June 7th – According to de Loriol, on this day in 1566, the first stone of the original “Royal Exchange” was laid. Much to the disgust of native Londoners, the architect was a foreigner. On a related note, a census taken in the City on this day in 1567 revealed the presence of “40 Scots, 428 Frenchmen, 45 Spaniards, 140 Italians, 2030 Dutch, 44 Burgundians, 2 Danes and 1 Liegois”.
The exchange, modelled on the bourse in Antwerp, was the brainchild of the City financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79) (see also further Gresham postings here and here). Incidentally, Gresham also founded Gresham College, by bequest. He is buried in the church of St Helen, Bishopsgate.
The building was burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666. An eye-witness, one Thomas Vincent, wrote:
“The Royal Exchange itself, the glory of the merchants, is now invaded with much violence. And when once the fire was entered, how quickly did it run round the galleries, filling them with flames; then descendeth the stairs, compasseth the walks, giving forth flaming volleys, and filleth the courts with sheets of fire. By and by, down fall all the kings upon their faces, and the greatest part of the stone building after them, with such a noise as was dreadful and astonishing”.
A replacement was built in 1669, and burnt down in 1838; a second replacement, in turn built in 1844. The grasshopper on the top of the building is Gresham’s insignia.
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