The Royal Exchange will receive some pampering this summer, with its outer stonework façade undergoing cleaning from June to October in order to preserve the rich heritage of this architectural City treasure.
The historic building was founded by the merchant Sir Thomas Gresham in the 16th century, as a centre of commerce for the City of London. Gresham modeled the building on the Bourse in Antwerp – the world’s oldest financial exchange, where he had been based as a royal agent – with a trading floor, offices and shops around an open courtyard where merchants and traders could meet and conduct their business. It has twice been destroyed by fire (in the Great Fire in 1666 and then in 1838) and subsequently rebuilt. The present building was designed by Sir William Tite and was given a suitably regal opening by Queen Victoria in 1844. Tite kept to the original 16th-century layout of a four-sided building surrounding a central courtyard.
The most iconic part of the building is the imposing eight-column portico at the west entrance, which was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and is topped by a pediment with a triangular tympanum containing a sculptured frieze. The central figure represents commerce, above an inscription from the Bible: ‘The Earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof’. The grandeur and presence of this frontage is an appropriate introduction to the building’s rich history and to the level of luxury and distinction of the current day boutiques in residence.
While it appears to be made of stone, the building is actually made of concrete with a stone façade laid on top, and was one of the first buildings in the UK to use concrete on a large scale. Keeping the stonework gleaming is essential in order to maintain the presence and impact of the spectacular entrance.
The other sides of the building are based on Italian renaissance models. Inside, there are 24 large panel paintings depicting the history of trade in Britain from early times, including an illustration showing the Phoenicians trading with ancient Britons on the coast of Cornwall. Sharp-eyed observers will notice that, after all these years, The Royal Exchange has not forgotten its beginnings, paying homage to its founder with its gilded copper grasshopper weathervane – a symbol taken from the Gresham family crest.
The main entrance and Cornhill side of the building will be the first to receive the exterior maintenance work, but it will be business as usual for all of the boutiques during this period. The Royal Exchange is one of the City’s most recognisable architectural landmarks, so it’s only right for the stonework of the grand old building to receive the care and attention it requires to continue its story for many years to come.
Visit our heritage page to learn more about the history of The Royal Exchange