On this day in 1571, Elizabeth I opened the – first – Royal Exchange (see also here).
As Stow put it:
“The Queen’s Majestie attended with her nobility, came from her house at the Strande, called Somerset House, and entered the City by Temple-bar, through Fleet streete, Cheap, and so by the north side of the Burse, to Sir Thomas Gresham’s, where she dined”.
The exchange, modelled on the bourse in Antwerp, was the brainchild of the aforementioned City financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79), and was originally intended to have been called Gresham’s rather than the Royal Exchange. 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 was in turn built in 1844. The grasshopper on the top of the building is Gresham’s insignia.
The site is passed on our “Tower to Temple” standard walk, and on our “Great Fire of London” themed special.
Further details of all our walks are available in the “Our Guided Walks” section of our website.