The New Coal Exchange, Thames Street, London. J.B. Bunning, architect. William Trego, builders, and Messrs. Dewer, ironwork. Source: the 1849 Illustrated London News. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
The façades of the building are of very simple, yet bold and effective design; and, as our Engraving shows, with the exception of the cornice, but few projections are introduced. The fronts in Thames-street and St. Mary-at-hill are respectively about 112 feet in width by 61 feet in height. The unequal form of the plot of ground on which the Exchange stands is skillfully masked at the corner by breaking the mass of building and introducing a circular tower in the reentering angle, within which is the entrance vestibule. This circular tower is 109 feet high to top of gilded ball, and 22 feet In diameter at the lowest part, and is divided Into three stories. The lowest story, containing the vestibule. is of the Roman-Doric style of architecture; and there is a striking peculiarity In the arrangement of this part, to which we must advert. The wall of the tower not only shrines the vestibule by which entrance to the hall or Rotunda is attained, but serves also as a centre to flights of steps, which lead, on either hand, to a landing on tho first story of the building, and thence a spiral staircase is carried up In the tower to the other stories The first story is of the Ionic order, carrying an entablature, and is lighted by windows. The top story, fifteen feet in diameter, is ornamented by pilasters, with windows between—the roof rising to a cone, and being crowned with a gilded ball. This is, to our view, the least successful portion of the edifice, the termination belrg stiff, and not so piquant as it should have been. We should mention, the exterior is of Portland stone.
Entering the Rotunda, the attention of the visitor is immediately arrested by its beautiful effect and extremely novel arrangement. It forms a circle of some sixty feet in diameter, and is crowned with a dome, or, in fact, double dome — as a lesser cupola rises from the eye of the great dome to the height of seventy-four feet from the floor. The dome rests on eight piers of light character, the space between each pier is divided by stancheons into three compartments, and there are three galleries, and from these entrance is obtained to the numerous offices in the building. The stancheons, galleries, ribs of dome, &c. are of iron —and in fact every part seems to be made of iron; and the arrangement of patterns In the stancheons, brackets of galleries, and soffits of galleries is original and good. There are about three hundred tons of iron used in the building, in the several parts — each rib, of which there aie thirty-two, weighing two tons. The ornament chiefly used is a cable, twisted about in various patterns, and the balustrade to the galleries is of loops of cable, at intervals broken by the introductlon of the City arms. The frame-work to the offices is of wood and panelled with rough plate-glass. By this means they receive light from the great dome of the hall. The dome itself is glazed with large pieces of roughened plate-gliss of great thickness, the small upper dome having glass of a yellow tint. The chief public offices surrounding the Rotunda are those appropriated to the corporation officers who have to collect the coal dues, and who are, we understand, appointed by ihe Corporation; the factor's board-room, the weighers' society, and the merchants and factors, among whom the present Lord Moyor ot London holds a very prominent position. The floor of the Rotunda is composed of inlaid words, disposed in form of a mariner's compass, within a border of Greek fret. The flooring consists of upwards of 4000 pieces of wood, of various kinds. The varieties of wood employed comprise black ebony, black oak, common and red English oak, wainscot, white holly, mahogany, American elm, red and white walnut, and mulberry. The appearance of this floor is beautiful in the extreme. The whole of these materials have been prepared by Messrs. Davison and Symington's patent process of seasoning woods. The same desiccating process has been applied to the woodwork throughout the building. The black oak introduced was part of an old tree which was discovered In the bed of the river Tyne, where it had unquestionably lain between four and five centuries. The mulberry wood of which the blade of the dagger in the shield of the City arms is composed, is made of a piece of a tree planted by Peter the Great, when he worked as shipwright in Deptford Dockyard.
The coloured decorations of this Exchange have been most admirably imagined and successfully carried out. They are extremely characteristic, and on this point deserve praise. The entrance vestibule is peculiarly rich and picturesque in its embellishments: terminal figures, vases with fruit, arabesque foliage, &c., all of the richest and most glowing colours, fill up the vault of the ceiling; and on looking up through an opening in the celling, a figure of Plenty scattering riches, and surrounded by figurini seen painted in the ceiling of the lantern. Over the entrance doorway, within a sunk panel, is painted the city arms. Within the Rotunda, the polychromic decorations immediately arrest the eye. The range of panels at the base of the dome, aud the piers which carry the dome, are all fully and harmoniously decorated. We shall commence our description with the piers in the lowest story: — The Raffaelesque decorations and very rich in character, and an idea of their general style may be gleaned from one side of the large border surrounding the Engraving in the central division of our present Number. In each pier the Raffaelesque scroll supports and encircles four compartments; the lowest are seimicircular panels, within which are painted symbolic figures of the principal coal-bearing rivers of England; the Thames, the Mersey, the Severn, the Trent, the Humber, the Aire, the Tyne, &c. Small oblong panels, with marine subjects, are a little above the symbolic figures just described; and above them, within borders of flowers of every kind, are figures symbolical of Wisdom, Fortitude, Vigilance, Temperance, Perseverance, Watchfulness, Justice, and Faith. These figures are the most prominent objects in the decorations of the piers in the lowest story; and in circles above them are painted groups of shells; whilst at the top, in semicircles corresponding with those at the base of the piers, snakes, lizards, and other reptiles are introduced. In the first story the leading feature in the arabesques is a series of views of coalmines, including the air-shaft at Walhend, Percy Pit Main Colliery, Wallsend Colliery, Regent's Pit Colliery, &c Groups of fruit and flowers are in small circles just above the views, and in oblong panels beneath the latter the series of nautical "bits" Is continued. At the base, in each pilaater, are representations of different specimens of Sigillaria — a fossil found in coal formations. The character of this species of pilaster is indicated on one side of the view of the interior of the hall. In the second story the largest panels contain figures of miners at different portions of their avocations; whilst nautical subjects, clusters fruit and flowers, are introduced amongst the arabesques. One side of the border in the centre pages exemplifies this series of decoration.
The third story contains, within oval panels, miners at work picking the coal, &c.: flowers and small landscapes add to the richness and variety of the decorations on this floor; and both in this and the lower, calamites (fossils from the coal formation) arc depicted amongst the arabesques. This ornamentation is shewn in the two side pieces to our view of the exterior of the building. The 24 panels at the springing of the dome, of which we have before spoken, have oval compartments painted in them, surrounded by a gracefully flowing border of extremely rich and varied design, being light ornaments on a dark ground. The spaces within the oval borders are coloured of a turquoise blue tint, on which is painted a series of representations of different fossil plants met with in the coal formations. This portion of the decoration is extremely striking and appropriate; and we need scarcely say, the representations of the plants are strictly correct.
Our general view of the interior gives a faithful idea of the appearance of the enriched panels; and, ere we leave the pictonrial portion of the Exchange, we must not forget the groups of mining implements, most skillfully treated, in the narrow panels in the dome over the piers. Two of these gtoups are at the sides of our view of the Rotunda.
The whole of the artistic embellishments of the building were designed by Mr. Sang, whose taste and skill in such works is well known, and executed under his immediate directions; and it may be considered a most successful specimen of the Raffaelesque style of ornamentation, now so extensively adopted in the mansions of the nobility.
For originality of design, this building is the most striking which has been erected in London fur a long time past, and reflects the very highest credit on the talented architect, J. B. Bunning, Esq. Mr. William Trego was the bnilder, and the iron-work was executed by Messrs. Dewer, of Old-street.
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“The New Coal Exchange.” Illustrated London News. (3 November 1849): 302-03. Hathi Trust Digital Library version of a copy in the University of Michigan Library. Web. 13 January 2016.
Last modified 13 January 2016