The Royal Exchange opens in London.
Sir Thomas Gresham, the financial genius who served Edward VI and Queen Mary before Elizabeth, had made the bulk of his fortune in his dealings with Antwerp, which enjoyed a fine Bourse to facilitate trading of goods between merchants and the financing of new ventures. He had also worked in the Eastern Mediterranean, and it is possible that he was influenced too by the Bourse in Venice.
London before his intervention used Lombard Street for such matters, open to the elements with only a few covered areas for shelter.
It is thought that the loss of his only son and heir in 1564, and thus of any hopes of continuing the merchant dynasty begun by his father Richard, pushed Gresham into seeking a living memorial in the form of The Exchange. He arranged funding, some his own, other sums raised from his circle and from guild members. A large number of properties in Cornhill were purchased and demolished, and in their stead a four-storeyed structure in brick erected. This was said to be in the Flemish style, though with its piazzas and covered walkways others saw more of an echo of Venice in it. Gresham’s statue was a major feature, and the grasshopper from his family crest was seen on atop all four towers.
As well as being a trading area, bringing together the entrepreneurs and merchants of the day, it also offered space for many shops dealing in everything from cloth and armour to mousetraps and jewellery. Rather fittingly its descendent today (the third building, the previous two having perished in fires) houses a luxury shopping area, with the likes of Hermes and Tiffany represented.
The Exchange actually opened in the late 1560s, but on January 23 1571 Queen Elizabeth (perhaps returning a favour) visited and declared that henceforth it would be The Royal Exchange. Royal patronage helped fill the remaining unlet shops rapidly.
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