For some, the bright lights, the bustle, and the ho-hum goods that Christmas gift buying often encompasses are all part and parcel of the festive experience. But for those seeking a more serene and sophisticated shopping session, The Royal Exchange offers an antidote to all that.
First established by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1566 as a hub for City trading of stocks and shares, The Royal Exchange also lays claim to creating Britain’s very first enclosed shopping destination. Unprofitable as a financial centre alone, in 1660 an additional two floors were added to house retail businesses. Perhaps some 350 years of practice can be credited with imbuing its retail today with a more calm and collected air than the frenzied mania of your typical modern mall or high street experience.
Indeed, assessed from the Grand Café, the Royal Exchange’s relaxed epicentre, the goods on offer here are – in one form or another – largely the kind that might have been on sale at any point over the last few centuries: covetable objects that express art or craft, the kind of thing one passes down to a lucky descendant. They take their pedigree from history, rather than pre-festive hysteria.
Church’s storm-welted, leather-lined Goodward R Chelsea boots, for example, would have looked just as at home back then as they do now. Similarly, Aspinal of London’s Mount Street bag may be named after a more westerly part of London but, in its classic style and hand-made quality, it’s not hard to imagine it being carried by some 18th- or 19th-century gent – even if the integral battery charger for your phone or laptop would certainly have him puzzled.
Of course, like any destination shopping spot, The Royal Exchange must move with the times, even while embracing a signature timelessness in its selection of goods. So while you may still be jotting down your plan for the week in good old-fashioned style, using Smythson’s Soho diary and that most lasting of technologies known as a pencil (a gilded Panama pencil to be precise), quite possibly you’re also recording your experiences on a professional-standard digital camera, the likes of which Leica reign supreme, ready to upload to your blog.
Sir Thomas Gresham would certainly have appreciated such a device. As a knight of the realm and an adviser to three monarchs, he was well used to having his portrait captured – just not at such a convenient speed.
Josh Sims is a freelance for the Financial Times and Esquire, and the author of several books on men’s style.
Above, clockwise, from far left: Goodwood R Triple Sole Chelsea Boot, £495, Church’s; Small Mount Street Bag, £550, Aspinal of London; 2018 Soho Diary in cobalt, £155, and Gilded Panama Pencil, £20, both Smythson; M10 Black Camera, £5,850, Leica