Royal Exchange plan endangers City of London’s greatest murals
The Victorian Society is objecting to plans for the Grade I-listed Royal Exchange to insert a new mezzanine directly onto the face of murals which depict scenes from London's history.
The Victorian Society is objecting to plans for the Grade I-listed Royal Exchange to insert a new mezzanine directly onto the face of murals which depict scenes from London's history. The Society considers that potential of this great building, filled with important sculpture and murals can never be achieved until the existing mezzanine is removed. The City of London should reject the application and make displaying these great pieces of public art in a way befitting their importance its top heritage priority.
Christopher Costelloe, Victorian Society Director, said: ‘The City of London should have never allowed a mezzanine to be inserted into one of the City’s most important public spaces. Few of the thousands of people working nearby are likely to know that it contains these impressive works of art. Currently the murals can be viewed from above. The proposed mezzanine would cut many of them completely in half with a silicone strip. Worryingly, no assessment has yet been undertaken of the damage this could cause. This level of harm to the significance of a Grade I- listed building is simply not justified. Public access to the courtyard should be sustained by revenue generating spaces elsewhere in the building. The City should take this opportunity to set out a clear plan for the future of this nationally important building.’
The 1841 Royal Exchange was designed by Sir William Tite in a classical style with two main storeys round an arcaded courtyard. Grade I-listed in 1950, the building is considered of 'exceptional interest' - only 2.5% of listed buildings are Grade I. Nevertheless in the 1980s, the Victorian roof was replaced with two floors of offices. Revenue from this new commercial space should have supported public access to the murals. A mezzanine was inserted in the early 2000s and the arcade was filled with shops blocking the murals, which include works by artists such as Lord Leighton and Brangwyn, from ground floor view. However, a staircase continues to allow the murals to be viewed from the upper mezzanine.
The replacement mezzanine would insert a balcony and sweeping staircase into the central courtyard destroying the symmetry of the classical building. Worse still is the fate of the murals, described by Historic England as “a far too little-known representation of London’s past that has no equal in the capital.” The access which allowed the murals to be viewed from above would be removed making it impossible to walk round the murals chronologically following key events in the City’s history. On one half of the mezzanine, a silicone strip will run between the floors along the centre of the murals destroying the ability to view the paintings as a whole. An art lover would have to enter each shop and visit the upper and lower parts of the mezzanine to see all sections of the paintings – a highly unlikely scenario. More importantly, no information has yet been provided on the silicone strip’s long term impact on the paintings.
The plans would also see the removal of statues of Elizabeth I and Charles I, said to be mid-20th century. This claim is contrary to the list description and many other sources. In fact, both statues were in situ in 1844, and remain in the niches specifically designed for them. The Charles II statue even survived the 1838 fire that destroyed the previous Royal Exchange. The statues are of symbolic importance to the history of the building, their removal would be damaging and unnecessary.
The Society is urging the public to object to the application online. The City should push to ensure that this high quality public art can be easily seen - as was originally intended.
Thursday 18 August, 2016
More recent item: Why there are no buildings from London or the South East on Top Ten Endangered Building list
Earlier item: Save the Still and Star, Aldgate