Royal Exchange

The Royal Exchange in the City of London was founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham to act as a centre of commerce for the city. The site was provided by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers, and is trapezoidal, flanked by the converging streets of Cornhill and Threadneedle Street. The design was inspired by a bourse Gresham had seen in Antwerp.

History

The Royal Exchange was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I who awarded the building its Royal title, on 23 January 1571. During the 17th century, stockbrokers were not allowed in the Royal Exchange due to their rude manners, hence they had to operate from other establishments in the vicinity, like Jonathan's Coffee-House. Gresham's original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. A second exchange was built on the site, designed by Edward Jarman, which opened in 1669, and was also destroyed by fire on 10 January 1838.

The third Royal Exchange building, which still stands today, was designed by Sir William Tite and adheres to the original layout - consisting of a four-sided structure surrounding a central courtyard where merchants and tradesmen could do business. The internal works, designed by Edward I'Anson in 1837, made use of concrete - an early example of this modern construction method. It features pediment sculptures by Richard Westmacott (the younger), and was opened by Queen Victoria on 28 October 1844, though trading did not commence until 1 January 1845.

The Royal Exchange ceased to act as a centre of commerce in 1939, although it was for a few years in the 1980s, home to the London International Financial Futures Exchange (LIFFE). It is now a luxurious shopping centre.

Shops in the Royal Exchange include Hermès, Molton Brown, Paul Smith, Haines & Bonner, Tiffany and Jo Malone.

The Gresham Grasshopper

The big Gresham Grasshopper can be seen on the Royal Exchange's weathervane. This commemorates the founder, Sir Thomas Gresham, whose crest it featured on. The device was later copied by Shem Drowne atop the famous Faneuil Hall in Boston, Massachusetts, in imitation of the Royal Exchange.

Bibliography
  • Walter Thornbury. Old and new London: a narrative of its history, its people, and its places, volume 1 (London : Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, 1873) p. 494 ff.
  • W. H. Pyne. Microcosm of London; or, London in miniature, volume 3 (London Methuen, 1904) p. 17 ff.
  • Mason, A. E. W. The Royal Exchange: a note on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Royal Exchange Assurance (London: Royal Exchange, 1920).

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