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Signs and Symbols: Mezzanine murals

The Royal Exchange murals are an incredible example of Victorian/Edwardian public art and must be one of London’s best-kept secrets

The Royal Exchange murals 'Phoenicians trading with the early Britons on the coast of Cornwall' by Sir Frederic Leighton, one of many murals at The Royal Exchange

One of the real gems of The Royal Exchange is tucked away from view; a fantastic sequence of historic murals that sit behind the retail units. During remodelling of the interior in 2001, a mezzanine was introduced, cleverly constructed so as not to bisect the murals, which run around the outer walls of the Great Hall.

From the mezzanine floor – a space used for special events, exhibitions and launches – one can look over the balcony and have a clear view of each of the 24 panels, which depict scenes from the City’s history.

The Royal Exchange murals were painted on the walls by a range of artists, starting in 1892 and continuing to 1922. They include Phoenicians trading with the early Britons on the coast of Cornwall by Sir (later “Lord”) Frederic Leighton, which was the inaugural mural; The Opening the first Royal Exchange by Queen Elizabeth I by Ernest Crofts; The Great Fire of London, 1666 and Destruction of the Second Royal Exchange in 1838 both by Stanhope Forbes, who obviously liked depicting a conflagration; Sir Richard [“Dick”] Whittington dispensing his Charities by Henrietta Rae and Women’s Work in the Great War, 1914-1918 by Lucy Kemp-Welch.

The Royal Exchange murals Murals at The Royal Exchange. From L-R: 'The Great Fire of London, 1666' by Stanhope Forbes; 'Women’s Work in the Great War, 1914-1918' by Lucy Kemp-Welch; 'The Opening the first Royal Exchange by Queen Elizabeth I' by Ernest Crofts

The latter was the final painting in the sequence, executed in 1922. It is an amazing run in the tradition of great Victorian/Edwardian public and municipal art. Author Arnold Bennett was so taken with them he wrote:  ‘You have to pinch yourself in order to be sure that you have not fallen into a tranced vision.’ You could do worse than join him in revelry.

Anyone wishing to view The Royal Exchange murals can contact rsvp@theroyalexchange.co.uk to arrange a visit.

Officially opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth I in 1571, The Royal Exchange celebrates its 450th anniversary this year. Our Signs and Symbols series, by author and journalist Rob Ryan, explores the design secrets in and around The Royal Exchange’s magnificent façade.

Visit our heritage page to learn more about the history of The Royal Exchange and keep an eye on our 450 Years site, journal and Instagram for more fascinating facts and insights about The Royal Exchange’s past and present as we commemorate this special milestone throughout the year ahead.

We look forward to welcoming you during 2021, for a considered shopping and dining experience in spectacular and historic surroundings. Please visit our boutiques page for regular updates on our retailers’ opening information and hours, as well as details about virtual appointments and click and collect services.