A Young Man of Good Fortune, Mr. Charles Bingley ~ Guest Post by Nancy Lawrence

Nancy Lawrence is one of our newest members of Austen Authors, and I so glad she decided to bring her knowledge to our group site. Have a look at a “model tale” for Jane Austen’s “Mr. Bingley.” I am certain you will find it as fascinating as I did. Enjoy! 

“A young man of large fortune.” That’s how Mrs. Bennet described Charles Bingley when she learned he had leased a neighboring estate in Jane Austen’s classic novel, Pride and Prejudice.

As the mother of five unmarried daughters, Mrs. Bennet didn’t feel the need to know how Charles came into possession of such a fortune; her only concern was that he marry one of her daughters.

I, on the other hand, want to learn as much as I can about Charles Bingley’s background, because Charles makes an appearance in the JAFF story I’m currently writing. Piecing together Charles’ history (and that of his sisters) will give me insight into how—and why—he will take certain actions in my novel.

Charles Bingley with his sisters, Caroline and Luisa, as depicted in the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice.

Jane Austen gives us some hints about Charles’ origins. The Bingley fortune had been “acquired by trade.” Charles himself had a fortune of £100,000, which gave him an annual income of about £4,000. (In today’s money that’s £186,100 or $241,930 U.S. dollars.)

The Bingleys were “respectable.” They came “from the north of England,” an area of the country where the manufacture of textiles was a booming business at the time the story was written.

Whirring spools of threads and fibers in an old mill.

Given those hints, it’s probable that Charles, Luisa, and Caroline Bingley’s father owned one of the textile mills that sprang up across the north during the Industrial Revolution of the late 18th century. As children, they were most likely raised in a house that was either next door to, or very near, the mill their father owned.

Mule spinning machine at the Quarry Bank Mill.

In most mills of that era, the people who worked there were seen not as people, but as extensions of the machinery. They were given pitiful wages for 12 or 13 hour work days. They lived in unsanitary conditions and worked in unsafe environments. Poet William Blake described the mills of the 19th century as “satanic.”

But considering what we know about the Bingley siblings—particularly Charles, who was described as amiable, lively, unreserved, sensible, and good-humoured—it’s hard for me (looking through my 21st century lens) to imagine they were raised by a father capable of such draconian treatment of the people in his employ.

So I have to wonder . . .

What if, like Charles Bingley, the father had a disposition to be kind and friendly by nature?

What if, like Charles, the elder Mr. Bingley treated everyone respectfully, regardless of their rank or privilege?

And what if the elder Mr. Bingley was among a small group of enlightened mill owners? What if he treated his workers humanely and did what he could to set apart his mill from the dark, grim places we tend to associate with the Regency Era?

I can give you a real-life example of what I mean. In 1784 a man named Samuel Greg founded a mill not far from Manchester, England. He named it Quarry Bank Mill.

Quarry Bank Mill, near Manchester.

The great thing about Quarry Bank Mill is that it’s still in existence. Now owned by England’s National Trust, Quarry Bank Mill stands as a real-life working model of the kind of business I think Charles Bingley’s father would have run.

Originally powered by an enormous iron waterwheel, Quarry Bank Mill boasted five floors of cotton textile production. Those five floors were filled with hundreds of employees ginning and weaving cotton.

Quarry Bank Mill employees outside their homes, circa 1900.

Each of those employees needed a place to live, so, adjacent to the mill, Greg built a village of row-houses and cottages for his workers.

Workers homes at Quarry Bank Mill, as they appear today.

Many of his workers were children—orphans from workhouses and children who previously lived on the streets. He called them “apprentices,” and he built a communal home to house them.

Apprentice House at Quarry Bank Mill.

The children attended school and worked in the community garden, which provided fresh vegetables and fruit for their diets.

The kitchen at Apprentice House.

Greg also built churches for his workers and gave them Sundays off so they could attend services.

Norcliffe Chapel, one of the churches Samuel Greg built for Quarry Bank workers

And when his workers fell ill or were injured, Greg ensured he had a doctor on hand for their care.

Samuel Greg created a community and a way of life for his workers that was superior to any that could be had by farm workers and other laborers of the lower-class. Many of the apprentices who grew up working in his mill stayed on to work at Quarry Bank as adults.

This photo shows the immense size of the mill building. The light yellow building on the left is where the Greg family lived. The white building on the right is Apprentice House.

Mr. Greg operated his mill in a much more humane fashion than his competitors, and doing so earned him a handsome fortune. He built a respectable and well-appointed home next to the mill for his wife and children.

The Greg family home next to Quarry Bank Mill.

Since I first learned about Quarry Bank Mill, I’ve often wondered if Charles Bingley’s father earned his fortune in the same way. I wonder, too, if Charles and his sisters grew up in a fine house within a few yards of the workers’ cottages and mill works, just as Samuel Greg’s children did.

I think it’s possible that, coming into every-day contact with mill workers would explain how Charles learned to be gracious and respectful to everyone he met, regardless of their station in life.

And it would explain why his manner was relaxed and amiable, why he never uttered a critical word about anyone, and why his behavior at the Meryton Assembly earned everyone’s good opinion. As Jane Austen wrote:

There had been no formality, no stiffness; he had soon felt acquainted with all the room.

What do you think? Do you think it’s possible Charles Bingley’s kind disposition and good humor were traits he inherited from his father?

Had Charles elected to follow in his father’s footsteps, what kind of mill owner do you think he would have made?


Charles’ sisters Caroline and Luisa each inherited £20,000 from their father. Would you like to know how much that would be in today’s money?

Click here to visit The U.K.’s National Archives Currency Converter.

Then, select a year: Try 1810, which is close to the year P&P was first published (1813).

Enter the amount: 20,000

Click on the “Show Purchasing Power” button, and you’ll see how much their inheritance was worth in today’s money.

For Americans, don’t forget to multiply the converted amount by 1.3—that’s today’s average rate of exchange rate for British Pound to U.S. Dollar.

You can use this tool to calculate all financial sums mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels—from the Dashwood’s £500 a year to Georgiana Darcy’s £30,000 marriage portion.

Nancy-Lawrence-portfolio-pic-326x435.jpg Meet Nancy Lawrence: 

Nancy Lawrence writes traditional Regency romances, where the heroes are gentlemen, the heroines are ladies, and there’s always a fancy-dress ball to attend. Nancy lives with her family in Aurora, Colorado, “the best city in the world if you can’t live in Bath, England.” 

You can learn more about Nancy, her books, and her writing progress at:
http://NancyLawrenceRegency.com

And follow Nancy on social media at: https://austenauthors.net/nancy-lawrence/
http://twitter.com/NLawrenceAuthor 
http://www.facebook.com/nancy.lawrence.712

A few of Nancy’s books…

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About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in Austen Authors, British history, commerce, family, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Guest Post, Inheritance, Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Vagary and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Young Man of Good Fortune, Mr. Charles Bingley ~ Guest Post by Nancy Lawrence

  1. Janet Taylor says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. I especially liked learning about Samuel Greg and his treatment of his mill workers. I can see both Charles Bingley and his father being that kind of mill master. I would like to think they were for sure.

    I am a big fan of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South, as well as Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, so this was of special interest. Now I wonder if Ms. Gaskell knew of Samuel Greg and thus fashioned her John Thornton after him, as to his treatment of the mill workers. Thank you, Regina and Nancy.

    • Janet, I’m glad you liked the post. When I wrote it, I thought about North and South, too, as well as several other novels that took place in the time period and dealt with workers in mills and factories. I much prefer reading about kind-hearted Mr. Thornton and Mr. Greg!

  2. Thank you for sharing my post, Regina!

  3. What a remarkable man Samuel Greg was. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and learning about Mr Greg and Quarry Bank Mill: thank you for sharing.

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