Old and New London: Volume 1. Originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, London, 1878.
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THE ROYAL EXCHANGE.
The Greshams—Important Negotiations—Building of the Old Exchange—Queen Elizabeth visits it—Its Milliners' Shops—A Resort for Idlers—Access of Nuisances—The various Walks in the Exchange—Shakespeare's Visits to it—Precautions against Fire—Lady Gresham and the Council—The "Eye of London"—Contemporary Allusions—The Royal Exchange during the Plague and the Great Fire—Wren's Design for a New Royal Exchange—The Plan which was ultimately accepted—Addison and Steele upon the Exchange—The Shops of the Second Exchange.
In the year 1563 Sir Thomas Gresham, a munificent merchant of Lombard Street, who traded largely with Antwerp, carrying out a scheme of his father, offered the City to erect a Bourse at his own expense, if they would provide a suitable plot of ground; the great merchant's local pride having been hurt at seeing Antwerp provided with a stately Exchange, and London without one.
A short sketch of the Gresham family is here necessary, to enable us to understand the antecedents of this great benefactor of London. The family derived its name from Gresham, a little village in Norfolk; and one of the early Greshams appears to have been clerk to Sir William Paston, a judge. The family afterwards removed to Holt, near the sea. John Gresham married an heiress, by whom he had four sons, William, Thomas, Richard, and John. Thomas became Chancellor of Lichfield, the other three brothers turned merchants, and two of them were knighted by Henry VIII. Sir Richard, the father of Sir Thomas Gresham, was an eminent London merchant, elected Lord Mayor in 1537. Being a trusty foreign agent of Henry VII., and a friend of Cromwell and Wolsey, he received from the king five several gifts of church lands. Sir Richard died at Bethnal Green, 1548–9. He was buried in the church of St. Lawrence Jewry. Thomas Gresham was sent to Gonville College, Cambridge, and apprenticed probably before that to his uncle Sir John, a Levant merchant, for eight years. In 1543 we find the young merchant applying to Margaret, Regent of the Low Countries, for leave to export gunpowder to England for King Henry, who was then preparing for his attack on France, and the siege of Boulogne. In 1554 Gresham married the daughter of a Suffolk gentleman, and the widow of a London mercer. By her he had several children, none of whom, however, reached maturity.
It was in 1551 or 1552 that Gresham's real fortune commenced, by his appointment as king's merchant factor, or agent, at Antwerp, to raise private loans from German and Low Country merchants to meet the royal necessities, and to keep the privy council informed in the local news. The wise factor borrowed in his own name, and soon raised the exchange from 16s. Flemish for the pound sterling to 22s., at which rate he discharged all the king's debts, and made money plentiful. He says, in a letter to the Duke of Northumberland, that he hoped in one year to save England £20,000. It being forbidden to export further from Antwerp, Gresham had to resort to various stratagems, and in 1553 (Queen Mary) we find him writing to the Privy Council, proposing to send £200 (in heavy Spanish rials), in bags of pepper, four at a time, and the English ambassador at Brussels was to bring over with him £20,000 or £30,000, but he afterwards changed his mind, and sent the money packed up in bales with suits of armour and £3,000 in each, rewarding the searcher at Gravelines with new year presents of black velvet and black cloth. About the time of the Queen's marriage to Philip Gresham went to Spain, to start from Puerto Real fifty cases, each containing 22,000 Spanish ducats. All the time Gresham resided at Antwerp, carrying out these sagacious and important negociations, he was rewarded with the paltry remuneration of £1 a day, of which we often find him seriously complaining. It was in Antwerp, that vast centre of commerce, that Gresham must have gained that great knowledge of business by which he afterwards enriched himself. Antwerp exported to England at this time, says Mr. Burgon, in his excellent life of Gresham, almost every article of luxury required by English people.
Later in Queen Mary's reign Gresham was frequently displaced by rivals. He made trips to England, sharing largely in the dealings of the Mercers' Company, of which he was a member, and shipping vast quantities of cloth to sell to the Italian merchants at Antwerp, in exchange for silks. A few years later the Mercers are described as sending forth, twice a year, a fleet of 50 or 60 ships, laden with cloth, for the Low Countries. Gresham is mentioned, in 1555, as presenting Queen Mary, as a new year's gift, with "a bolt of fine Holland," receiving in return a gilt jug, weighing 16½ ounces. That the Queen considered Gresham a faithful and useful servant there can be no doubt, for she gave him, at different times, a priory, a rectory, and several manors and advowsons.
Gresham, like a prudent courtier, seems to have been one of the first persons of celebrity who visited Queen Elizabeth on her accession. She gave the wise merchant her hand to kiss, and told him that she would always keep one ear ready to hear him; "which," says Gresham, "made me a young man again, and caused me to enter on my present charge with heart and courage."
The young Queen also promised him on her faith that if he served her as well as he had done her brother Edward, and Queen Mary, her sister, she would give him as much land as ever they both had. This gracious promise Gresham reminded the Queen of years after, when he had to complain to his friend Cecil that the Marquis of Winchester had tried to injure him with the Queen.
Gresham soon resumed his visits to Flanders, to procure money, and send over powder, armour, and weapons. He was present at the funeral of Charles V., seems to have foreseen the coming troubles in the Low Countries, and commented on the rash courage of Count Egmont.
The death of Gresham's only son Richard, in the year 1564, was the cause, Mr. Burgon thinks, of Gresham's determining to devote his money to the benefit of his fellow-citizens. Lombard Street had long become too small for the business of London. Men of business were exposed there to all weathers, and had to crowd into small shops, or jostle under the pent-houses. As early as 1534 or 1535 the citizens had deliberated in common council on the necessity of a new place of resort, and Leadenhall Street had been proposed. In the year 1565 certain houses in Cornhill, in the ward of Broad Street, and three alleys—Swan Alley, Cornhill; New Alley, Cornhill, near St. Bartholomew's Lane; and St. Christopher's Alley, comprising in all fourscore householders—were purchased for £3,737 6s. 6d., and the materials sold for £478. The amount was subscribed for in small sums by about 750 citizens, the Ironmongers' Company giving £75. The first brick was laid by Sir Thomas, June 7, 1566. A Flemish architect superintended the sawing of the timber, at Gresham's estate at Ringshall, near Ipswich, and on Battisford Tye (common) traces of the old sawpits can still be seen. The slates were bought at Dort, the wainscoting and glass at Amsterdam, and other materials in Flanders. The building, pushed on too fast for final solidity, was slated in by November, 1567, and shortly after finished. The Bourse, when erected, was thought to resemble that of Antwerp, but there is also reason to believe that Gresham's architect closely followed the Bourse of Venice.
The new Bourse, Flemish in character, was a long four-storeyed building, with a high double balcony. A bell-tower, crowned by a huge grasshopper, stood on one side of the chief entrance. The bell in this tower summoned merchants to the spot at twelve o'clock at noon and six o'clock in the evening. A lofty Corinthian column, crested with a grasshopper, apparently stood outside the north entrance, overlooking the quadrangle. The brick building was afterwards stuccoed over, to imitate stone. Each corner of the building, and the peak of every dormer window, was crowned by a grasshopper. Within Gresham's Bourse were piazzas for wet weather, and the covered walks were adorned with statues of English kings. A statue of Gresham stood near the north end of the western piazza. At the Great Fire of 1666 this statue alone remained there uninjured, as Pepys and Evelyn particularly record. The piazzas were supported by marble pillars, and above were 100 small shops. The vaults dug below, for merchandise, proved dark and damp, and were comparatively valueless. Hentzner, a German traveller who visited England in the year 1598, particularly mentions the stateliness of the building, the assemblage of different nations, and the quantities of merchandise.
Many of the shops in the Bourse remained unlet till Queen Elizabeth's visit, in 1570, which gave them a lustre that tended to make the new building fashionable. Gresham, anxious to have the Bourse worthy of such a visitor, went round twice in one day to all the shopkeepers in "the upper pawn," and offered them all the shops they would furnish and light up with wax rent free for a whole year. The result of this liberality was that in two years Gresham was able to raise the rent from 40s. a year to four marks, and a short time after to £4 10s. The milliners' shops at the Bourse, in Gresham's time, sold mousetraps, birdcages, shoeing-horns, lanthorns, and Jews' trumps. There were also sellers of armour, apothecaries, booksellers, goldsmiths, and glass-sellers; but the shops soon grew richer and more fashionable, so that in 1631 the editor of Stow says, "Unto which place, on January 23, 1570, Queen Elizabeth came from Somerset House throught Fleet Street past the north side of the Bourse to Sir Thomas Gresham's house in Bishopsgate Street, and there dined. After the banquet she entered the Bourse on the south side, viewed every part; especially she caused the building, by herald's trumpet, to be proclaimed 'the Royal Exchange,' so to be called from henceforth, and not otherwise."
Such was the vulgar opinion of Gresham's wealth,
that Thomas Heywood, in his old play, If You
know not Me, You know Nobody, makes Gresham
crush an invaluable pearl into the wine-cup in
which he drinks his queen's health—
"Here fifteen hundred pounds at one clap goes.
Instead of sugar, Gresham drinks the pearl
Unto his queen and mistress. Pledge it, lords!"
The new Exchange, like the nave of St. Paul's, soon became a resort for idlers. In the Inquest Book of Cornhill Ward, 1574 (says Mr. Burgon), there is a presentment against the Exchange, because on Sundays and holidays great numbers of boys, children, and "young rogues," meet there, and shout and holloa, so that honest citizens cannot quietly walk there for their recreation, and the parishioners of St. Bartholomew could not hear the sermon. In 1590 we find certain women prosecuted for selling apples and oranges at the Exchange gate in Cornhill, and "amusing themselves in cursing and swearing, to the great annoyance and grief of the inhabitants and passers-by." In 1592 a tavern-keeper, who had vaults under the Exchange, was fined for allowing tippling, and for broiling herrings, sprats, and bacon, to the vexation of worshipful merchants resorting to the Exchange. In 1602 we find that oranges and lemons were allowed to be sold at the gates and passages of the Exchange. In 1622 complaint was made of the rat-catchers, and sellers of dogs, birds, plants, &c., who hung about the south gate of the Bourse, especially at exchange time. It was also seriously complained of that the bear-wards, Shakespeare's noisy neighbours in Southwark, before special bull or bear baitings, used to parade before the Exchange, generally in business hours, and there make proclamation of their entertainments, which caused tumult, and drew together mobs. It was usual on these occasions to have a monkey riding on the bear's back, and several discordant minstrels fiddling, to give additional publicity to the coming festival.
No person frequenting the Bourse was allowed to wear any weapon, and in 1579 it was ordered that no one should walk in the Exchange after ten p.m. in summer, and nine p.m. in winter. Bishop Hall, in his Satires (1598), sketching the idlers of his day, describes "Tattelius, the new-come traveller, with his disguised coat and new-ringed ear [Shakespeare wore earrings], tramping the Bourse's marble twice a day."
And Hayman, in his "Quodlibet" (1628), has the
following epigram on a "loafer" of the day, whom
he dubs "Sir Pierce Penniless," from Naish's clever
pamphlet, and ranks with the moneyless loungers
of St. Paul's:—
"Though little coin thy purseless pockets line,
Yet with great company thou'rt taken up;
For often with Duke Humfray thou dost dine,
And often with Sir Thomas Gresham sup."
Here, too, above all, the monarch of English
poetry must have often paced, watching the Antonios and Shylocks of his day, the anxious wistful
faces of the debtors or the embarrassed, and the
greedy anger of the creditors. In the Bourse he
may first have thought over to himself the beautiful
lines in the "Merchant of Venice" (act i.), where
he so wonderfully epitomises the vicissitudes of a
"My wind, cooling my broth,
Would blow me to an ague, when I thought
What harm a wind too great might do at sea.
I should not see the sandy hour-glass run,
But I should think of shallows and of flats,
And see my wealthy Andrew dock'd in sand,
Vailing her high top lower than her ribs,
To kiss her burial. Should I go to church,
And see the holy edifice of stone,
And not bethink me straight of dangerous rocks?
Which, touching but my gentle vessel's side,
Would scatter all her spices on the stream;
Enrobe the roaring waters with my silks;
And, in a word, but even now worth this,
And now worth nothing? Shall I have the thought
To think on this; and shall I lack the thought,
That such a thing, bechanced, would make me sad?"
Gresham seems to have died before the Exchange was thoroughly furnished, for in 1610 (James I.) Mr. Nicholas Leete, Ironmonger, preferred a petition to the Court of Aldermen, lugubriously setting forth that thirty pictures of English kings and queens had been intended to have been placed in the Exchange rooms, and praying that a fine, in future, should be put on every citizen, when elected an alderman, to furnish a portrait of some king or queen at an expense of not exceeding one hundred nobles. The pictures were "to be graven on wood, covered with lead, and then gilded and paynted in oil cullors."
In Gresham's Exchange great precautions were taken against fire. Feather-markers and others were forbidden to keep pans of fire in their shops. Some care was also taken to maintain honesty among the shopkeepers, for they were forbidden to use blinds to their windows, which might obscure the shops, or throw false lights on the articles vended.
On the sudden death of Sir Thomas Gresham, in 1579, it was found that he had left, in accordance with his promise, the Royal Exchange jointly to the City of London and the Mercers' Company after the decease of his wife. Lady Gresham appears not to have been as generous, single-minded, and large-hearted as her husband. She contested the will, and was always repining at the thought of the property passing away from her at death. She received £751 7s. per annum from the rent of the Exchange, but tried hard to be allowed to grant leases for twenty-one years, or three lives, keeping the fines to herself; and this was pronounced by the Council as utterly against both her husband's will and the 23rd Elizabeth, to which she had been privy. She complained querulously that the City did not act well. The City then began to complain with more justice of Lady Gresham's parsimony. The Bourse, badly and hastily built, began to fall out of repair, gratings by the south door gave way in 1582, and the clock was always out of order. Considering Lady Gresham had been left £2,388 a year, these neglects were unworthy of her, but they nevertheless continued till her death, in 1596. As the same lady contributed £100 in 1588 for the defence of the country against the Armada, let us hope that she was influenced not so much by her own love of money as the importunities of some relatives of her first husband's family.
Contemporary allusions to Gresham's Exchange are innumerable in old writers. Donald Lupton, in a little work called "London and the Country Carbonadoed and Quartered into Severall Characters," published in 1632, says of the Exchange:—"Here are usually more coaches attendant than at church doors. The merchants should keep their wives from visiting the upper rooms too often, lest they tire their purses by attiring themselves. . . . There's many gentlewomen come hither that, to help their faces and complexion, break their husbands' backs; who play foul in the country with their land, to be fair and play false in the city."
"I do not look upon the structure of this Exchange to be comparable to that of Sir Thomas Gresham in our City of London," says Evelyn, writing from Amsterdam in 1641; "yet in one respect it exceeds—that ships of considerable burthen ride at the very key contiguous to it." He writes from Paris in the same strain: "I went to the Exchange; the late addition to the buildings is very noble; but the gallerys, where they sell their pretty merchandize, are nothing so stately as ours in London, no more than the place is where they walk below, being only a low vault." Even the associations which the Rialto must have awakened failed to seduce him from his allegiance to the City of London. He writes from Venice, in June, 1645: "I went to their Exchange—a place like ours, frequented by merchants, but nothing so magnificent."
During the Civil War the Exchange statue of Charles I. was thrown down, on the 30th of May, 1648, and the premature inscription, "Exit tyrannorum ultimus," put up in its place, which of course was removed immediately after the Restoration, when a new statue was ordered. The Acts for converting the Monarchy into a Commonwealth were burnt at the Royal Exchange, May 28, 1661, by the hands of the common hangman.
Samuel Rolle, a clergyman who wrote on the Great Fire, has left the following account of this edifice as it appeared in his day:— "How full of riches," he exclaims, "was that Royal Exchange! Rich men in the midst of it, rich goods both above and beneath! There men walked upon the top of a wealthy mine, considering what Eastern treasures, costly spices, and such-like things were laid up in the bowels (I mean the cellars) of that place. As for the upper part of it, was it not the great storehouse whence the nobility and gentry of England were furnished with most of those costly things wherewith they did adorn either their closets or themselves? Here, if anywhere, might a man have seen the glory of the world in a moment. What artificial thing could entertain the senses, the fantasies of men, that was not there to be had? Such was the delight that many gallants took in that magazine of all curious varieties, that they could almost have dwelt there (going from shop to shop like bee from flower to flower), if they had but had a fountain of money that could not have been drawn dry. I doubt not but a Mohamedan (who never expects other than sensual delights) would gladly have availed himself of that place, and the treasures of it, for his heaven, and have thought there was none like it."
In 1665, during the Plague, great fires were made at the north and south entrances of the Exchange, to purify the air. The stoppage of public business was so complete that grass grew within the area of the Royal Exchange. The strange desertion thus indicated is mentioned in Pepys' "Notes." Having visited the Exchange, where he had not been for a good while, the writer exclaims: "How sad a sight it is to see the streets empty of people, and very few upon the 'Change, jealous of every door that one sees shut up, lest it should be the Plague, and about us two shops in three, if not more, generally shut up."
At the Great Fire the King and the Duke of York, afterwards James II., attended to give directions for arresting the calamity. They could think of nothing calculated to be so effectual as blowing up or pulling down houses that stood in its expected way. Such precautions were used in Cornhill; but in the confusion that prevailed, the timbers which they had contained were not removed, and when the flames reached them, "they," says Vincent, who wrote a sermon on the Fire, "quickly cross the way, and so they lick the whole street up as they go; they mount up to the top of the highest houses; they descend down to the bottom of the lowest vaults and cellars, and march along on both sides of the way with such a roaring noise as never was heard in the City of London: no stately building so great as to resist their fury; the Royal Exchange itself, the glory of the merchants, is now invaded with much violence. When the fire was entered, how quickly did it run around the galleries, filling them with flames; then descending the stairs, compasseth the walks, giving forth flaming vollies, and filling the court with sheets of fire. By and by the kings fell all down upon their faces, and the greater part of the stone building after them (the founder's statue alone remaining), with such a noise as was dreadful and astonishing."
In Wren's great scheme for rebuilding London, he proposed to make the Royal Exchange the centre nave of London, from whence the great sixty-feet wide streets should radiate like spokes in a huge wheel. The Exchange was to stand free, in the middle of a great piazza, and was to have double porticoes, as the Forum at Rome had. Evelyn wished the new building to be at Queenhithe, to be nearer the water-side, but eventually both his and Wren's plan fell through, and Mr. Jerman, one of the City surveyors, undertook the design for the new Bourse.
For the east end of the new building the City required to purchase 700 or 800 fresh superficial feet of ground from a Mr. Sweeting, and 1,400 more for a passage. It was afterwards found that the City only required 627 feet, and the improvement of the property would benefit Mr. Sweeting, who, however, resolutely demanded £1,000. The refractory, greedy Sweeting declared that his tenants paid him £246 a year, and in fines £620; and that if the new street cut near St. Benet Fink Church, another £1,000 would not satisfy him for his damage. It is supposed that he eventually took £700 for the 783 feet 4 inches of ground, and for an area 25 feet long by 12 wide.
Jerman's design for the new building being completed, and the royal approbation of it obtained, together with permission to extend the south-west angle of the new Exchange into the street, the building (of which the need was severely felt) was immediately proceeded with; and the foundation was laid on the 6th of May, 1667. On the 23rd of October, Charles II. laid the base of the column on the west side of the north entrance; after which he was plentifully regaled "with a chine of beef, grand dish of fowle, gammons of bacon, dried tongues, anchovies, caviare, &c., and plenty of several sorts of wine. He gave twenty pounds in gold to the workmen. The entertainment was in a shed, built and adorned on purpose, upon the Scotch Walk." Pepys has given some account of this interesting ceremony in his Diary, where we read, "Sir W. Pen and I back to London, and there saw the King with his kettle-drums and trumpets, going to the Exchange, which, the gates being shut, I could not get in to see. So, with Sir W. Pen to Captain Cockes, and thence again towards Westminster; but, in my way, stopped at the Exchange, and got in, the King being nearly gone, and there find the bottom of the first pillar laid. And here was a shed set up, and hung with tapestry, and a canopy of state, and some good victuals, and wine for the King, who, it seems, did it."
James II., then Duke of York, laid the first stone of the eastern column on the 31st of October. He was regaled in the same manner as the King had been; and on the 18th of November following, Prince Rupert laid the first stone of the east side of the south entrance, and was entertained by the City and company in the same place." (Vide "Journals of the House of Commons.")
The ground-plan of Jerman's Exchange, we read in Britton and Pugin's "Public Buildings," presented nearly a regular quadrangle, including a spacious open court with porticoes round it, and also on the north and south sides of the building. The front towards Cornhill was 210 feet in extent. The central part was composed of a lofty archway, opening from the middle intercolumniation of four Corinthian three-quarter columns, supporting a bold entablature, over the centre of which were the royal arms, and on the east side a balustrade, &c., surmounted by statues emblematical of the four quarters of the globe. Within the lateral intercolumniations, over the lesser entrance to the arcade, were niches, containing the statues of Charles I. and II., in Roman habits, by Bushnell. The tower, which rose from the centre of the portico, consisted of three storeys. In front of the lower storey was a niche, containing a statue of Sir Thomas Gresham; and over the cornice, facing each of the cardinal points, a bust of Queen Elizabeth; at the angles were colossal griffins, bearing shields of the City arms. Within the second storey, which was of an octagonal form with trusses at the angles, was an excellent clock with four dials; there were also four wind-dials. The upper storey (which contained the bell) was circular, with eight Corinthian columns supporting an entablature, surmounted by a dome, on which was a lofty vane of gilt brass, shaped like a grasshopper, the crest of the Gresham family. The attic over the columns, in a line with the basement of the tower, was sculptured with two alto-relievos, in panels, one representing Queen Elizabeth, with attendant figures and heralds, proclaiming the original building, and the other Britannia, seated amidst the emblems of commerce, accompanied by the polite arts, manufactures, and agriculture. The height from the basement line to the top of the dome was 128 feet 6 inches.
Within the quadrangle there was a spacious area, measuring 144 feet by 117 feet, surrounded by a wide arcade, which, as well as the area itself, was, for the general accommodation, arranged into several distinct parts, called "walks," where foreign and domestic merchants, and other persons engaged in commercial pursuits, daily met. The area was paved with real Turkey stones, of a small size, the gift, as tradition reports, of a merchant who traded to that country.
In the centre, on a pedestal, surrounded by an iron railing, was a statue of Charles II., in a Roman habit, by Spiller. At the intersections of the groining was a large ornamented shield, displaying either the City arms, the arms of the Mercers' Company, viz., a maiden's head, crowned, with dishevelled hair; or those of Gresham, viz., a chrevron, ermine, between three mullets.
On the centre of each cross-rib, also in alternate succession, was a maiden's head, a grasshopper, and a dragon. The piazza was formed by a series of semi-circular arches, springing from columns. In the spandrils were tablets surrounded by festoons, scrolls, and other enrichments. In the wall of the back of the arcade were twenty-eight niches, only two of which were occupied by statues, viz., that toward the north-west, in which was Sir Thomas Gresham, by Cibber; and that toward the south-west, in which was Sir John Barnard, whose figure was placed here, whilst he was yet living, at the expense of his fellow-citizens, "in testimony of his merits as a merchant, a magistrate, and a faithful representative of the City in Parliament."
Over the arches of the portico of the piazza were twenty-five large niches with enrichments, in which were the statues of our sovereigns. Many of these statues were formerly gilt, but the whole were latterly of a plain stone colour. Walpole says that the major part were sculptured by Cibber.
In 1683, the following idle verses appeared,
forming part of Robin Conscience's "Progress
through Court, City, and Country:"—
"Now I being thus abused below,
Did walk up-stairs, where on a row,
Brave shops of ware did make a shew
"The gallant girls that there sold knacks,
Which ladies and brave women lacks,
When they did see me, they did wax
"Quoth they, We ne'er knew Conscience yet,
And, if he comes our gains to get,
We'll banish him; he'll here not get
"There is no place in the town," says that rambling philosopher, Addison, "which I so much love to frequent as the Royal Exchange. It gives me a secret satisfaction, and in some measure gratifies my vanity, as I am an Englishman, to see so rich an assembly of countrymen and foreigners consulting together upon the private business of mankind, and making this metropolis a kind of emporium for the whole earth. I must confess I look upon High 'Change to be a great council in which all considerable nations have their representatives. Factors in the trading world are what ambassadors are in the politic world; they negociate affairs, conclude treaties, and maintain a good correspondence between those wealthy societies of men that are divided from one another by seas and oceans, or live on the different extremities of a continent. I have often been pleased to hear disputes adjusted between an inhabitant of Japan and an alderman of London; or to see a subject of the great Mogul entering into a league with one of the Czar of Muscovy. I am infinitely delighted in mixing with these several ministers of commerce, as they are distinguished by their different walks and different languages. Sometimes I am jostled among a body of Armenians; sometimes I am lost in a crowd of Jews; and sometimes make one in a group of Dutchmen. I am a Dane, Swede, or Frenchman at different times; or rather, fancy myself like the old philosopher, who, upon being asked what countryman he was, replied that he was a citizen of the world."
"When I have been upon the 'Change" (such are the concluding words of the paper), "I have often fancied one of our old kings standing in person where he is represented in effigy, and looking down upon the wealthy concourse of people with which that place is every day filled. In this case, how would he be surprised to hear all the languages of Europe spoken in this little spot of his former dominions, and to see so many private men, who in his time would have been the vassals of some powerful baron, negotiating, like princes, for greater sums of money than were formerly to be met with in the royal treasury! Trade, without enlarging the British territories, has given us a kind of additional empire. It has multiplied the number of the rich, made our landed estates infinitely more valuable than they were formerly, and added to them an accession of other estates as valuable as the land themselves." (Spectator, No. 69.)
It appears, from one of Steele's contributions to the Spectator, that so late as the year 1712 the shops continued to present undiminished attraction. They were then 160 in number, and, letting at £20 or £30 each, formed, in all, a yearly rent of £4,000: so, at least, it is stated on a print published in 1712, of which a copy may be seen in Mr. Crowle's "Pennant." Steele, in describing the adventures of a day, relates that, in the course of his rambles, he went to divert himself on 'Change. "It was not the least of my satisfaction in my survey," says he, "to go up-stairs and pass the shops of agreeable females; to observe so many pretty hands busy in the folding of ribbons, and the utmost eagerness of agreeable faces in the sale of patches, pins, and wires, on each side of the counters, was an amusement in which I could longer have indulged myself, had not the dear creatures called to me, to ask what I wanted."
"On evening' Change," says Steele, "the mumpers, the halt, the blind, and the lame; your vendors of trash, apples, plums; your ragamuffins, rake-shames, and wenches—have jostled the greater number of honourable merchants, substantial tradesmen, and knowing masters of ships, out of that place. So that, what with the din of squallings, oaths, and cries of beggars, men of the greatest consequence in our City absent themselves from the Royal Exchange."
The cost of the second Exchange to the City and Mercers' Company is estimated by Strype at £80,000, but Mr. Burgon calculates it at only £69,979 11s. The shops in the Exchange, leading to a loss, were forsaken about 1739, and eventually done away with some time after by the unwise Act of 1768, which enabled the City authorities to pull down Gresham College. From time to time frequent repairs were made in Jerman's building. Those effected between the years 1819 and 1824 cost £34,390. This sum included the cost of a handsome gate tower and cupola, erected in 1821, from the design of George Smith, Esq., surveyor to the Mercers' Company, in lieu of Jerman's dilapidated wooden tower.
The clock of the second Exchange, set up by Edward Stanton, under the direction of Dr. Hooke, had chimes with four bells, playing six, and latterly seven tunes. The sound and tunable bells were bought for £6 5s. per cwt. The balconies from the inner pawn into the quadrangle cost about £300. The signs over the shops were not hung, but were over the doors.
Caius Gabriel Cibber, the celebrated Danish sculptor, was appointed carver of the royal statues of the piazza, but Gibbons executed the statue of Charles II. for the quadrangle. Bushnell, the mad sculptor of the fantastic statues on Temple Bar, carved statues for the Cornhill front, as we have before mentioned. The statue of Gresham in the arcade was by Cibber; George III., in the piazza, was sculptured by Wilton; George I. and II. were by Rysbrach.
The old clock had four dials, and chimed four times daily. The chimes played at three, six, nine, and twelve o'clock—on Sunday, "The 104th Psalm;" Monday, "God save the King;" Tuesday, "The Waterloo March;" Wednesday, "There's nae Luck aboot the Hoose;" Thursday, "See the Conquering Hero comes;" Friday, "Life let us cherish;" Saturday, "Foot Guards' March."
The outside shops of the second Exchange were lottery offices, newspaper offices, watchmakers, notaries, stock-brokers, &c. The shops in the galleries were superseded by the Royal Exchange Assurance Offices, Lloyd's Coffee-house, the Merchant Seamen's Offices, the Gresham Lecture Room, and the Lord Mayor's Court Office. "The latter," says Timbs, "was a row of offices, divided by glazed partitions, the name of each attorney being inscribed in large capitals upon a projecting board. The vaults were let to bankers, and to the East India Company for the stowage of pepper."
The Second Exchange on Fire—Chimes Extraordinary—Incidents of the Fire—Sale of Salvage—Designs for the New Building—Details of the Present Exchange—The Ambulatory, or Merchants' Walk—Royal Exchange Assurance Company—"Lloyd's"—Origin of "Lloyd's"—Marine Assurance—Benevolent Contributions of "Lloyd's"—A "Good" and "Bad" Book.
The second Exchange was destroyed by fire on the 10th of January, 1838. The flames, which broke out probably from an over-heated stove in Lloyd's Coffee-house, were first seen by two of the Bank watchmen about half-past ten. The gates had to be forced before entrance could be effected, and then the hose of the fire-engine was found to be frozen and unworkable. About one o'clock the fire reached the new tower. The bells chimed "Life let us cherish," "God save the Queen," and one of the last tunes heard, appropriately enough, was "There's nae Luck aboot the Hoose." The eight bells finally fell, crushing in the roof of the entrance arch. The east side of Sweeting's Alley was destroyed, and all the royal statues but that of Charles II. perished. One of Lloyd's safes, containing bank-notes for £2,500, was discovered after the fire, with the notes reduced to a cinder, but the numbers still traceable. A bag of twenty sovereigns, thrown from a window, burst, and some of the mob benefited by the gold. The statue of Gresham was entirely destroyed. In the ruins of the Lord Mayor's Court Office the great City Seal, and two bags, each containing £200 in gold, were found uninjured. The flames were clearly seen at Windsor (twenty-four miles from London), and at Roydon Mount, near Epping (eighteen miles). Troops from the Tower kept Cornhill clear, and assisted the sufferers to remove their property. If the wind had been from the south, the Bank and St. Bartholomew's Church would also have perished.
An Act of Parliament was passed in 1838, giving power to purchase and remove all the buildings (called Bank Buildings) west of the Exchange, and also the old buildings to the eastward, nearly as far as Finch Lane. The Treasury at first claimed the direction of the whole building, but eventually gave way, retaining only a veto on the design. The cost of the building was, from the first, limited to £150,000, to be raised on the credit of the London Bridge Fund. Thirty designs were sent in by the rival architects, and exhibited in Mercers' Hall, but none could be decided upon; and so the judges themselves had to compete. Eventually the competition lay between Mr. Tite and Mr. Cockerell, and the former was appointed by the Committee. Mr. Tite was a classical man, and the result was a quasi-Greek, Roman, and Composite building. Mr. Tite at once resolved to design the new building with simple and unbroken lines, like the Paris Bourse, and, as much as possible, to take the Pantheon at Rome as his guide. The portico was to be at the west end, the tower at the east. The first Exchange had been built on piles; the foundations of the third cost £8,124. In excavating for it, the workmen came on what had evidently been the very centre of Roman London. In a gravelpit, which afterwards seemed to have been a pond (perhaps the fountain of a grand Roman court-yard), were found heaps of rubbish, coins of copper, yellow brass, silver, and silver-plated brass, of Augustus, Tiberius, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Domitian, &c., Henry IV. of England, Elizabeth, &c., and stores of Flemish, German, Prussian, Danish, and Dutch money. They also discovered fragments of Roman stucco, painted shards of delicate Samian ware, an amphora and terra-cotta lamps (seventeen feet below the surface), glass, bricks and tiles, jars, urns, vases, and potters' stamps. In the Corporation Museum at the Guildhall, where Mr. Tite deposited these interesting relics, are also fine wood tablets, and styles (for writing on wax) of iron, brass, bone, and wood. There are also in the same collection, from the same source, artificers' tools and leatherwork, soldiers' sandals and shoes, and a series of horns, shells, bones, and vegetable remains. Tesselated pavements have been found in Threadneedle Street, and other spots near the Exchange.
The cost of enlarging the site of the Exchange, including improvements, and the widening of Cornhill, Freeman's Court, and Broad Street, the removal of the French Protestant Church, and demolition of St. Benet Fink, Bank Buildings, and Sweeting's Alley, was, according to the City Chamberlain's return of 1851, £223,578 1s. 10d. The cost of the building was £150,000.
The portico, one of the finest of its kind, is ninetysix feet wide, and seventy-four feet high. That of
St. Martin's Church is only sixty-four wide, and the
Post Office seventy-six. The whole building was
rapidly completed. The foundation-stone was laid
by Prince Albert, January 17th, 1842, John Pirie,
Esq., being Lord Mayor. A huge red-striped
pavilion had been raised for the ceremonial, and the
Duke of Wellington and all the members of the
Peel Cabinet were present. A bottle full of gold,
silver, and copper coins was placed in a hollow
of the huge stone, and the following inscription
(in Latin), written by the Bishop of London, and
engraved on a zinc plate:—
Sir Thomas Gresham, Knight,
Erected at his own charge
A Building and Colonnade
For the convenience of those Persons
Who, in this renowned Mart,
Might carry on the Commerce of the World;
Adding thereto, for the relief of Indigence,
And for the advancement of Literature and Science,
An Almshouse and a College of Lecturers;
The City of London aiding him;
Queen Elizabeth favouring the design,
And, when the work was complete,
Opening it in person, with a solemn Procession.
Having been reduced to ashes,
Together with almost the entire City,
By a calamitous and widely-spreading Conflagration,
They were Rebuilt in a more splendid form
By the City of London
And the ancient Company of Mercers,
King Charles the Second commencing the building
On the 23rd October, A.D. 1667;
And when they had been again destroyed by Fire,
On the 10th January, A.D. 1838,
The same Bodies, undertaking the work,
Determined to restore them, at their own cost,
On an enlarged and more ornamental Plan,
The munificence of Parliament providing the means
Of extending the Site,
And of widening the Approaches and Crooked Streets
In every direction,
In order that there might at length arise,
Under the auspices of Queen Victoria,
Built a third time from the ground,
Worthy of this great Nation and City,
And suited to the vastness of a Commerce
Extended to the circumference
Of the habitable Globe.
His Royal Highness
Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha,
Consort of Her Sacred Majesty,
Laid the First Stone
On the 17th January, 1842,
In the Mayoralty of the Right Hon. John Pirie.
Architect, William Tite, F.R.S.
May God our Preserver
Ward off destruction
From this Building,
And from the whole City.
At the sale of the salvage, the porter's large hand-bell, rung daily before closing the 'Change (with the handle burnt), fetched £3 3s.; City griffins, £30 and £35 the pair; busts of Queen Elizabeth, £10 15s. and £18 the pair; figures of Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, £110; the statue of Anne, £10 5s.; George II., £9 5s.; George III. and Elizabeth, £11 15s. each; Charles II., £9; and the sixteen other royal statues similar sums. The copper-gilt grasshopper vane was reserved.
The present Royal Exchange was opened by Queen Victoria on October 28, 1844. The procession walked round the ambulatory, the Queen especially admiring Lang's (of Munich) encaustic paintings, and proceeded to Lloyd's Reading-room, which was fitted up as a throne-room. Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel, Lord John Russell, Sir Robert Sale, and other celebrities, were present. There the City address was read. After a sumptuous déjeuner in the Underwriters' room, the Queen went to the quadrangle, and there repeated the formula, "It is my royal will and pleasure that this building be hereafter called 'The Royal Exchange.' The mayor, the Right Hon. William Magnay, was afterwards made a baronet, in commemoration of the day.
A curious fact connected with the second Exchange should not be omitted. On the 16th of September, 1787, a deserted child was found on the stone steps of the Royal Exchange that led from Cornhill to Lloyd's Coffee-house. The then churchwarden, Mr. Samuel Birch, the well-known confectioner, had the child taken care of and respectably brought up. He was named Gresham, and christened Michael, after the patron saint of the parish in which he was found. The lad grew up shrewd and industrious, eventually became rich, and established the celebrated Gresham Hotel in Sackville Street, Dublin. About 1836 he sold the hotel for £30,000, and retired to his estate, Raheny Park, near Dublin. He was a most liberal and benevolent man, and took an especial interest in the Irish orphan societies.
The south front is one unbroken line of pilasters, with rusticated arches on the ground floor for shops and entrances, the three middle spaces being simple recesses. Over these are richly-decorated windows, and above the cornice there are a balustrade and attic. On the north side the centre projects, and the pilasters are fewer. The arches on the ground floor are rusticated, and there are two niches. In one of them stands a statue of Sir Hugh Myddelton, who brought the New River to London in 1614; and another of Sir Richard Whittington, by Carew. Whittington was, it must be remembered, a Mercer, and the Exchange is specially connected with the Mercers' Company.
On the east front of the tower is a niche where a statue of Gresham, by Behnes, keeps watch and ward. The vane is Gresham's former grasshopper, saved from the fire. It is eleven feet long. The various parts of the Exchange are divided by party walls and brick arches of such great strength as to be almost fire-proof—a compartment system which confines any fire that should break out into a small and restricted area.
West of the Exchange stands Chantrey's bronze equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington. It was Chantrey's last work; and he died before it was completed. The sculptor received £9,000 for this figure; and the French cannon from which it was cast, and valued at £1,500, were given by Government for the purpose. The inauguration took place on the anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, 1844, the King of Saxony being present.
On the frieze of the portico is inscribed, "Anno XIII. Elizabethæ R. Conditvm; Anno VIII. Victoria R. Restavratvm." Over the central doorway are the royal arms, by Carew. The keystone has the merchant's mark of Gresham, and the key-stones of the side arches the arms of the merchant adventurers of his day, and the staple of Calais. North and south of the portico, and in the attic, are the City sword and mace, with the date of Queen Elizabeth's reign and 1844, and in the lower panels mantles bearing the initials of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria respectively. The imperial crown is twelve inches in relief, and seven feet high. The tympanum of the pediment of the portico is filled with sculpture, by Richard Westmacott, R.A., consisting of seventeen figures carved in limestone, nearly all entire and detached. The centre figure, ten feet high, is Commerce, with her mural crown, upon two dolphins and a shell. She holds the charter of the Exchange. On her right is a group of three British merchants—as Lord Mayor, Alderman, and Common Councilman—a Hindoo, a Mohammedan, a Greek bearing a jar, and a Turkish merchant. On the left are two British merchants and a Persian, a Chinese, a Levant sailor, a negro, a British sailor, and a supercargo. The opposite angles are filled with anchors, jars, packages, &c. Upon the pedestal of Commerce is this inscription, selected by Prince Albert: "The Earth is The Lord's, And The Fulness Thereof."—Psalm xxiv. I. The ascent to the portico is by thirteen granite steps. It was discussed at the time whether a figure of Gresham himself should not have been substituted for that of Commerce; but perhaps the abstract figure is more suitable for a composition which is, after all, essentially allegorical.
The clock, constructed by Dent, with the assistance of the Astronomer Royal, is true to a second of time, and has a compensation pendulum. The chimes consist of a set of fifteen bells, by Mears, and cost £500, the largest being also the hour-bell of the clock. In the chime-work, by Dent, there are two hammers to several of the bells, so as to play rapid passages; and three and five hammers strike different bells simultaneously. All irregularity of force is avoided by driving the chime-barrel through wheels and pinions. There are no wheels between the weight that pulls and the hammer to be raised. The lifts on the chime-barrel are all epicycloidal curves; and there are 6,000 holes pierced upon the barrel for the lifts, so as to allow the tunes to be varied. The present airs are "God save the Queen," "The Roast Beef of Old England," "Rule Britannia," and the 104th Psalm. The bells, in substance, form, dimensions, &c., are from the Bow bells' patterns; still, they are thought to be too large for the tower. The chime-work is stated to be the first instance in England of producing harmony in bells.
The interior of the Exchange is an open courtyard, resembling the cortile of Italian palaces. It was almost unanimously decided by the London merchants (in spite of the caprices of our charming climate) to have no covering overhead, a decision probably long ago regretted. The ground floor consists of Doric columns and rusticated arches. Above these runs a series of Ionic columns, with arches and windows surmounted by a highly-ornamented pierced parapet. The keystones of the arches of the upper storey are decorated with the arms of all the principal nations of the world, in the order determined by the Congress of Vienna. In the centre of the eastern side are the arms of England.
The ambulatory, or Merchants' Walk, is spacious and well sheltered. The arching is divided by beams and panelling, highly painted and decorated in encaustic. In the centre of each panel, on the four sides, the arms of the nations are repeated, emblazoned in their proper colours; and in the four angles are the arms of Edward the Confessor, who granted the first and most important charter to the City, Edward III., in whose reign London first grew powerful and wealthy, Queen Elizabeth, who opened the first Exchange, and Charles II., in whose reign the second was built. In the south-east angle is a statue of Queen Elizabeth, by Watson, and in the south-west a marble statue of Charles II., which formerly stood in the centre of the second Exchange, and which escaped the last fire unscathed.
In eight small circular panels of the ambulatory are emblazoned the arms of the three mayors (Pirie, Humphrey, and Magnay), and of the three masters of the Mercers' Company in whose years of office the Exchange was erected. The arms of the chairman of the Gresham Committee, Mr. R. L. Jones, and of the architect, Mr. Tite, complete the heraldic illustrations. The Yorkshire pavement of the ambulatory is panelled and bordered with black stone, and squares of red granite at the intersections. The open area is paved with the traditional "Turkey stones," from the old Exchange, which are arranged in Roman patterns, with squares of red Aberdeen granite at the intersections.
On the side-wall panels are the names of the walks, inscribed upon chocolate tablets. In each of the larger compartments are the arms of the "walk," corresponding with the merchants'. As you enter the colonnade by the west are the arms of the British Empire, with those of Austria on the right, and Bavaria on the reverse side; then, in rotation, are the arms of Belgium, France, Hanover, Holland, Prussia, Sardinia, the Two Sicilies, Sweden and Norway, the United States of America, the initials of the Sultan of Turkey, Spain, Saxony, Russia, Portugal, Hanseatic Towns, Greece, and Denmark. On a marble panel in the Merchants' Area are inscribed the dates of the building and opening of the three Exchanges.
"Here are the same old-favoured spots, changed though they be in appearance," says the author of the "City" (1845); "and notwithstanding we have lost the great Rothschild, Jeremiah Harman, Daniel Hardcastle, the younger Rothschilds occupy a pillar on the south side of the Exchange, much in the same place as their father; and the Barings, the Bateses, the Salomons, the Doxats, the Durrants, the Crawshays, the Curries, and the Wilsons, and other influential merchants, still come and go as in olden days. Many sea-captains and brokers still go on 'Change; but the 'walks' are disregarded. The hour at High 'Change is from 3.30 to 4.30 p.m., the two great days being Tuesday and Friday for foreign exchanges."
A City writer of 1842 has sketched the chief celebrities of the Exchange of an earlier date. Mr. Salomon, with his old clothes-man attire, his close-cut grey beard, and his crutch-stick, toddling towards his offices in Shooter's Court, Throgmorton Street; Jemmy Wilkinson, with his old-fashioned manner, and his long-tailed blue coat with gilt buttons.
On the south and east sides of the Exchange are the arms of Gresham, the City, and the Mercers' Company, for heraldry has not even yet died out. Over the three centre arches of the north front are the three following mottoes:—Gresham's (in old French), "Fortun—à my;" the City, "Domine dirige nos;" the Mercers', "Honor Deo."
Surely old heraldry was more religious than modern trade, for the shoddy maker, or the owner of overladen vessels, could hardly inscribe their vessels or their wares with the motto "Honor Deo;" nor could the director of a bubble company with strict propriety head the columns of his ledger with the solemn words, "Domine dirige nos." But these are cynical thoughts, for no doubt trade ranks as many generous, honourable, and pious people among its followers as any other profession; and we have surely every reason to hope that the moral standard is still rising, and that "the honour of an Englishman" will for ever remain a proverb in the East.
The whole of the west end of the Exchange is taken up by the offices and board-rooms of the Royal Exchange Assurance Company, first organised in 1717, at meetings in Mercers' Hall. It was an amalgamation of two separate plans. The petition for the royal sanction made, it seems, but slow way through the Council and the Attorney-General's department, for the South Sea Bubble mania was raging, and many of the Ministers, including the Attorney-General himself (and who was indeed afterwards prosecuted), had shares in the great bubble scheme, and wished as far as possible to secure for it the exclusive attention of the company. The petitioners, therefore (under high legal authority), at once commenced business under the temporary title of the Mining, Royal Mineral, and Batteries Works, and in three-quarters of a year insured property to the amount of nearly two millions sterling. After the lapse of two years, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, eager for the money to be paid for the charter, and a select committee having made a rigid inquiry into the project, and the cash lodged at the Bank to meet losses, recommended the grant to the House of Commons. The Act of the 6th George I., cap. 18, authorised the king to grant a charter, which was accordingly done, June 22nd, 1720. The "London Assurance," which is also lodged in the Exchange, obtained its charter at the same time. Each of these companies paid £300,000 to the Exchequer. They were both allowed to assure on ships at sea, and going to sea, and to lend money on bottomry; and each was to have "perpetual succession" and a common seal. To prevent a monopoly, however, no person holding stock in either of the companies was allowed to purchase stock in the other. In 1721, the "Royal Exchange Assurance" obtained another charter for assurances on lives, and also of houses and goods from fire. In consequence of the depression of the times, the company was released from the payment of £150,000 of the £300,000 originally demanded by Government.
At the close of the last, and commencement of the present century, the monopolies of the two companies in marine assurance were sharply assailed. Their enemies at last, however, agreed to an armistice, on their surrendering their special privileges, which (in spite of Earl Grey's exertions) were at last annulled, and any joint-stock company can now effect marine assurances. The loss of the monopoly did not, however, injure either excellent body of underwriters.
"Lloyd's," at the east end of the north side of the Royal Exchange, contains some magnificent apartments, and the steps of the staircase leading to them are of Craigleath stone, fourteen feet wide. The subscribers' room (for underwriting) is 100 feet long, by 48 feet wide, and runs from north to south, on the east side of the Merchants' Quadrangle. This noble chamber has a library attached to it, with a gallery round for maps and charts, which many a shipowner, sick at heart, with fears for his rich argosy, has conned and traced. The captains' room, the board-room, and the clerks' offices, occupy the eastern end; and along the north front is the great commercial room, 80 feet long, a sort of club-room for strangers and foreign merchants visiting London. The rooms are lit from the ceilings, and also from windows opening into the quadrangle. They are all highly decorated, well warmed and ventilated, and worthy, as Mr. Effingham Wilson, in his book on the Exchange, justly observes, of a great commercial city like London.
The system of marine assurance seems to have been of great antiquity, and probably began with the Italian merchants in Lombard Street. The first mention of marine insurance in England, says an excellent author, Mr. Burgon, in his "Life of Gresham," is in a letter from the Protector Somerset to the Lord Admiral, in 1548 (Edward VI.), still preserved. Gresham, writing from Antwerp to Sir Thomas Parry, in May, 1560 (Elizabeth), speaks of armour, ordered by Queen Elizabeth, bought by him at Antwerp, and sent by him to Hamburg for shipment (though only about twelve ships a year came from thence to London). He had also adventured at his own risk, one thousand pounds' worth in a ship which, as he says, "I have caused to be assured upon the Burse at Antwerp."
"Whereas it has been, time out of mind, an usage among merchants, both of this realm and of foreign nations, when they make any great adventures (specially to remote parts), to give some considerable money to other persons (which commonly are no small number) to have from them assurance made of their goods, merchandize, ships, and things adventured, or some part thereof, at such rates, and in such sorts as the parties assurers and the parties assured can agree, which course of dealing is commonly termed a policy of assurance, by means of which it cometh to pass upon the loss or perishing of any ship, there followeth not the undoing of any man, but the loss lighteth rather easily upon many, than heavy upon few; and rather upon them that adventure not, than upon them that adventure; whereby all merchants, specially the younger sort, are allowed to venture more willingly and more freely."
In 1622, Malynes, in his "Lex Mercatoria," says that all policies of insurance at Antwerp, and other places in the Low Countries, then and formerly always made, mention that it should be in all things concerning the said assurances, as it was accustomed to be done in Lombard Street, London.
In 1627 (Charles I.), the marine assurers had rooms in the Royal Exchange, as appears by a law passed in that year, "for the sole making and registering of all manners of assurances, intimations, and renunciations made upon any ship or ships, goods or merchandise in the Royal Exchange, or any other place within the City of London;" and the Rev. Samuel Rolle, in his "CX. Discourses on the Fire of London," mentions an assurance office in the Royal Exchange, "which undertook for those ships and goods that were hazarded at sea, either by boistrous winds, or dangerous enemies, yet could not secure itself, when sin, like Samson, took hold of the pillars of it, and went about to pull it down."
After the Fire of London the underwriters met in a room near Cornhill; and from thence they removed to a coffee-house in Lombard Street, kept by a person named Lloyd, where intelligence of vessels was collected and made public. In a copy of Lloyd's List, No. 996, still extant, dated Friday, June 7th, 1745, and quoted by Mr. Effingham Wilson, it is stated: "This List, which was formerly published once a week, will now continue to be published every Tuesday and Friday, with the addition of the Stocks, course of Exchange, &c. Subscriptions are taken in at three shillings per quarter, at the bar of Lloyd's coffee-house in Lombard Street." Lloyd's List must therefore have begun about 1726.
In the Tatler of December 26th, 1710, is the following:— "This coffee-house being provided with a pulpit, for the benefit of such auctions that are frequently made in this place, it is our custom, upon the first coming in of the news, to order a youth, who officiates as the Kidney of the coffeehouse, to get into the pulpit, and read every paper, with a loud and distinct voice, while the whole audience are sipping their respective liquors."
The following note is curious:— "11th March, 1740.—Mr. Baker, master of Lloyd's Coffee-house, in Lombard Street, waited on Sir Robert Walpole with the news of Admiral Vernon's taking Portobello. This was the first account received thereof, and, proving true, Sir Robert was pleased to order him a handsome present." (Gentleman's Magazine, March, 1740.)
The author of "The City"(1845) says: "The affairs of Lloyd's are now managed by a committee of underwriters, who have a secretary and five or six clerks, besides a number of writers to attend upon the rooms. The rooms, three in number, are called respectively the Subscribers' Room, the Merchants' Room, and the Captains' Room, each of which is frequented by various classes of persons connected with shipping and mercantile life. Since the opening of the Merchants' Room, which event took place when business was re-commenced at the Royal Exchange, at the beginning of this year, an increase has occurred in the number of visitors, and in which numbers the subscribers to Lloyd's are estimated at 1,600 individuals.
"Taking the three rooms in the order they stand, under the rules and regulations of the establishment, we shall first describe the business and appearance of the Subscribers' Room. Members to the Subscribers' Room, if they follow the business of underwriter or insurance broker, pay an entrance fee of twenty-five guineas, and an annual subscription of four guineas. If a person is a subscriber only, without practising the craft of underwriting, the payment is limited to the annual subscription fee of four guineas. The Subscribers' Room numbers about 1,000 or 1,100 members, the great majority of whom follow the business of underwriters and insurance brokers. The most scrupulous attention is paid to the admission of members, and the ballot is put into requisition to determine all matters brought before the committee, or the meeting of the house.
"The Underwriters' Room, as at present existing, is a fine spacious room, having seats to accommodate the subscribers and their friends, with drawers and boxes for their books, and an abundant supply of blotting and plain paper, and pens and ink. The underwriters usually fix their seats in one place, and, like the brokers on the Stock Exchange, have their particular as well as casual customers.
"'Lloyd's Books,'" which are two enormous ledger-looking volumes, elevated on desks at the right and left of the entrance to the room, give the principal arrivals, extracted from the lists so received at the chief outposts, English and foreign, and of all losses by wreck or fire, or other accidents at sea, written in a fine Roman hand, sufficiently legible that 'he who runs may read.' Losses or accidents, which, in the technicality of the room, are denominated 'double lines,' are almost the first read by the subscribers, who get to the books as fast as possible, immediately the doors are opened for business.
"All these rooms are thrown open to the public as the 'Change clock strikes ten, when there is an immediate rush to all parts of the establishment, the object of many of the subscribers being to seize their favourite newspaper, and of others to ascertain the fate of their speculation, as revealed in the double lines before mentioned."
Not only has Lloyd's —a mere body of
merchants—without Government interference or
patronage, done much to give stability to our commerce, but it has distinguished itself at critical
times by the most princely generosity and benevolence. In the great French war, when we were
pushed so hard by the genius of Napoleon, which
we had unwisely provoked, Lloyd's opened a subscription for the relief of soldiers' widows and
orphans, and commenced an appeal to the general
public by the gift of £20,000 Three per Cent.
Consols. In three months only the sum subscribed
at Lloyd's amounted to more than £70,000. In
1809 they gave £5,000 more, and in 1813
£10,000. This was the commencement of the
Patriotic Fund, placed under three trustees, Sir
Francis Baring, Bart., John Julius Angerstein, Esq.,
and Thomson Bonar, Esq., and the subscriptions
soon amounted to more than £700,000. In other
charities Lloyd's were equally munificent. They
gave £5,000 to the London Hospital, for the
admission of London merchant-seamen; £1,000
for suffering inhabitants of Russia, in 1813; £1,000
for the relief of the North American Militia (1813);
£10,000 to the Waterloo subscription of 1815;
£2,000 for the establishment of lifeboats on the
English coast. They also instituted rewards for
those brave men who save, or attempt to save, life
from shipwreck, and to those who do not require
money a medal is given. This medal was executed
by W. Wyon, Esq., R.A. The subject of the
obverse is the sea-nymph Leucothea appearing to
Ulysses on the raft; the moment of the subject
chosen is found in the following lines:—
"This heavenly scarf beneath thy bosom bind,
And live; give all thy terrors to the wind."
The reverse is from a medal of the time of Augustus—a crown of fretted oak-leaves, the reward given by the Romans to him who saved the life of a citizen; and the motto, "Ob cives servatos." By the system upon which business is conducted in Lloyd's, information is given to the insurers and the insured; there are registers of almost every ship which floats upon the ocean, the places where they were built, the materials and description of timber used in their construction, their age, state of repair, and general character. An index is kept, showing the voyages in which they have been and are engaged, so that merchants may know the vessel in which they entrust their property, and assurers may ascertain the nature and value of the risk they undertake. Agents are appointed for Lloyd's in almost every seaport in the globe, who send information of arrivals, casualties, and other matters interesting to merchants, shipowners, and underwriters, which information is published daily in Lloyd's List, and transmitted to all parts of the world. The collection of charts and maps is one of the most correct and comprehensive in the world. The Lords of the Admiralty presented Lloyd's with copies of all the charts made from actual surveys, and the East India Company was equally generous. The King of Prussia presented Lloyd's with copies of the charts of the Baltic, all made from surveys, and printed by the Prussian Government. Masters of all ships, and of whatever nation, frequenting the port of London, have access to this collection.
Before the last fire at the Exchange there was, on the stairs leading to Lloyd's, a monument to Captain Lydekker, the great benefactor to the London Seamen's Hospital. This worthy man was a shipowner engaged in the South Sea trade, and some of his sick sailors having been kindly treated in the "Dreadnought" hospital ship, in 1830, he gave a donation of £100 to the Society. On his death, in 1833, he left four ships and their stores, and the residue of his estate, after the payment of certain legacies. The legacy amounted to £48,434 16s. 11d. in the Three per Cents., and £10,295 11s. 4d. in cash was eventually received. The monument being destroyed by the fire in 1838, a new monument, by Mr. Sanders, sculptor, was executed for the entrance to Lloyd's rooms.
The remark of "a good book" or "a bad book" among the subscribers to Lloyd's is a sure index to the prospects of the day, the one being indicative of premium to be received, the other of losses to be paid. The life of the underwriter, like the stock speculator, is one of great anxiety, the events of the day often raising his expectations to the highest, or depressing them to the lowest pitch; and years are often spent in the hope for acquisition of that which he never obtains. Among the old stagers of the room there is often strong antipathy expressed against the insurance of certain ships, but we never recollect its being carried out to such an extent as in the case of one vessel. She was a steady trader, named after one of the most venerable members of the room, and it was a most curious coincidence that he invariably refused to "write her" for "a single line." Often he was joked upon the subject, and pressed "to do a little" for his namesake, but he as frequently denied, shaking his head in a doubtful manner. One morning the subscribers were reading the "double lines," or the losses, and among them was the total wreck of this identical ship.
There seems to have been a regret on the first opening of the Exchange for the coziness and quiet comfort of the old building. . Old frequenters missed the firm oak benches in the old a mbulatoria, the walls covered with placards of ships about to sail, the amusing advertisements and lists of the sworn brokers of London, and could not acquire a rapid friendship for the encaustic flowers and gay colours of the new design. They missed the old sonorous bell, and the names of the old walks.