1902 Encyclopedia > London > The City; Exchanges; The Mint; Banking

(Part 19)


The City. Exchanges. The Mint. Banking.

The prosperity of that portion of London known as the City is largely due to its proximity to the port, but the rapid development of the trade of the port is closely connected with the increase of London outside the City limits, which is of course dependent on a great variety of causes. The uninterrupted extension of the business and financial transactions of the City, and the connection of these with the rapid increase of the surrounding population, is sufficiently evidence by the fact that the reteable annual value of the City has risen from about 760 pounds an acre in 1801 to about 5300 pounds an acre in 1881; that the net profits under the commercial and mercantile schedule D for the combined boroughs of the metropolis (1879-80) amounted to 81,088,368 pounds of which the profits for the City alone amounted to 39,263,424 pounds a larger sum than that of the whole seventeen next largest cities and towns of the United Kingdom; and that the number of persons entering the City daily during the sixteen hours of business has increased from 657,379 in 1866 to 739, 640 I 1881.

The business center of London is the Royal Exchange, which occupies a commanding position between Threadneelde Street and Cornhill, at the principal convergence of the City thoroughfares. The first building, erected 1565-70 by Sir Thomas Gresham and presented to the City, was destroyed by the great fire, and the second opened in 1669 was also burnt in 1838. The present exchange (1839-44), designed by Tite and erected at a cost 180,000 pounds, is a quadrangular structure with an imposing Corinthian portico at its principal entrance, and encloses a court surrounded by an ambulatory. It is in the open central area that the commercial transactions take place-the ground floor being occupied by shops and offices, and the principal floor by insurance companies and "Lloyd’s rooms." The principal exchanges for special articles are the corn exchange in Mark Lane, where the privilege of a fair was originally granted by Edward I.; the wool exchange in Coleman Street; the coal exchange adjoining he custom-house, erected in 1849 in the Italian style, and consisting of a rotunda surmounted by a dome; and the auction mart for landed property in Tokenhouse Yard. The metal market is a very important one; and there is also a very large consignment of precious metals and diamonds, the workers in which are chiefly concentrated in the neighborhood of Clerkenwell. The Royal Mint, Tower Hill, erected in 1805 on the site of the Cistercian abbey of St Mary, is the only mint in England for the fabrication of gold and silver coins, but bronze coins are chiefly made at Birmingham, and gold coinage is now also manufactured at Sidney and Melbourne.

The unique commercial position of London, and its intercourse with every quarter of the globe, have assisted to make it financially in a more complete sense than it is commercially the metropolis of the world. The stock jobbers and brokers, who according to the City census of 1881 numbered 1682, and who have their offices chiefly in the courts and alleys adjoining the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange, are nearly all members of the stock exchange, for whom the present building in Capel Street was erected in 1801; but there is also an open stock exchange in Lothbury. The earliest approximation to banking transactions in London appeared in the negotiations for loans between Elizabeth and the principal city merchants, but the general adoption of the system was due to the civil war, when the merchants, some of whom had already made use of the Royal Mint as a bank of deposit, and the landed proprietors, began to place their money for the sake of greater security in the hands of the goldsmiths. Some of the private banks now existing, such as Coutts’s and Child’s, date from the 17th century, and a new era in the financial history of London was inaugurated in 1694 by the foundation of the Bank of England, of which a full account is given in the article Banking (vol. iii.p. 316 sq.) Until 1733 the business of the bank was carried on at Grocers’ Hall. The present building, which covers about 4 acres, and was enlarged in 1770 and 1788 by Sir Robert Taylor and Sir John Soane, presents to the street a low triangular wall without windows, and almost entirely devoid of ornament except at the north-west corner, which was copied from the temple of the Sibyl at Tivoli. Until the establishment of the London and Westminster Bank in 1834, the Bank of England was the only joint-stock bank in London. The private and joint-stock banks which have offices in London now number over 150. The principal banks are members of the Clearing House near Lombard Street, where a daily exchange of drafts or cheques is effected. Fr the year ending April 30, 1882, the total amount of bills, cheques, &c., paid at the Clearing House was 6,382,645,000 pounds, the largest sum paid in any of the fifteen years for which statistics have been collected, the amount for the first year ending 1868 being only 3,257,411,000 pounds. the extent of the commercial enterprise of London is strikingly indicated by the large number of companies, with their field of operations chiefly in foreign countries, which have been projected in the City or have in it their headquarters. The foreign operations of these companies are however sometimes only nominal, their real business being wholly confined to London itself.

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