The Royal Exchange, located next to the Bank of England, is a Grade 1 Listed building and is one of London’s most prominent and recognisable buildings. It was a former financial institution in London and one of the grandest examples of London’s Victorian architecture. It was the hub for transactions between merchants and traders. The premises is now handed over as office and exhibition spaces.

Timeline of Restoration: The Royal Exchange in London - Sheet1
Royal Exchange_ ©Aukett Swanke

Timeline of Royal Exchange:

1566: Sir Thomas Gresham established The Royal Exchange as London’s first centre for trading stocks.

1571: Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth I

1660: Two additional floors were added for retail businesses, creating Britain’s first shopping mall

1666: The original building is destroyed by the Great Fire of London. 

1669: A second site is opened and designed in Baroque style by Edward Ierman

The 1770s: The Society of Lloyd’s was formed and moved to the Royal Exchange

1838:  Another fire damaged the building

1844: An architectural competition to design the current Royal Exchanged building was launched and won by Sir William Tite and officially opened by the Queen.

1941: Trading is suspended during World War II and damage is caused by the bombing. After the war, the traders moved out and the building was left unused for years.

1953: The Mermaid theatre utilized the courtyard until it got relocated in 1959.

1982: Trading returned to the Royal Exchange during the London International Financial Futures Exchange. The Victorian roof was replaced and two floors of offices were added. 

2001: the building was remodelled and transformed into a luxury shopping mall by architects Aukett Fitzroy Robinsons.

2021: The iconic building celebrated its 450th anniversary.

The very first design was a neo-classical building Thomas Gresham which was destroyed by the Great fire. The second design was in the Baroque style by Edward Herman. A competition was launched for the design of the third and the current design of the Royal Exchange. This competition was awarded to Sir William Title. The design was based on the original layout following the same ideology of a four-sided structure with a central courtyard. The main entrance on the western façade has a portico on eight Corinthian columns and the entire building is built with Portland stone in a neo-classical style. There are smaller entry points as well on the northern, southern and eastern façade.

In the year 2001, the Royal Exchange building was regenerated and remodelled into a luxury shopping mall and dining space by architects Aukett Fitzroy Robinsons. The work included the restoration of the building fabric, a two-floor office extension and the replacement of the roof over the courtyard.

Phases of restoration | The Royal Exchange

The restoration of the current Royal building occurred in two distinct phases undertaken by architects Aukett Fitzroy Robinsons. Phase one involved converting and upgrading a 20,000 square feet 8-storeyed building. The idea was to create 2 retail units on the ground and lower ground floors with offices. The restoration work also included the repair and cleaning of the external facades, replacing the copper roof, designing the glazed copper screens for the shop fronts and provision of access to the disabled.

Phase two comprised another extension of 20,000 square feet of office accommodation with retail units on the ground and refurbishment of suites of listed rooms on the first floor.

Office extension and façade refabrication: 

The first job for restoration which the firm began with was the restoration of the whole building. This included an office extension for two floors and replacing the open courtyard with a roof. The extension of two floors of office space was finalised after consulting the English Heritage, Royal Fine Arts Commission and the City Corporation. This modification involved the addition of the classical Corinthian order above the existing Doric and Ionic orders. Along with this addition, the existing stonework was cleaned and repaired as required.

The main contract to undertake a geophysical survey of all statuary and inspection of stone roses was awarded to Triton Building Restoration. Their scope of work also included external maintenance work. Each stone rose was tested to either tighten it or remove it entirely to undertake essential repairs. During this process, only a few roses were found to be loose and the restoration work for these elements was kept minimal. The statue representing commerce was in desperate need of repair and thus to preserve the original masonry the remodelling was re-carved in Portland limestone. Varied details like fingers, noses, feet, details of knotted rope and loose panels were re-carved and replaced. The works also included reusing the unnecessary fixings with matching Portland stone and mortar, re-decorating the previously painted surfaces and reworking the weathering of the pavement stone.

A brand new glazed and panelled barrel vault roof was installed over the previously left open-to-sky courtyard.

Timeline of Restoration: The Royal Exchange in London - Sheet2
Royal Exchange Restoration_ ©Aukett Swanke

Weathervane | The Royal Exchange

The weathervane located at the top was also completely restored. Founded by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1565, this weathervane was a copper grasshopper, representing the family symbol of Sir Thomas. However, a storm caused extensive damage to this copper grasshopper mutilating one of its legs. It was hence decided to take it down and restore it completely. Asa result, this restoration work was handed over to Dorothea Restorations. The weathervane was removed using a mobile crane. It was then cleaned of oil paint and the damaged legs were fixed by soldering. The grasshopper was further painted using a double thickness of 23.5-carat gold leaf applied onto an oil size and placed back on the top of the Royal Exchange tower.

Refurbishment of the suite rooms

The restoration work of phase two involved restoring the two suites of listed retained rooms on the first floor. These rooms were refurbished and reordered with the advice of the Victoria and Albert Museum. They provided new concealed services for meetings and entertainment, befitting as per the current needs.

Present-day retail stores:

Present day, the Royal Exchange houses some of the world’s most well-known luxury brands. These retail stores are within the existing colonnade with a mezzanine floor above inside the arches.

The central courtyard was re-established as a public space. The courtyard stairs were redesigned to improve public accessibility. This also encouraged visitors to go up to view the Royal Exchange’s historic murals. The stairs have been designed as a sculptural transition to the upper level, with the use of stone and maintaining the existing material palette and balustrades. 

Approximately 33 retail stores and 5 restaurants were accommodated by OAG. | The Royal Exchange

The challenge was to cater to a listed heritage building respecting the stone columns and arches. Hence a solution was derived wherein the pieces of glass were customized to the exact measurement with a steel support system. This enabled in installation of the shop fronts and balcony balustrades that fitted around the masonry without impacting it drastically.

Timeline of Restoration: The Royal Exchange in London - Sheet3
Royal Exchange Courtyard Retail Stores_M. Andrew
Royal Exchange Courtyard Retail Stores_M. Andrew



Prachi is an architect by profession,an avid reader and a potential ‘keen observer’. She juggles with words in order to make the best out of them to recite her simplest stories with minute details. She now intends to expand her scope of knowledge and understanding of architecture through her adventures and experiences.