the nobles who patronized the stores there. There was a lot more money to be made in retail trade than from managing property inherited from generations past.

Cheapside is the birthplace of the famous Cockney accent, though that was long before the Regency period. It has also popped up in several works of fiction including Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, and William Shakespeare’s Henry IV.

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