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Save The Royal Exchange Murals!

August 25, 2016
by the gentle author

Alfred the Great repairing the walls of the City of London by Sir Frank Salisbury, 1912

The Foundation of St Paul’s School, 1509, by William F Yeames, 1905

Reconciliation of the Skinners & Merchant Taylors’ Companies by Lord Mayor Billesden, 1484, by Edwin A Abbey, 1904

Nelson leaving Portsmouth, 18th May 1803, by Andrew C Gow, 1903

King John sealing Magna Carta by Ernest Normand, 1900

A developer proposes inserting a new mezzanine in the Royal Exchange which will bisect London’s greatest murals and mask a 25cm section across most of the pictures with a silicon seal where the new floor touches the surface of the paintings.

So I asked designer Adam Tuck to create the montages at the top of this feature as an illustration of how this intervention may affect the composition of these pictures. I do not think it will be an improvement. The top strip with the words ‘Mezzanine Floor Here’ represents the depth of the floor, while the lower strip gives an indication of how the bulk of the floor is likely to mask the picture for a viewer.

It was a greivous error when obstacles were first placed in front of these paintings in the eighties, yet the existing shops do not touch the murals and it has always been possible to walk around the restaurant on the first floor and view the sequence of paintings from above. The developer claims that their new proposal will make the murals more visible, when it actually chops most of them in two, making it impossible to view them in their entirety.

The justification for turning the interior of William Tite’s Grade I listed Royal Exchange of 1844 into a Duty-Free-type shopping mall selling glitzy gifts is that this is necessary to make it ‘sustainable,’ when revenues earned by the City’s other properties are more than sufficient to sustain the Exchange.

It is a disappointing course of action, especially since the Royal Exchange is essentially a public building and, in my opinion, the City has a moral duty to maintain it as an unobstructed showcase for all to see these important murals telling the story of our capital.

Below you can view the full sequence of paintings in their glory. Arnold Bennett saw them and wrote, ‘You have to pinch yourself in order to be sure that you have not fallen into a tranced vision.’

You can view the planning application and object on the City of London Planning website

You can read the Victorian Society’s letter of objection by clicking here

The developer’s proposal

The murals as they were intended to be viewed, without obstacles

Phoenicians trading with early Britons on the coast of Cornwall by Lord Frederick Leighton, 1895

Alfred the Great repairing the walls of the City of London by Sir Frank Salisbury, 1912

William the Conqueror granting a Charter to the Citizens of London by John Seymour Lucas, 1898

William II building the Tower of London by Charles Goldsborough Anderson, 1911

King John sealing Magna Carta by Ernest Normand, 1900

Sir Henry Picard, Master of the Vinters’ Company entertaining Kings of England, France, Scotland Denmark & Cyprus by Albert Chevallier Tayler, 1903

Sir Richard Whittington dispensing his Charities by Henrietta Rae, 1900

Philip the Good presenting the charter to the Merchant Adventurers by Elija A Cox, 1916

Henry VI Battle of Barnet 1471, the Trained Bands marching to the support of Edward IV by John H Amschewitz, 1911

Reconciliation of the Skinners & Merchant Taylors’ Companies by Lord Mayor Billesden, 1484, by Edwin A Abbey, 1904

The Crown offered to Richard III at Baynard’s Castle by Sigismund Goetze, 1898

The Foundation of St Paul’s School, 1509, by William F Yeames, 1905

The Opening the first Royal Exchange by Queen Elizabeth I by Ernest Crofts, 1899

Charles I demanding the Five Members at the Guildhall, 1641-42, by Solomon J Solomon, 1897

The Great Fire of London, 1666, by Stanhope Forbes, 1899

Founding of the Bank of England, 27th July 1694, by George Harcourt, 1904

Nelson leaving Portsmouth, 18th May 1803, by Andrew C Gow, 1903

Destruction of the Second Royal Exchange in 1838 by Stanhope Forbes, 1899

Opening of the Royal Exchange by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, 28th October 1844, by Robert W Macbeth, 1895

Women’s Work in the Great War, 1914-1918, by Lucy Kemp-Welch, 1922

Blocking of Zeebrugge Waterway, St George’s Day, 23rd April 1918, by W L Wyllie, 1920

Their Majesties King George V & Queen Mary visiting the Battle Districts in France, 1917, by Sir Frank Salisbury, 1917

National Peace Thanksgiving Service on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral, 6th July 1919, by Sir Frank Salisbury, 1919

Modern Commerce by Sir Frank Brangwyn, 1906

Images courtesy of the Mercers Company

You may also like to take a look at

Dorothy Annan’s Murals

47 Responses leave one →
  1. August 25, 2016

    The greed of the city seems to know no bounds. Nothing seems to be placed above the value of making money. This is really very sad. Valerie

  2. vanda permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Why is it that so much of the historical heritage of the United Kingdom is been destroyed. Have the “powers that be” no pride in their heritage. I can accept this type of attitude from a 3rd world country like South Africa(I am a resident ) but for goodness sake the United Kingdom is supposed to be a 1st world country.

  3. August 25, 2016

    Can you imagine the city fathers of Florence contemplating such a thing?

  4. August 25, 2016

    As a cultural historian I have objected to this vandalism on the City of London planning site. Please note that the timescale for comments is very limited. People need to object now!

  5. John Wells permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Sacrilege! Can’t this proposal be declined? We seem to strive to destroy all that heritage which has made our country so enviable. One day visitors won’t come & some people will wonder why. Those with powers to stop this development must do so, or they will have the stain forever on their consciences. For reference, I worked in this iconic building from 1962 for several years.

  6. August 25, 2016

    A friend who has an old school building with high gothic windows that had been dissected by an upper floor have had glass panels set into the floor about 2′ deep and extending the full width of the window enabling the top of the window to be seen from above looking down and all the window to be viewed from below. It is now a wonderful feature that has come out of necessity.

  7. Julie Price permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Destroying our history like this is simply wrong. Not only are the murals beautiful they are part of our history, it seems greed trumps pride over our heritage. Very sad.

  8. Brenda permalink
    August 25, 2016

    When I went to see them the security men tried to stop me from going up. After some argument they finally relented but it was hard work.

  9. Malcolm permalink
    August 25, 2016

    These murals are of immense artistic, historic and cultural significance, especially the mural painted by Frederick Leighton.
    I have registered my objection to the scheme.

  10. Ken Powell permalink
    August 25, 2016

    These murals are of great interest and deserve to be well displayed and accessible to the public: how many people know they exist? As you say, the Exchange is a public building. I recall it before its present configuration, when a huge dealing floor box filled much of the central space, The present arrangement is greatly preferable, but what is proposed is appalling. The City cannot grant itself consent – Historic England must make a strong objection since this is a Grade I listed building. I would look to the Secretary of State to slap down these plans.

  11. Jeff Smith permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Have just lodged an objection with the City of London on the development application – it’s an insane idea, can’t believe it’s even being considered. Not sure how much notice they’ll give to ex-convict stock stuck out in the colonies tho… best of luck

  12. Annie S permalink
    August 25, 2016

    As Barbara Elsmore said, with all the technology today, there must be a better way to put in a mezzanine and still display the murals.

  13. August 25, 2016

    Objected. Thanks for raising the issue GA.

  14. Carin permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Been in there many times ,never noticed them,why doesn’t the city promote them,make them into a tourist attraction,put up information about them ,people would visit ,use the existing shops while they were in there ,so no need to build
    The city has lots of treasures it doesn’t promote,how many overseas visitors know about the guildhall? One of the nicest art galleries in London
    We don’t need more shops!

  15. August 25, 2016


  16. Carol Himmelman-Christopher permalink
    August 25, 2016

    They cannot be flaming serious! What kind of moron came up with that idea? Obviously one who is blind and who hasn’t checked out the “success” in recent years of cities around Europe that have planned and built areas of exclusive shops that were promised to bring in loads of revenue — only to be in a state of constant change over of shops, as one after another of the high-end stores goes under due to lack of sales. I can point to several here in Berlin. Not only is this idea a stupid crime against some important historical works of art — but it has absolutely no basis in economic fact. Try again, boys.

  17. Michele Janes permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Shocking ,Once it’s gone it’s gone. Very worrying.

  18. Tony McSweeney permalink
    August 25, 2016

    This is a shocking proposal. Panels like these are cherished in other City institutions, so I find it difficult to believe that the applicants are seriously proposing such wanton desecration. The Frank Brangwyn panel alone is outstanding. However, we might have a better chance of defeating this proposal now that Boris Johnson has gone.

  19. August 25, 2016

    Vandalism in pursuit of profit.

  20. M D West permalink
    August 25, 2016

    You can pick up on some of the story and politics of the creation of these murals from this expired auction page for a Stanhope Forbes study for his Great Fire mural

    Of interest perhaps as we approach 350 years since the Great Fire in early September

  21. Sonia Murray permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention! I sent in an objection. Can you get the newspapers interested? Publicity throughout the U.K. should derail this atrocious scheme. The building and murals are a world class tourist attraction but are not being advertised – if necessary, the City could charge admission to tourists and tour groups. I’ll be back in London in November and will go to see the murals – didn’t know they were there. Again, thank you!

  22. August 25, 2016

    Simple barbarism – not to be compared with ISIS – but even so it is astounding that planners in one of the world’s richest boroughs would entertain the idea

  23. gkbowood permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Thank you for allowing me to view these in one piece before they are obscured by junk. This reminds me of all the tourist souvenir shops that went up in Westminster Abbey back in the ’90s- that rankled me to no end.

  24. pauline taylor permalink
    August 25, 2016

    Phil Maxwell is exactly right, this is vandalism in pursuit of profit. There is no excuse for such greed, and everything that is beautiful and remarkable in this country is suffering and rapidly being destroyed in order to increase the wealth of those who already have far too much. The London which tourists flock to see will soon no longer exist if proposals like this are allowed to succeed. When will it all end!!

  25. August 25, 2016

    I have submitted an objection – but am not that hopeful – even in the light of the Victorian society’s detailed letter. Is this all part of Brexit? But thank you for letting us see the murals as a narrative.

  26. Frances Smith permalink
    August 26, 2016

    How dare they think this is alright ?

  27. John Warr permalink
    August 26, 2016

    When will “developers” cease and desist from vandalizing our capital ? The arcetectural destruction of the skyline is bad enough with the “gherkin” and the “shard” but wanton destruction of interiors such as these is simply criminal. As well put a sponsor’s logo across the Mona Lisa.

  28. Ray Dagwell permalink
    August 26, 2016

    Once again greed takes over from our national heritage. The Planning Department should refuse this application as protectors of listed buildings. If necessary the applicant can appeal and a public enquiry held. There can be no justification for such vandalism of our heritage

  29. Julie permalink
    August 26, 2016

    Thank you for this information I have submitted my objection to this.

  30. Peter J Oxby permalink
    August 26, 2016

    I would like it registered in the strongest possible terms my objection to this proposal. I will state the reason(s) for my objection should I be requested to do so.

  31. Lynn Holmes permalink
    August 26, 2016

    I strongly object to this insanity of the Murals. Leave them be as they should be, thank you.

  32. August 26, 2016

    Bear with a comment from the US: The pathway to saving and acknowledging murals is not always a linear one, but when all is said and done, it is worth all the trouble. A recent case-in-point here — The recovery and restoration of the Thomas Hart Benton murals originally created for The New School of Social Research, which for some inexplicable reason, fell out of favor. (what!?) The murals languished and the series was going to be broken up and disseminated — in other words, not regarded and treasured — but an unlikely coalition of people (including former Mayor Ed Koch, never known for his interests in preservation or art, if I may say so……) came together and the murals are now one of the high lights of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Given their own exhibition space, incredibly-restored, better-than-new. Keep up the fight for your heritage – you’re all on the right side of history. Thanks, as ever, for an illuminating and informative post.

  33. Ann Secluna permalink
    August 26, 2016

    It’s almost vandalism. Please don’t do it.

  34. Eric Webb permalink
    August 27, 2016

    Aaaaaaaaaaagh! (Words fail me!) It’s not so much the proposal itself as that anyone could be so utterly, terminally, disastrously crass as to make such any such proposal!

  35. Phil Rowley permalink
    August 27, 2016

    Surely there can be no chance of English Heritage permitting this potential act of vandalism to a grade I listed building ?

  36. Ian Millman permalink
    August 28, 2016

    This is cultural barbarism beyond belief. How can anyone with some form of intelligence and a basic notion of artistic worth condone such a stupid act ? I suppose, as usual, someone stands to make a lot of money out of this.

  37. Mary Fortune permalink
    August 30, 2016

    We raise our hands in horror at destruction of treasures abroad. This is utterly insensitive to the value of our own cultural heritage.

  38. Phillip Ellis permalink
    September 1, 2016

    Modern day vandalism

  39. claire tylee permalink
    September 9, 2016

    Lord Leighton and Frank Brangwyn – vandalism! Not only visitors but our schoolchildren deserve their heritage.

  40. claire tylee permalink
    September 9, 2016

    PS I too have been refused entry to the mezzanine to see the murals – I circumvented security guards by going up in the lift in NorthWest corner and walked around confidently!

  41. Sally Woodcock permalink
    September 15, 2016

    Many thanks for alerting me to this proposal, to which I have objected. I am currently researching the firm of artists’ colourmen that not only supplied the materials but installed the paintings and restored them from the 1890s to the 1970s. It is clear that in an earlier period these paintings were valued and it seems a great pity to see them so compromised and endangered today with no recognition of custodianship for the future.

  42. Sally Woodcock permalink
    September 15, 2016

    PS – I am giving a talk on the colourman to the British Association of Paintings Conservator-Restorers at the start of October and am citing the Royal Exchange paintings as an example of a yet-to-be researched project. Would you have any objection to me using some of your images to alert the BAPCR to the plight of these paintings in the course of my lecture. If so, please could you let me know how you would like them to be credited? With many thanks – Sally

  43. Kate Fearnley permalink
    October 11, 2016

    Are they still able to be seen?

  44. Margaret Morley permalink
    October 22, 2016

    What is the situation now ? I had not heard about this. Where is this building? Would like to try gaining access if possible!

  45. Sarah-Jane Griffin permalink
    November 11, 2016

    I cannot believe that any self respecting planning officer would sanction such a crime against art and our heritage. Is there a petition that I, and others, may sign?? I’m shocked, appalled and greatly saddened by the greed and lack of pride shown. This should never be allowed to happen.

  46. Shawdian permalink
    November 13, 2016


  47. rogerkattenhorn permalink
    November 22, 2016

    I add my voice to the chorus of disapproval. My chosen adjective to describe this plan is ‘grotesque’. The custodians of these works are obviously not fit to be so. I would say “What on earth are these people thinking of?” But the answer is equally obvious… mere £’s. These plans are some of the most exemplary forms of philistinism that I have ever come across.

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