Above: A picture made of the Coal Exchange in 1849, the year it was opened.
Coal had been imported to London by sea since at least medieval times. As times moved on into the 19th century, it is hard to comprehend just how much coal was required to keep London running. Not only were there coal fires in every grate in every house in London but heavy usage was also being made by factories and the emerging power stations. A coal exchange was first mentioned in 1758 in what is now Lower Thames Street. That building was replaced by a new one in 1847-49, to designs of J B Bunning.
The building suffered some damage in the Second World War and it ceased to be used as a coal exchange after the war when the coal industry was nationalised. It was partly converted for use as general offices. In the 1950s plans were being drawn up to provide a new through-route in the City of London, via Lower Thames Street and Upper Thames Street. The scheme was to involve the demolition of various buildings, including the Coal Exchange. Pleas for its preservation were made by various groups, including John Betjeman, the founding member of the Victorian Society. In 1958 the building was listed Grade II. However, the City was determined to see it demolished with one member being quoted as saying ‘We cannot spend time on the preservation of a Victorian building’. Such was the attitude towards preserving the past in the 1950s and 1960s. Despite all the campaigns and protests, it was demolished in November 1962.
The cleared site was then left empty for 10 years while additional land was acquired for the eventual road widening in the 1970s. The whole scheme – from the Tower of London to Blackfriars – was not completed until the 1980s. If the Coal Exchange had remained standing for another 10 years, there would have been a good chance that attitudes to it and similar buildings would have changed and the demolition might not have taken place.
Above: Enlargement of the picture at the top, showing the two figures of dragons bearing the City coat of arms.
Over the ornate entrance were a pair of cast iron dragons which were taken down and now mark the boundary to the City of London when approached from the Victoria Embankment. They have been used as the pattern for the design of other dragons marking each of entrance to the City of London, including two on London Bridge. The copies are not a large as the two originals but they are all greatly admired and photographed.