A Moment in London’s History – The opening of the Royal Exchange…
This month marks the 450th anniversary of the opening of London’s Royal Exchange, a complex created to act as a commercial centre in the City of London.
The exchange was built on the orders – and with the funds – of the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham at a site on the junction of Cornhill and Threadneedle streets which was – and still is – jointly owned by the City of London Corporation and the Worshipful Company of Mercers.
Drawing inspiration from the Antwerp Bourse, credited as the oldest financial exchange in the world (and where Sir Thomas had served as an agent of the crown), the Royal Exchange was built in ranges around a central courtyard and designed by an architect from Antwerp.
It was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I on 23rd January, 1571. The Queen, who was lodging in Somerset House at the time, reportedly took a detailed look at the premises – which had apparently been completed a few years earlier.
At the close of her visit, she awarded the exchange the use of the word ‘Royal’ in its title (an honour announced by a herald and with the sound of a trumpet). She also granted it a license to sell alcohol and other luxury goods.
Earlier in the day, the Queen had dined at Sir Thomas’ own house in Bishopsgate. She was later to return to Somerset House.
Gresham’s original building – to which two floors of retail had been added in 1660, creating what is said to have been England’s first shopping mall – was sadly destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666.
It was replaced by a second complex, this time designed by Edward Jarman, in 1669, but this too succumbed to fire, this time on 10th January, 1838. The building which now stands on the site – and is now an upmarket retail centre – was designed by Sir William Tite and was opened by another Queen, Victoria, in 1844.
Gresham’s contribution is remembered by the building’s weathervane which features a golden grasshopper – an insect featured on Sir Thomas’ crest.
LondonLife – More new benches for City of London…
As we reported last Thursday, a series of specially designed new benches have been rolled out across the City of London as part of this month’s London Festival of Architecture. We loved the designs so much, we thought we’d show you some of the others. Above is Nicholas Kirk Architects’ Money Box which, located outside London Bridge Station, is formed of 45,000 stacked pennies while immediately below is McCloy + Muchemwa’s A Bench for Everyone. Located Inside One New Change, its folded shape is designed to evoke the “memory and much-loved comforts of home furniture”. The festival runs until the end of the month. PICTURES: All images © Agnese Sanvito
Above – Mariya Lapteva’s City Ghosts which, located in front of the Royal Exchange, is inspired by the history of the area including East India House and the little shopfronts along Leadenhall Street.
Above – Maria Gasparian’s Ceramic City Bench in Bow Church Yard featuring colours inspired by the “multi-layered context of the City of London that has for centuries been a place for trade, exchange and religious diversity”.
Above – Mills Turner’s Double Bench in Fen Court has been designed to be easy to assemble and adjustable and features an “organic silhouette” which follows the natural curve of the human body.
What’s in a name?…Mansion House
Mansion House, perhaps best known as a tautological-sounding Tube station, is actually the name of the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London (a suitable subject, we felt, given the upcoming Lord Mayor’s Show in November).
Designed by George Dance the Elder and built between 1739 to 1753 (many years after the idea of an official residence for the Lord Mayor was proposed in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London), the Palladian-style property – located a stone’s throw from the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England on a short stretch of street named after the property – has been the home of the Lord Mayor since the latter date.
It was built on the site of what was known as the Stocks Market (it had previously been the location of some stocks – used to punish people for various misdemeanours), the name isn’t actually as repetitive as it looks but actually means “official residence” and was previously used to designate homes which went with particular ecclesiastical jobs.
As well as accommodation for the Lord Mayor, the interior of the Grade I-listed property features two halls known as the Egyptian Hall and what was initially known as the Dancing Gallery but is now the Ballroom (we’ll be taking a more in-depth look at the property at a later date).
The Tube station opened in 1871 as the eastern terminus of the Metropolitan District Railway. Interestingly, Bank station is actually closer to the property with Mansion House station located to the south-west down Queen Victoria Street.
A Moment in London’s History – Publication of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’…
Credited as “the man who invented Christmas”, Victorian author Charles Dickens’ featured Christmas celebrations in many of his works – but none more so than in his famous story, A Christmas Carol.
Published 172 years ago this December, the five part morality tale centres on the miserly Londoner Ebenezer Scrooge who, following several ghostly visitations by the likes of the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come, becomes a changed man and recaptures the essence of what Christmas is all about.
The book – whose characters (said to have been partly based on people he knew in real life) also include the abused clerk Bob Cratchit and his ever positive youngest son, Tiny Tim – is based in London.
Among key locations mentioned in the book is Scrooge’s counting house, said to have been located in a courtyard off Cornhill (it’s been suggested this is Newman’s Court, thanks to a reference to a church tower, believed to be St Michael’s Cornhill – pictured), the home of Scrooge (it has been speculated this was located in Lime Street), and the home in Camden Town where the Cratchits celebrate their Christmas (perhaps based on one of Dickens’ childhood homes in Bayham Street). City of London institutions like the home of the Lord Mayor, Mansion House, and the Royal Exchange are also mentioned.
The book, which apparently only took Dickens six weeks to write while he was living at 1 Devonshire Terrace in Marylebone, was first published on 19th December, 1843, by London-based firm Chapman & Hall. Based at 186 Strand, they published many of Dickens’ works – everything from The Old Curiosity Shop to Martin Chuzzlewit – along with those of authors such as William Makepeace Thackeray and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
A Christmas Carol‘s first print run of 6,000 sold out any Christmas Eve that same year and sales continued to be strong into the following year. Despite its warm reception by critics and popularity among the public, the book’s profits were somewhat disappointing for Dickens who had hoped to pay off his debts (he also lost out when he took on some pirates who printed their own version two months after its publication; having hauled them to court Dickens was apparently left to pay costs when they declared bankruptcy).
Dickens would later give some public readings of the book, most notably as a benefit for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children (his last public reading of the book took place at St James’s Hall in London on 15th March, 1870, just three months before his death).
The book, which has apparently never been out of print, went on to become something of a Christmas classic and has been adapted into various films, theatre productions, radio plays and TV shows (one of our favourites is The Muppet Christmas Carol, dating from 1992).
Treasures of London – The Pearl Sword…
One of five City of London swords, tradition holds that the sword was given to the City Corporation by Queen Elizabeth I when the Royal Exchange opened in 1571.
It takes its name from its pearl-encrusted scabbard – there’s said to be 2,500 of them sewn onto it – and was traditionally used in celebrations. These include a ceremony which takes place when the reigning monarch comes in State to the City.
Seen during last year’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, the ceremony involves the Lord Mayor taking the sword from the Sword-Bearer and offering it hilt-first to the monarch to touch – a symbol of the monarch’s authority over the city. It is then borne aloft in front of the monarch by the Lord Mayor.
Interestingly, the tradition of the monarch touching the sword hilt is said to date from the reign of King Charles I when the king entered the City in 1641 and just touched the sword given to him and handed it back to the Lord Mayor. Prior to that, the sword was handed over to the sovereign for the during the visit.
The City’s other four swords include the State Sword, the Mourning Sword, the Old Bailey Sword and Mansion House Justice Room Sword.
Guided tours of Mansion House – official residence of the Lord Mayor of London and where the Pearl Sword can be seen – are conducted on Tuesdays at 2pm (although it’s closed for August for refurbishments and on selected dates after that). Head here www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/mansionhousetours details. PICTURES Courtesy City of London.
LondonLife – A look into London’s wartime past…
Images from the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app give a glimpse into London’s past – in this case, its wartime history. The image above, taken by Police Constable Arthur Cross, official photographer of the City of London Police, and his assistant PC Fred Tibbs, shows bomb damage at Bank Underground Station, following a direct hit on 10th January, 1941. An estimated 111 people who had been sheltering in the Tube died, some of them thrown into the path of an incoming train. The crater that was left outside the Royal Exchange was so large the Royal Engineers had to build a bridge across it. For details on how to download the app, head to www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Resources/app/you-are-here-app/home.html. PICTURE: © Museum of London/By Kind Permission of The Commissioner of the City of London Police.
Famous Londoners – Edward Lloyd…
The founder of Lloyd’s Coffee House, Edward Lloyd – who died 300 years ago this year – is perhaps not so much famous in his own right as for the fact his name lives on in the Lloyd’s insurance business today.
Lloyd is believed to have been born around 1648 but little is known of his early day (it’s thought he may have come from Canterbury). By 1688, he was the proprietor of a licensed coffee house in the now long gone Tower Street and was living nearby with his wife Abigail (the first reference to the coffee house dates from 1688).
In 1691, the coffee house moved to a premises at 16 Lombard Street – not far from the Royal Exchange – and it’s here that the coffee house gained a reputation as the centre of the ship-broking and marine insurance business (a blue plaque marks the site today).
Lloyd, meanwhile, was building up a network of correspondents at major ports around the world, and according to Sarah Palmer, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, was also involved in the publication of a weekly news sheet featuring shipping-related news – initially published on a Saturday, it became a Friday publication in 1699 and continued until at least 1704 – and the rather shorter-lived single sheet newspaper Lloyd’s News, founded in 1696. (Lloyd’s List wasn’t founded until well after Lloyd’s death in 1734).
Lloyd and his first wife had at least nine children, with four daughters surviving into adulthood – it was the youngest, Handy, who with her first husband William Newton (he was head waiter at the coffee house and married her just prior to her father’s death) and, following his death, her second husband Samuel Sheppard, continued the family business after her father’s death in 1713.
Following Abigail’s death in 1698, he married Elizabeth Mashbourne and after her death in 1712, married again – this time to Martha Denham.
Lloyd died the following year on – 15th February 1713 – and was buried at St Mary Woolnoth – a church at which he’d held positions when alive.
The business which grew to become the Lloyd’s of London insurance business we know today, meanwhile, took its next step forward in 1769 when a group of professional underwriters established New Lloyd’s Coffee House in nearby Pope’s Head Alley. The group, formalised into a committee, later moved to the Royal Exchange and dropped the word new. Lloyd’s was incorporated in 1871 by an Act of Parliament and has gone on to become one of the world’s most famous insurers. It now operates in more than 300 countries and territories worldwide.
What was to become Lloyd’s Register, meanwhile, was founded in 1760 as the Society for the Registry of Shipping.
Where’s London’s oldest…higher education institution?
While higher education may something we generally associate with more recent historical eras, London’s oldest higher educational institution in fact was founded in the dying years of the 16th century.
Gresham College was founded in 1597 by Sir Thomas Gresham (pictured, right) – son of Lord Mayor Sir Richard Gresham and the man behind the construction of the Royal Exchange (see our earlier post on Sir Thomas Gresham here) – according to instructions in his will (Sir Thomas died in 1579).
Under the terms of the will, part of his estate was left to the City of London Corporation and the Mercer’s Company and it is these who founded the organisation according to his request and still operate via the Joint Grand Gresham Committee.
According to the will’s terms, the corporation were to appoint professors in divinity, astronomy, geometry and music while the Mercer’s Company were given the responsibility of appointing professors in law, physic and rhetoric (a chair in commerce was added in 1985). There are also currently a number of visiting professorships.
The college – which was founded to provide free public lectures on subjects of scientific interest – is governed by a council with the Lord Mayor of London as its president.
Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (now the site of what was formerly known as the NatWest Tower) was the college’s first home. Professors, whose salaries were met by rental income from the Royal Exchange, continued giving lectures there until 1768.
Various locations around the city were later used for the college before the opening of a new college building in Gresham Street in 1842. It moved again in 1991 and is now based at Barnard’s Inn Hall in Holborn.
Among the professors who have held chairs at the college are architects Sir Christopher Wren (astronomy) and Robert Hooke (geometry) as well as Richard Chartres, current Bishop of London (divinity).
The college, which doesn’t enrol students as such and doesn’t award degrees, continues to provide more than 100 free public lectures every year and is also involved in running seminars and conferences and other initiatives.
For a detailed history of Gresham College, check out Richard Chartres’ and David Vermont’s book on the college’s history – www.gresham.ac.uk/greshamftp/historygreshm_bk2.pdf. For more on the college and its programme of events, see www.gresham.ac.uk. Lectures are available online.
Where is it?…#42
The latest in the series in which we ask you to identify where in London this picture was taken and what it’s of. If you think you can identify this picture, leave a comment below. We’ll reveal the answer early next week. Good luck!
Well done to Carol, this bust – yes, of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States – is located just inside the ‘rear’ entrance of the Royal Exchange in the heart of the City. The work of Irish-American sculptor Andrew O’Connor, it was carved from a block of limestone apparently quarried near the President’s birthplace in central Kentucky. The bust, which shows Lincoln is his prime, was presented to The Gresham Committee by the Lincoln Committee in 1930.
(And sorry about the previous #42 post – a technical glitch meant we had to shelve it!)
LondonLife – The visit of the American President…
President Barack Obama has been in London for the past two days, so Exploring London decided to take a break from our series on King James’ I’s London and instead, in honor of the president’s visit, take a look at where you’ll find some other US presidents in London.
First up, it’s President George Washington. A life-sized statue of the first US president stands outside the National Gallery on the north side of Trafalgar Square. It’s a replica of an eighteenth century marble statue by Jean Antoine Houdon which stands in the State Capitol building in Richmond, Virginia. A gift of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1924.
Civil War President Abraham Lincoln stands looking toward Parliament Square and the Houses of Parliament (pictured). The statue dates from 1920 – it was originally proposed to put a statue of President Lincoln in Parliament Square to mark the 1915 centenary of the last time the US and Britain were at war but the plans were put on ice until several years later. The statue, a gift of the US government, is a replica of the Chicago Lincoln Memorial by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. (There is also a bust of Lincoln inside the Royal Exchange building).
Next in the chronology is President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose statue can be found on the north side of Grosvenor Gardens (overlooked by the vast and soon-to-be replaced US embassy). This bronze was unveiled by the president’s wife, Eleanor, on the third anniversary of FDR’s death- 12th April, 1948. The statue depicts the president standing – apparently at Mrs Roosevelt’s insistence – instead of seated in a wheelchair.
Across the gardens stands another wartime president, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. A bronze by sculptor Robert Dean, this life-size statue was the gift of the US city of Kansas in 1989 and was unveiled by British PM Margaret Thatcher and US Ambassador Charles Price. It stands only a short distance from Eisenhower’s wartime HQ. (Grosvenor Square has also been home to then future US President John Adams who lived at number nine as the first US Ambassador to the Court of St James between 1786-97).
A bronze bust of the 35th president, President John F. Kennedy, can be found on the corner of Park Crescent and Marylebone Road. Unveiled by his brother, Senator Robert Kennedy, in 1965, it’s a copy of a bust located in the Library of Congress in Washington DC.
Among those mooted for the future is one of President Ronald Reagan (also in Grosvenor Square), planning permission for which was granted by Westminster City Council in 2009.
Famous Londoners – Sir Thomas Gresham
Remembered primarily for having founded the Royal Exchange as a centre for commerce in London and Gresham College, Sir Thomas Gresham was one of London’s leading merchants and financiers and an important advisor to successive monarchs during the sixteenth century.
Gresham was born in Milk Lane, London, to merchant Sir Richard Gresham (himself Lord Mayor of London in 1537-38) around 1518-19. He studied at Cambridge before being apprenticed to learn the family trade with his uncle, Sir John Gresham.
In 1543, he was admitted to the Mercers’ Company and subsequently spent time in the Low Countries, residing principally in Antwerp and acting as an agent for King Henry VIII. In 1544 he married Anne Fernley, widow of another London merchant. He also had a house in Lombard Street at this time.
Sir Thomas became an important advisor to King Edward VI, helping him alleviate financial concerns, a role he continued to play during the successive reigns of Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I (although he spent some time out of favor during Mary’s reign).
Knighted for his services to the crown in 1559, he proposed to built his ‘exchange’ in 1565, offering to pay for it himself if the City of London and Mercers’ Company provided the land. Modelled on the bourse in Antwerp with a trading floor and shops and offices set around a large central courtyard, it was officially awarded the title ‘royal’ by Queen Elizabeth I in 1571.
Sir Thomas died suddenly in 1579, apparently of a heart attack, and left the majority of his wealth to his widow but included clauses in his will stating that after her death rents from the Royal Exchange be used to create a college which would see seven professors offer free lecturers on subjects ranging from astronomy and geometry to rhetoric and divinity.
Known as Gresham College, it became the first institution of higher education in London when it was founded in 1597 and was initially based at Sir Thomas’ mansion in Bishopsgate (it’s now based in Barnard’s Inn Hall and, as it has for the past 400 years, still offers free public lectures).
In 1666, Sir Thomas’ Royal Exchange burnt down along with much of London but it was rebuilt immediately afterward (King Charles II laid the foundation stone of the new building) and rebuilt again following another fire in 1838 (at the time the building was largely occupied by two insurance companies, one of which was Lloyds of London).
It’s this third building, designed by Sir Thomas Tite to resemble the original plan, which stands on the site today. While trading has long since ceased there – it’s now a luxury-end shopping centre – Sir Thomas’s symbol, the gold ‘Gresham Grasshopper’, can still be seen on the weathervane. For more information on the Royal Exchange, see www.theroyalexchange.co.uk.