On this day in 1570/1, Elizabeth I opened the – first – Royal Exchange …
As Stow put it:
“The Queen’s Majesty attended with her nobility came from her house at the Strand called Somerset House, and entered the City by Temple Bar, through Fleet Street, Cheap, and so by the north side of the Bourse through Threadneedle Street to Sir Thomas Gresham’s in Bishopsgate Street, where she dined. After dinner Her Majesty, returning through Cornhill, entered the Bourse on the south side; and after that she had viewed every part thereof above the ground, especially the Pawn, which was richly furnished with all sorts of the finest wares in the City, she caused the same Bourse by an herald and a trumpet to be proclaimed the Royal Exchange, and so to be called thenceforth and not otherwise”.
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.