The New Exhange


The construction of the New Exchange in 1608–1609 demonstrated the efficiency of London development under the supervision of Lord Treasurer Sir Robert Cecil, established a significant competitor to John Gresham’s Royal Exchange, and expanded London fashion westward. Nicknamed Britain’s Burse by King James I during a christening entertainment staged by Ben Jonson, the New Exchange became a symbol of commercial strength in a consolidated British kingdom, as well as a new indoor model of shopping that invited more women into the sphere of luxury sales and consumption throughout the 17th century.

The New Exchange

A 17th century London ballad proclaims:
We will go no more to the Old Exchange,
There’s no good ware at all;
Their bodkins and their thimbles too
Went long since to Guild-hall.
But we will to the new Exchange
Where all things are in fashion
And we will have it hence forth call’d
The Burse of reformation.

(qtd. in Pritchard 149)
The ballad establishes a contrast between the unfashionable Old Exchange—better known as the Royal Exchange—and the more popular new Exchange, also called Britain’s Burse. (The terms Royal Exchange and New Exchange will be used for the remainder of this article for clarity.) As London expanded westward at the turn of the 17th century, London fashions traveled west as well, from the Royal Exchange to the Middle Aisle of St. Paul’s to the Strand. Between 1595 and 1610, an area named the town developed west of the city between London and Westminster, and the Strand was transformed into an area for fashionable shopping (Dillon 9-10). In the early 17th century, the New Exchange became an important site of London fashion, both as a place to publish one’s own style, as in St. Paul’s, and as a shopping center for the purchase of new, imported luxury goods, in the rapidly developing London suburbs.


Sir Robert Cecil, the first earl of Salisbury and James’ lord treasurer, was one of the primary investors in developing the town west of London. As lord treasurer one of Cecil’s duties was handling the court’s land acquisitions (Croft), and in 1608 Cecil described a desire to acquire land in order to build his own contribution to the development in the West End. He hoped to construct some monument as may adorn the place, and haply derive some effect of present benefit and future charity to the whole liberty (qtd. in Dillon 109). Like John Gresham constructing the Royal Exchange, Cecil was building for business interests and to secure his own reputation in perpetuity.
In order to construct this New Exchange in the West End, Cecil purchased the former site of Durham House, which had originally belonged to the bishop of Durham. Cecil envisioned the New Exchange facing the Strand with the outer court of Durham House opening up behind the New Exchange. Cecil’s own Salisbury House was to the east of Durham House and the Court of Whitehall to the west. Construction began on 10 June 1608, supervised by the surveyor of the king’s works Simon Basil. Although 1608 was a time of intensified building construction across southern England (Stone 67-68), Basil and his principal mason William Southes were able to bring in craftsmen from across the country, culminating in a labor force of 250 masons, bricklayers, and unskilled workers who built the New Exchange at an impressive rate. Without stopping for the traditional winter break in construction, the New Exchange was completed in less than a year. It required 520 tons of stone, much of which came from the former monastery of St. Augustine’s in Canterbury. The total cost of construction was 10,760 pounds (Stone 97-105).

Location and Competition with the Royal Exchange

Building the New Exchange in the town between the city and the court established a rivalry between the New Exchange and Gresham’s Royal Exchange. Not only was the New Exchange located so as to capitalize on the traffic between the city and the court, it also symbolized the influence of city markets on court life (Dillon 109-110). The building of the New Exchange took from the Royal Exchange its role as the national shopping centre and seriously challenged its sense of itself as the localization of an economic community. The merchants of the City, fearing the detrimental effect the New Exchange would have on the prosperity not just of the Royal Exchange but of the surrounding areas, which enjoyed the economic spinoffs of a large trading centre, could not help but feel threatened by Cecil’s proposed New Exchange.1
The Gresham Committee2 reacted immediately to the planned construction of the New Exchange, complaining that a new house of trade in the Strand was being built by great means and great personages to allure trading and com[m]erce to the place aforesaid (qtd. in Saunders 94).3 John Chamberlain wrote to Dudley Carleton on 7 July 1608 that
The new burse [exchange] at Durham House goes up apace, wherat the citizens and specially the exchaunge-men begin to grumble, foreseeing that yt wilbe very prejudiciall, and marre theyre market: and therupon have made a petition to the Lord Mayor to provide ne quid detrimenti Respublica capiat. This petition with the reasons beeing sent to his Lordship doth nothing please him, but all the aunswer he makes yet, is that Westminster beeing the place where he was borne, and of his abode, he sees not but that he may seeke to benefit and bewtifie yt by all the meanes he can. (1:258, Letter 98)
The terms of the conflict suggest that Cecil had a different notion of the market than the citizens who opposed him.
The lord mayor also wrote to Cecil to complain about the plans for the New Exchange:
It is generally conceived that if such a work be erected, the situation of the place respected, being near unto the Court of Whitehall in the midst of the Nobility and where much of the Gentry lodge and reside, as also in the highway by which all Termers pass to Westminster, it will have such advantages of our [New] Exchange as will make it of no use for salesmen at all, besides a greater inconvenience to this City.
The lord mayor further worried the New Exchange would occasion much profit to all sorts of retailers in other places leading to the [New] Exchange, and in time will draw Mercers, Goldsmiths and other chief traders to settle themselves out of the City in those parts, for the supply of Termers and such as reside thereabouts, to the great decay of the trade within the City Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] (qtd. in Stone 96-97).4 It seems clear that the City feared the breakdown of its trading community as much as the loss of commercial revenue. The mayor was concerned not just about direct competition with the Royal Exchange, but also about the likelihood that the New Exchange would draw money, citizens, lawyers, and other residents out of the city to settle in the West End’s new shopping district. Many contemporary comments suggest rivalry between the old and the new commercial centres. In Donne’s Elegy 14 for example, the speaker asks a citizen, Whether the Britain Burse did fill apace, / And likely were to give th’ [Royal] Exchange disgrace (Donne 25-26).5
Cecil responded to the lord mayor’s complaint by arguing that the New Exchange was meant to serve not just London but all of England. Cecil’s answer also suggests some concern for his own community of Westminster, which was topographically, ideologically, and, at least in theory, economically opposed to London, but his concern is represented as solipsistic, predicated upon his own birth and his own abode.6 Furthermore, Cecil cared less about the migration of people (except insofar as he required commercial tenants) than he did about the profits he might realize. Resisting both protectionist appeals from the lord mayor and attempts by the Gresham Committee to monopolize trade, Cecil argued that Londoners should not begrudge some little quill of profit to pass by their main pipe (qtd. in Stone 97), an extraordinary image which invokes both the notion of a fixed and inelastic common wealth and, potentially, the more radical notion of an open-ended conduit of profit. The metaphor works in two ways. If pipe means a large cask, of more or less definite capacity, used for wine, then quill takes on the meaning of a tap or faucet, suggesting that Cecil envisioned himself siphoning a small sum from a fixed amount of wealth. But if we take pipe in its other, more enduring sense, and quill as a small water-pipe, then we can hear Cecil articulating his sense that the city’s wealth is embodied in an infinite and unceasing flow of money (OED 11:888, 13:27). His choice of the verb pass by gives more weight to the latter sense of the metaphor, suggesting that he thought this wealth should not be contained within civic conduits. Cecil’s building project suggests that it was not merely profits which spread outward, but also economic practices and even an incipient understanding of capitalist processes. Cecil’s claim that the New Exchange was meant to serve all of England was amplified further when James named the building Britain’s Burse, speaking to his project of consolidating a larger British kingdom including Scotland under his rule. Cecil saw the building itself as an ornament to the suburbs, as indeed did the King.7


The New Exchange not only aimed to usurp much of the Royal Exchange’s business but also imitated the Royal Exchange in its design. The 1633 revision of John Stow’s Survey describes this similarity: Some shape of the modeling, though not in all respects alike, as after the fashion of the Royal Exchange in London, with sellers underneath, a walk fairly paved above it, and rows of shops above, as also one beneath answerable in manner to the other and intended to the like trades and mysteries (qtd. in Dillon 111). This was not, however, the original plan for the building. Inigo Jones developed an Italianate design for the New Exchange that Cecil ultimately rejected in favor of a more conservative English plan (Stone 97).
The exterior of the building was a 200-foot-long covered arcade facing the Strand, which was paved in front of the New Exchange to provide a more inviting footpath (Stone 98-103). Seating was built into the outer wall facing the Strand to further entice passers-by to stop at the New Exchange, and in the later 17th century plate glass windows were installed to encourage potential buyers to peruse available merchandise. The interior had two floors, each divided into an inner walk and outer walk. It held approximately one hundred shops in total, and the most valuable were the slightly larger shops on the corners of the upper level interior. To encourage shopkeepers to purchase leases, all the shops were larger than those at the Royal Exchange, and rents were slightly lower (Peck 51-52). The Venetian ambassador praised the design: Hard by the court the Earl of Salisbury has built two great galleries, decorated, especially outside, with much carving and sculpture. Inside each of these galleries, on either hand, are rows of shops for the sale of all kinds of goods. He predicted, These will bring in immense revenue (qtd. in Dillon 111).

Royal Entertainment

Before the New Exchange opened, it was christened by the king, cementing the relationship between city commerce and royal approval. Ben Jonson wrote the entertainment that introduced the New Exchange to the king, which culminated in James naming the New Exchange Britain’s Burse (Stone 103). Jonson’s entertainment, The Key Keeper, begins with a statement of the estranging effect of locating a shopping centre in a residential suburb of London:
Your Maiestie will pardon me? I thinke you scarse knowe, where you are now nor by my troth can I tell you, more then that you may seeme to be vppon some lande discouery of a newe region heare, to which I am your compasse[.] (Knowles 9-12)
The Keeper imagines the New Exchange as a new land to which the visitor needs a compass or guide.
In part, the conceit accords with the structure of the entertainment, which entailed a tour of the building and its shops. But it also points to the controversy which surrounded Cecil’s project. The Keeper complains about [t]he quotidian torture that I haue indured heere from my great Cosin the multitude (Knowles 20-22) who have pestered him with interrogatorys (Knowles 28) about the nature of the new building. Various people have speculated that it is a publique Banque, where money should be lente; a Lombarde to deale wth all manner of pawnes; a storehowse for corn, wood, and coal; an almshouse for decayed Citizens; and a library, among other things. Many speculate that it has no function at all, being merely a fayr front, built onely to grace the strete, and for noe vse (SP 14/44). The lengthy debate about the building’s intended purpose suggests that its function and its geographic location are at odds. A building with commercial functions is out of place in the Strand. In an urban space where street names tended to coincide with long-standing economic functions—Bread Street, Milk Street, Silver Street, Cheapside, Ironmonger Lane—the Strand was a tabula rasa or new region when it came to commercial enterprise. The great fear expressed in the speculations is that the New Exchange will draw business away from the City. The City was opposed to the construction of the New Exchange, which threatened both its commercial monopoly and its sense of itself as a mercantile community concentrated in the specific geographic space of the Lombard, Threadneedle, and Poultry Street triangle.
Critical writing about The Key Keeper highlights two connections between early modern theatre and the New Exchange, suggesting that the New Exchange prompted not only commerce but theatrical performance, as well, to expand into and converse with new geographical territory. Dillon points to the discursive phenomenon of the list, seen in the Shop-boy’s lines, as a rhetorical strategy employed by the entertainment. The list as a rhetorical tactic marks both the independent, fragmentary presence of the commodity and its connection by definition with other commodities (Dillon 12-13). Linda Levy Peck examines the entertainment’s props, the Chinese porcelain that decorated the single fully-furnished shop that the royal family was shown. This porcelain came into England through the Dutch East India Company, and china shops would later be used as scenes of exotic assignation in both Jonson’s Epicoene and William Wycherley’s 1675 play The Country Wife (Peck 50-51).
Jonson’s masque performs the rhetorical work of subordinating the New Exchange, which Cecil represented merely as a diversion or offshoot of the city, to the national interests embodied in the figure of James I. Cecil’s construction of a new shopping centre in the Strand was a capitalist venture, motivated by the desire for personal profit, but it necessarily had an impact on the commercial and communal functions of the Royal Exchange. Rivalry between the two exchanges was inevitable. Eventually, however, the city’s conception of its boundaries expanded to include the Strand. The New Exchange, originally sanctioned by James as a way of circumventing the perennially troublesome civic oligarchy, is ultimately imaginatively appropriated as one of the ornaments of the civic space belonging to London.


Once the New Exchange opened for business, it looked very different from the building King James saw on 11 April 1609. Instead of a single quiet store, Cecil and his manager continually imposed new regulations to try to establish the kind of aristocratic decorum they expected to maintain. The shops at the New Exchange were designed to cater to a new market in luxury goods. Ann Saunders has suggested that the goods offered [at the New Exchange] were slightly upmarket compared with the Royal Exchange (Saunders 94), and leases were only sold to purveyors of upper-class commodities, including milliners, linen-drapers, haberdashers, booksellers, and perfumers (Dillon 113, Stone 104). Despite its obviously nationalistic name, Cecil intended that Britain’s Burse should sell foreign luxuries. The Key Keeper lists a variety of goods which could be purchased at the New Exchange, all rather unpatriotically identified by their country of origin. There was clearly an ironic gap between the nationalist agenda suggested by the name and the actual economic practices of Britain’s Burse. Cecil hoped that the imported luxury goods would attract an elite clientele from the burgeoning West End, the Inns of Court, and Westminster.8
Shops were open from six in the morning to eight in the evening in the summer and from seven to seven in the winter, an hour later than the Royal Exchange, to accommodate this expectation of high sales (Peck 52). Cecil’s regulations to maintain decorum included forbidding shuttlecocks, cards, dice, beggars, or boys in the building (Peck 57). His manager Thomas Wilson pointed to further issues of disorder and destruction that needed to be curbed including hunting of dogs with great noise & howling, playing of foils and cudgels, striking the ball (which breaketh the windows), [and] buffeting and fighting one with another (qtd in Stone 104). One of the biggest problems, however, was sanitation. Despite a designated bathroom with a sewer to the river, fines had to be leveled for anyone who throw[s] or pour[s] out into the walk or range or out any of the windows any piss or other noisome thing (qtd. in Stone 104).


Negotiations between upper-class aspirations and the higher costs associated with luxury goods initially hampered the New Exchange’s sales. In the fall of 1609 only 27 of the roughly one hundred leases available had been sold, and when their eleven-year terms ran out, it was even more difficult to find new tenants for the shops (Stone 104, Dillon 113). Wilson suggested that one reason for the New Exchange’s difficulty in filling its shops was the small amount of affordable housing available to shopkeepers and customers alike (Stone 104). To address this problem, in 1627 the upper-level shops were removed and replaced with flats offering 21-year leases for twelve to fifteen pounds per year. Once again the New Exchange confronted sanitation concerns: apartment leases specified that tenants would not let excrement from their flats drip through the floor onto the heads of the shopkeepers below (Stone 105).
It was not until the 1630s that sales revived. Despite rivalries between the exchanges, by the time of Heywood’s Pietatis, or the Port and Harbour of Piety, the City of London had imaginatively appropriated the New Exchange.
London and Westminster are two Twin-sister-Cities; as joyned by one Street, so watered by one streame: the first a breeder of grave Magistrates, the second, the buriall-place of great Monarchs Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] yet London may be presum’d to be the elder, and more excellent in Birth, Meanes, and Issue; in the first for her Antiquity, in the second for her Ability, in the third, for her numerous Progeny: she and her Suburbs being decored with two severall Burses or Exchanges[.] (Pageants)
Although the New Exchange had by this time long been under the control of the Customs Farmers, most of whom had city interests, it is nonetheless remarkable that the New Exchange can be invoked as an ornament to London in the context of a pageant written to celebrate the inauguration of a lord mayor. Not only did the mayor’s area of jurisdiction not extend into the suburbs, but a mere thirty years earlier this mayor’s predecessor was arguing vehemently against the construction of the New Exchange on the grounds that it would prove detrimental to the City.
During the sales boom of the 1630s, thirty more booths were added to the outside of the New Exchange, and in 1638 the upstairs flats were converted into shops once more. The New Exchange’s peak sales period lasted from 1661 to 1681, when it housed 109 shopkeepers and a milk bar in the cellar (Stone 108). Samuel Pepys mentions the New Exchange more than 130 times in his diaries: he describes buying mourning garments for himself and pendants and gloves for his wife, socializing at the milk bar, and chatting with the female salespeople (Gyford). On 31 December 1666, Pepys recorded multiple trips to the New Exchange to clear his debts before the New Year:
Rising this day with a full design to mind nothing else but to make up my accounts forthe year past, I did take money, and walk forth to several places in the towne as far as the New Exchange, to pay all my debts Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] Thence to the New Exchange to clear my wife’s score, and so going back again I met Doll Lane (Mrs. Martin’s sister), with another young woman of the Hall, one Scott, and took them to the Half Moon Taverne and there drank some burnt wine with them, without more pleasure, and so away home by coach Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] (Gyford Monday 31 December 1666)
His diary entry suggests the commercial development of the area surrounding the New Exchange by the mid-17th century, allowing him to walk forth to several places in the towne where he has done business throughout the year, and offering local options for socializing, like the Strand’s Half Moon Taverne.
The prosperity of the New Exchange and the surrounding suburbs during the time of Pepys’ diaries came about partly due to the loss of the Royal Exchange in the Great Fire of 1666 as well as the development of nearby Covent Garden and Lincoln’s Inn Fields. This development is also reflected in the regular references to the New Exchange in restoration comedy. In the final decades of the 17th century, however, the New Exchange began to slide into decline, and it was finally destroyed in 1737.


  1. Because of Cecil’s association with taxation, he was already in the city’s bad books. In one libelous poem, he was called
    Oppression’s praiser, Taxation’s raiser Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…]
    The country’s scourger, the cities’ cheater
    Of many a shilling.

    (qtd. 49)
  2. The Gresham Committee, comprised of aldermen, leading citizens, and members of the Mercers’ Company, took over the management of the Royal Exchange after Lady Anne Gresham died in 1596. See Saunders, Organisation, 85-98. (JJ)
  3. This quote is from the Gredsham Repertory, Mercers’ Company Manuscript GR I, 188. (JJ)
  4. City of London Record Office, Remembrancia, ii ff. 323. qtd. in Stone, Family and Fortune, 97. (JJ)
  5. Donne’s authorship is conjectural.
  6. Birth and abode are the things which determine community affiliation, but the language suggests individual rather than communal definition. (JJ)
  7. A proclamation against further building stated that Wee doe exceedingly approve and commend all Edifices, Structures, and workes which tend to publique use and ornament, in and about Our said Citie, as Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] Britanes Burse Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents. (JJ)[…] and the like workes (16 July 1615, SRP 1: 345). (JJ)
  8. Popular opinion certainly held that the New Exchange appealed to a different clientele: The Rialto was as familiar to him as the Exchange in Corrnhill is to merchants, or the New Bourse in the Strand is to courtiers and lawyers (Dekker 132). (JJ)


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Drees, Danielle, and Janelle Jenstad. The New Exhange. The Map of Early Modern London, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 26 Jun. 2020,

Chicago citation

Drees, Danielle, and Janelle Jenstad. The New Exhange. The Map of Early Modern London. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed June 26, 2020.

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Drees, D., & Jenstad, J. 2020. The New Exhange. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London. Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

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