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BARBICAN LIFE


accommodate 4000 merchants negotiating deals and there was a surrounding loggia to retire to in inclement weather. Within the loggia and on the levels above were small shops selling a variety of domestic and luxury goods. It was a place for doing deals, for collecting messages and post and a fashionable shopping mall. In January 1570 Queen Elizabeth dined with Gresham and afterwards she visited the bourse. She proclaimed that it should be known as the Royal Exchange.


Netherlanders were Protestant; they resented being ruled by Catholic foreigners and there had been a number of insurgencies. Matters came to a head when Philip II became king in 1555; unlike his more tolerant predecessor he required all his subjects to follow the Catholic faith and was ready to impose his will by force if necessary. (In 1576 Philip II would sack Antwerp.) In addition there was the long-standing enmity between Catholic Spain and Protestant England which manifested itself in piracy and open warfare on the high seas. In the City of London there had also been changes. By the 1560s the Merchant


Adventurers had gained influence in the City Corporation and begun to outnumber its more conservative elements. They lobbied to end the privileges accorded to foreign traders and made efforts to develop London as a port with better river access, improved docks and quays and more effective regulation of taxes. And the traders gathering in Lombard Street had become a nuisance. John Stow the great 16th century antiquarian noted, “The merchants and tradesmen, as well English as strangers, for their general making of bargains, contracts and commerce, did usually meet twice every day. But these meetings were unpleasant and troublesome, by reason of walking and talking in an open street, being there constrained to endure all kinds of weather, or else to shelter themselves in shops.” When Thomas Gresham


petitioned Queen Elizabeth to allow a


bourse to be built the Corporation now gave him their support.


By 1564 Thomas was a very wealthy man but he had been devastated by the loss of his only son to pleurisy and perhaps he was seeking a legacy. In any event, in1565 he proposed that he paid for the full cost of constructing the building himself on condition that the Corporation and other merchants should identify and pay for the site. At first land was sought near the traditional trading area of Lombard Street but eventually a site was identified on Cornhill. At Christmas 1565 three months’ notice was served on businesses and householders in Broad Street and alleys around Cornhill. Their properties were purchased with subscriptions raised from leading merchants and citizens. The first stone was laid on 7 June 1566 by Thomas Gresham and the building was completed and opened for business in 1568. The design was in the strikingly modern Renaissance style, inspired by the Antwerp Exchange and executed by an Antwerp master mason with imported foreign labour. All the materials were imported too, much to the annoyance of the local masons. The roofs of the four storey building and dormer windows were topped by numerous grasshoppers, an emblem from the Gresham crest. Niches contained statues of English monarchs and one of Gresham too. The Exchange dominated the


skyline, a palace to commerce and for the glorification of its patron. The central courtyard was large enough to


Sir Thomas bequeathed the building to his wife and after her death jointly to his livery company, the Mercers, and the City of London. It proved its worth as a trading centre and attracted other financial institutions to the area but it was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666. A new larger replacement was immediately planned on the same site and it opened for business in 1669. This was even grander than its predecessor with many shops. It proved difficult to let them all


The grasshopper weather vane atop the Royal Exchange today


The first


Royal Exchange 1569 Source: Wikimedia Commons


so some of the space was eventually used for offices and storage by Lloyds and others; the East India Company stored pepper in the vaults. In 1838 the second exchange was also destroyed by a fire which probably started in the rooms of Lloyd’s coffee house. It was rebuilt to a neo-classical design by Sir William Tite. Its massive portico with eight Corinthian columns carries a pediment with seventeen figures, the central one being Commerce. The building was officially opened with great ceremony by Queen Victoria in1844 and she confirmed that it should still be known as the Royal Exchange. The buildings in front of the


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