Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Royal Exchange, Manchester

This amazing building is the Royal Exchange in Manchester. I visited it few weeks ago to see a production of Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The production was fantastic, only 4 actors playing all the parts and the staging, props and costumes so cleverly done. I had walked past the building many times but had never been inside. When I got in there I literally gasped in amazement. So here it is!

The Royal Exchange building was built between 1869 and 1864 and was modified between 1914 and 1921. It was built as a place for Lancashire mill owners, cotton importers, yarn agents, dyers, bleachers, shippers and salesmen to trade in commodities, cotton and textiles being the main ones. It was said that it was the largest place for trade in the world and the trading floor could hold 11,000 members. By 1968 the means of trading had changed and there had been some trade slumps and the exchange closed.

This is the original trading board, showing the prices of various commodities on the day that trading ceased. Trading days were Tuesday and Friday. Manchester was a centre for the trade in cotton which was spun in its many mills and in those of the surrounding towns. It was so important it was known by the name Cottonopolis. Queen Victoria visited Manchester in 1851 and was received in the exchange, highlighting its importance and giving the title of the Royal Exchange.

The trading hall has three beautiful glass domes and huge marble neoclassical columns. Look at all the intricate detail.

In 1976 the Royal Exchange Theatre Company was founded and it's theatre spaces are found inside the exchange. The main theatre seats 760 people on 3 levels, in the round. All seats are less than 9m from the stage so the views are really clear. It is the largest theatre in the round in Britain. Watching a performance in the round is amazing as there is nothing at all that the audience can't see. I think it means the use of space, the scenery and the movements of the actors are even more carefully thought through. You feel really close to all the action.

The theatre is like a large pod, it has 7 sides and is made of steel and glass. The floor of the exchange was not strong enough to support the weight of the theatre so much of the pod is suspended from the huge columns. This contrast between modern and Edwardian is fascinating and is one of the things that makes the building such an interesting place to look around. All the period details are so beautiful, yet the modern structure doesn't jar with or distract from them.

I am going to have to go again to really take it all in. It is possible to enter the building without going to the theatre. There is a shop and a couple of cafes on the trading floor. It is such an amazing space, it is definitely worth a look. It really pleases me that although the building is no longer needed for it's original purpose all it's beauty has been saved, it is still of importance to the city and it is still a place where people go to meet and enjoy themselves.


  1. What a majestic, incredibly lovely theater! I think I'd need multiple trips to it myself as well to really soak it all in.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I hope to go back soon, even if it is just to go to the cafe, sit and have a cup of tea and admire the sights. It is a lovely place.

  2. That looks fantastic - it's great that they were able to work in the new theatre space without ruining the old building.

    1. Isn't it?! I do like to see old buildings getting new life breathed back into them.