Tag Archives: Thomas Gresham

The Royal Exchange

1 - The old Royal Exchange

On this day in 1566, the first stone of the original Royal Exchange was laid (*).

3 - Gresham

The building, modelled on the bourse in Antwerp, was the brainchild of the City financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham (1519-79).  Incidentally, Gresham also founded Gresham College, by bequest.  He is buried in the church of St Helen, Bishopsgate.

The Royal Exchange 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 building was built in 1669, and burnt down in 1838  …

2 - The new Royal Exchange

… and a second replacement was in turn built in 1844.

4 - Gresham's grasshopper symbol atop the Royal Exchange

The grasshopper on the top of the building is Gresham’s insignia.

(*)  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”.

Osterley

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Osterley was first recorded in 1274 as Osterle, from the Old English eowestre, meaning sheep-fold, and leah, meaning woodland clearing. It is now a leafy suburb of Outer London.

Osterley House

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Osterley House was originally built here in 1576  for the wealthy City of London financier and philanthropist Sir Thomas Gresham, who had bought the manor of Osterley in 1562 (*).  It was described as a “faire and stately brick house”, and is known to have been visited by the Queen, Elizabeth I, in 1576.  The house was subsequently rebuilt in the eighteenth century for  Francis and Robert Child, the grandsons of Sir Francis Child, the founder of Child’s Bank (the architect being Robert Adam).  It is now owned by the National Trust.

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Only the brick stable-block survives from the original house.  It now houses a cafe and shop.

(*)  Gresham also bought the neighbouring Boston Manor in 1572/3.

Whose exchange?  The Queen’s Exchange

1-the-old-royal-exchange

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”.

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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.

 

St Helen Bishopsgate

Another in the  series on City of London buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1666, and that still survive to this day …

The church of St Helen Bishopsgate was originally built in the eleventh century, possibly around 1010, the  adjoining former Benedictine nunnery church in the thirteenth, around 1210, and still later rebuilds, additions and embellishments to the fourteenth through early seventeenth  (*).  It was undamaged by the Great Fire, although nonetheless requiring to be restored in 1893, only to be damaged by IRA bombs in 1992 and 1993,  and restored again in 1993-5.

The exterior of the church is substantially surviving thirteenth-century, although  both  west front doors are later replacements, and the porch housing the south side door is much later, built, in the Renaissance style,  in 1633.   The construction of the church made use of much Roman dressed stone and tile, most likely sourced  either from a   Roman building  that once stood on the site, or from the city wall that once stood a short distance away.

The church is dubbed “The Westminster Abbey of the City” because of the beauty of its interior and the richness of its memorials.

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3-crosby-memorial-1478

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The alabaster effigies of Sir John de Oteswich and his wife, salvaged from the church of St Martin Outwich, date to the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century, and numerous other monuments to the fifteenth to seventeenth, including those of Sir John Crosby (d. 1476), Sir Thomas Gresham (d. 1579), and Martin Bond (d. 1643), together with some brasses with their “superstitious inscriptions” deliberately defaced by Puritans in 1644.  The arcade separating the former nuns’ quire from the nave dates to 1475; the nuns’ squint, built into the monument to Johane Alfrey, to 1525.  The carved wooden figure of a beggar supporting the poor-box,  the intricately carved and panelled  pulpit, and the south doorcase all date to the first half of the seventeenth century;  the inscribed wooden sword-rest to 1665.

(*) The nunnery was suppressed in 1538, whereupon the nunnery church was incorporated into the parish church, and the remaining nunnery buildings and land were given to Thomas Cromwell’s adopted son Richard Wyllyams, who sold them  to the Leathersellers’ Company.

The Gresham Ship

Gresham

Gresham

Today (6th May 2014) I attended an excellent – and free – “Gresham Lecture” at the Museum of London.

The lecture, appropriately enough, was on “The Gresham Ship”, and was by Gustav Milne of the Museum of London and University College London, a leading authority on the subject (and indeed on the Roman to Medieval Port of London).

The – Tudor – ship was discovered in 1846, wrecked, in the Thames Estuary, at a point midway between Southend and Margate, by pioneer divers Charles and John Deane, working out of Whitstable. It is thought to have been outbound from the Port of London, fully laden with a cargo of ingots and bars of various metals, when it sank, possibly after striking a sandbank and losing its rudder. Much of its metal cargo was salvaged in 1846, to be melted down and re-used, under the orders of the then Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports – the Duke of Wellington. Some archaeological artefacts were also recovered at this time, including a silk doublet of Tudor design.

Reconstruction of The Gresham Ship

Reconstruction of The Gresham Ship

A recovered part of the hull of the ship

A recovered part of the hull of the ship

The ship was then re-discovered in 2003, during dredging operations preparatory to the construction of the London Gateway Port. Large sections were recovered during subsequent archaeological work, again by divers. Painstaking reassembly on dry land revealed that a substantial part of the forward half of the hull of the vessel had been preserved, although essentially none of the aft. The intact vessel would probably have measured a little over 80’ from bow to stern, and a little under 25’ from side to side, and weighed some 160 tons, making it similar in size to Drake’s Golden Hinde (a reconstruction of which is to be seen in Mary Overie Dock alongside Southwark Cathedral). It was carvel-built, of robust construction, and fitted with gun ports, making it a type known as an “armed merchantman”.

Four cannon were recovered during the recent archaeological work (and it is likely that up to eight others were recovered in the nineteenth century). One was an antiquated wrought iron breech-loader, and another a cast iron muzzle-loader, and all were of different sizes and calibres, and took different sizes and calibres of shot. Other metal finds included some surviving ingots of lead and tin, whose isotopic signature indicates a British origin; and some bars of iron, folded over up to four times to save space, of Rhenish origin. Small finds included an ornate salt-cellar, possibly from the Captain’s table; and a pair of leather boots, possibly kicked off by a drowning seaman.

Gresham's Grasshopper insignia on one of the recovered cannon

Gresham’s Grasshopper insignia on one of the recovered cannon

Gresham's initials on one of the recovered cannon

Gresham’s initials on one of the recovered cannon

Significantly, one of the cannon recovered from the ship during the recent archaeological work bore the initials T.G., together with the grasshopper insignia of the City merchant Thomas Gresham, which is how came to be known as “The Gresham Ship”.

Gresham

Gresham

Thomas Gresham lived from 1519-79, founding what was to become known as the Royal Exchange in 1571, and, by bequest, Gresham College in 1597.

Further evidence for the – precise – age of “The Gresham Ship” has been provided by recent dendrochronological (tree ring) analysis of the ship’s timbers, which has yielded a felling date of 1574. Given what was happening in the Old World – and the New – in the late sixteenth to early seventeenth centuries, the ship is likely to have been involved in some combination of trade, exploration and war. This was the time of the granting of charters to the Muscovy, Eastland, Levant, Barbary, East India and Virginia Companies of Merchant-Adventurers, and the rebuilding of the Custom House; of Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe, and Ralegh and Frobisher’s voyages of discovery; and of the Spanish Armada, and the “privateers”. Thirty-four London ships joined the fight against the Spanish Armada. And seventy became “privateers”, capturing seventy-one foreign ships and their prize cargoes, valued at £100, 000 (at least £15, 000, 000 in today’s terms, according to the National Archives currency convertor). London’s “sea dogs”, sponsored by City merchants, claimed more booty than those of Cornwall, Devon, Bridgwater and Bristol combined!

Evidence has recently come to light that suggests that “The Gresham Ship” might actually be the Cherabin, which surviving historical records indicate was owned by the Levant Company between 1590-1600; served under Thomas Howard as a privateer in the Azores in 1591, capturing prize cargoes of sugar, ginger, and suchlike, valued at £2, 000 (at least £300, 000 in today’s terms); and, significantly, sank, in the Kentish Flats, in 1603.

The reconstructed hull of the ship in its new location

The reconstructed hull of the ship in its new location

The reassembled hull of “The Gresham Ship” – or Cherabin – has recently been relocated to what is essentially an underwater museum at the National Diving Centre at Stoney Cove in Leicestershire, visited by up to 30, 000 divers of all ages and abilities each year. It is being used there to inspire and train the next generation of maritime archaeologists.

Finds from the ship will constitute one of the most important exhibits in a new – overground – museum in Southend, currently still under construction, and scheduled for completion in 2018. (The “Prittlewell Prince” will also be on exhibit there).