ROYAL Exchange. The term royal, applied to the Exchange of London, ori ginated with Queen Elizabeth, a princess who, though tinctured with the arbitrary prejudices of her time, deserves the grateful remembrance of her countrymen for many wise and extremely beneficial acts, equally contributing to increase the political and commercial prosperity of England.
The word Exchange is certainly impro perly applied to a building in which the act of exchanging or bartering takes place ; but we are not the only people who thus misuse the appellation, as many towns on the Continent have their Places de Change. We know nothing more of the Bourse (synonimous with Exchange) frequented by the merchants of London before the reign of Elizabeth, except that it was situated in Lombard Street. It is, however, reasonable to suppose, that it was too inconsiderable in its extent, or had become ruinous by that period, as Sir ThomaS Gresham then entertained thoughts of exerting his influence to ren der his fellow-citizens an essential ser vice, and at the same time improve his own property.
It is singular, that a people celebrated for their commercial enterprize from the very foundation of their metropolis, should have proceeded through many centuries, contented with transacting their business at casual and uncertain meetings, when it seems so obvious to their posterity that a rallying point is ab solutely necessary, where a trader may, at a fixed and certain hour, see and converse with those connected with him in com merce, and meet with purchasers for his commodities.
There cannot exist a doubt, that num bers of the citizens of London felt the ne cessity for an established and convenient Exchange, which may be supposed from the faint attempt made in Lombard Street, and which might have suggested the plan afterwards executed by Gresham, whose very extensive concerns made him more particularly sensible of the deficiencies of London in this instance. The circum stances attending the founding of the ori ginal Exchange on the present scite, has contributed to convey all the honour of the undertaking to Sir Thomas, when, in truth, he was only an active partner in that honour ; as it is an indisputable fact, that the Corporation of London purchas ed, at the expense of the city, not less than eighty houses, and the ground on which they stood, for the sum of four thousand pounds : these they ordered to be taken down, and the earth prepared for building a magnificent structure.
It will be perceived from this state ment, that the collective body of the citi zees was by no means deficient in their wishes to second the views of Gresham, who engaged to erect the Exchange at his own expense, and the parties were mutually to enter into conveyances of the ground and building to each other, that their descendants and successors might for ever possess a joint and equal property in the subsequent-profits of the concern. This covenant was faithfully complied with by the Corporation, but Sir Thomas neglected to execute his part of it. Hence, it must be admitted, that the latter has no claim to the exclusive gratitude of the natives of London ; on the contrary, it is very evident, the patri otism of the act should be divided be tween the then Lord Mayor, Alderman, and Council, and Gresham ; with this ad mission in his favour, that it is more than probable the Corporation would never of themselves have conferred an Ex change on the city they governed.
Sir Thomas laid the first stone of the edifice on the seventh day of June, 1566, which was completed with brick, and so contrived as to render the reimbursement of his expenses as certain as human fore sight would permit. This he supposed might be accomplished by the fines and rents accruing from a very considerable number of vaults and shops which inclos ed the area intended for the ostensible purposes of the building. The novelty of this arrangement operated greatly in his favour, and the shops let rapidly ; but the vaults, as our ancient writers term them, being partly under ground, and consequently equally dark and damp, were but partially occupied. Sensible of his mistake, and determined to retrieve it if possible, he resolved that his future te nants should take the vaults with the Shops at eight marks per annum ; and they proceeded thus for some time, till at length it was fully ascertained the public would not be compelled to descend to purchase commodities in the dark. The tenants, therefore, unanimously resolved to offer him four pounds per annum for the shop only, resigning all claims to the vaults. This the knight immediately ac cepted, and let them to merchants for the reception of packages, and large quanti ties of pepper, which article is still depo sited in those of the present building.