Royal Exchange, Manchester: Wikis


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Royal Exchange, Manchester

The Royal Exchange building
Royal Exchange, Manchester is located in Greater Manchester
Shown within Greater Manchester
Architectural style Classical style. Baroque turret at north-west corner.
Structural system it uses 4 steel pillers to hold it up
Town Manchester
Country United Kingdom
Coordinates 53°28′57″N 2°14′40″W / 53.4825°N 2.2444°W / 53.4825; -2.2444
Started 1914
Completed 1921
Design team
Architect Bradshaw, Gass and Hope

The Royal Exchange is a grade II listed[1] Victorian building in Manchester, England. It is located in the city centre on the land bounded by St Ann’s Square, Market Street and Cross Street. The complex includes the Royal Exchange Theatre, and the Royal Exchange shopping centre.

The current building is the last of several buildings on the site used for commodities exchange, primarily but not exclusively of cotton and textiles.



The first exchange was built near to the present site in 1792. The first exchange was replaced by a second, larger, exchange that was constructed between 1806 and 1809. The second exchange was enlarged between 1847 and 1849. The second exchange was in turn replaced, by a third exchange by Mills & Murgatroyd, constructed between 1867 and 1874.[2] The building was then extended and modified by Bradshaw Gass & Hope between 1914 and 1931 to form the largest trading room in England.[2][3]

The Manchester Blitz

The building was seriously damaged during World War II when it took a direct hit from a bomb during a German air raid. The interior was subsequently rebuilt with a much smaller trading area.[2][4] The top stages of the clock tower, which had been blasted off, were replaced in a much simpler form. Trading ceased in 1968, and the building was threatened with demolition.[2][5]

The theatre

The building remained empty until 1973 when it was used to temporarily house a theatre company. The Royal Exchange Theatre was founded in 1976 by a group of artistic directors — Michael Elliott, Caspar Wrede, Richard Negri, James Maxwell and Braham Murray — a group whose origins lay in the 59 and later 69 Theatre Companies whose work had had such an impact first in London and then Manchester. In 1979, the artistic directorship was augmented by the appointment of Gregory Hersov. Of the original group, Hersov and Braham Murray are still members.

The theatre features a seven-sided steel and glass module that squats within the Great Hall of the building. It is a pure theatre in the round in which the stage area is surrounded on all sides, and above, by seating.[2]

The theatre's unique design was conceived by Richard Negri of Wimbledon School of Art, and was intended to create an unusually vivid and immediate relationship between actors and audiences. As the floor of the Exchange would not be able to take the great weight of the theatre and its audience, the module is suspended from four columns that also carry the hall's central dome. Only the stage area and ground-level seating rest on the floor of the hall itself.

The theatre can seat up to 700 people on three levels, making it the largest theatre in the round in Britain. There are 400 seats at ground level in a raked configuration, above which lie two galleries, each with 150 seats set in two rows.

IRA bombing

The building was damaged on 15 June 1996 when the 1996 IRA bomb exploded less than 50 metres away in nearby Corporation Street. The blast caused the dome to move, although the main structure was undamaged.[6] The fact that the nearby St Ann's Church survived almost unscathed, is almost certainly due to the sheltering effect of the large, stone-built Exchange.

Repairs took over two years to complete and cost £32 million, a sum provided by the National Lottery. Whilst its home was being rebuilt, the company performed in its mobile theatre, which was set up in an indoor market building in nearby Castlefield.

As well as repairing the theatre the rebuilding programme added a second performance space, The Studio, a 100 seat studio theatre acting as host to a programme of visiting touring theatre companies and performances for young people. Additionally a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars, and rooms for corporate hospitality were also added. The theatre's workshops, costume department and rehearsal rooms were moved to a second site on Swan Street.

The refurbished theatre was re-opened on 30 November 1998 by Prince Edward. The opening production was Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes, the play which would be presented on the day when the bomb went off.

In 1999, the Royal Exchange was awarded the title of Theatre of the Year in the Barclays Theatre Awards, in recognition of its successful refurbishment and ambitious re-opening season

Theatre programme

The Royal Exchange gives an average of 350 performances a year of nine professional theatre productions. Performances by the theatre company are occasionally given in London or from a 400 seat mobile theatre.

The company performs a varied programme including classic theatre and revivals, contemporary drama, and original new writing. Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov have been the mainstay of its repertoire but the theatre has also staged important classics from other areas of the canon including the British premieres of La Ronde and The Prince Of Homburg and important revivals of The Lower Depths, Don Carlos and The Dybbuk. American work has also been important - Tennessee Williams, O'Neill, Miller, August Wilson - as has new writing, with the world premieres of The Dresser, Amongst Barbarians, A Wholly Healthy Glasgow and Port to its name.

In addition to its own productions the Royal Exchange also presents visiting theatre companies in The Studio; folk, jazz and rock concerts; and discussions, readings and literary events.

Notable people

Over the years the Exchange has attracted a high calibre of actor to its stage from Albert Finney, Leo McKern and Tom Courtenay in the early days through successive generations including Vanessa Redgrave, Helen Mirren and Robert Lindsay to figures such as Janet McTeer and Amanda Donohoe. It has also had a reputation for spotting young actors before they became megastars. Kate Winslet and Hugh Grant both appeared at the Royal Exchange long before they made it on film.

The Exchange has also had a knack of spotting directorial and design talent before they went onto greater things. Adrian Noble, Nicholas Hytner, Phyllida Lloyd, Ian McDiarmid, Robert Delamare, Matthew Lloyd and Marrianne Elliott all directed at the Exchange as associate or artistic directors at some stage and designers such as Mark Thomas, Rae Smith and Lez Brotherston have all done important work there.

The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition

In 2001, the Royal Exchange Theatre launched the Bruntwood Playwriting competition, with the aim of encouraging a new generation of playwrights. The competition is open to writers of all experience aged 18 and over from throughout the UK and Ireland. It uses an anonymous selection process, which allows both novices and professionals to compete alongside each other under pseudonyms.

Initially the competition started as two regional competitions. Together, these two regional competitions attracted over 400 entries. The first two competitions resulted in three festivals of new writing which showcased eight new writers. One of these eight writers, Nick Leather subsequently became writer in residence. The theatre produced his Pearson Award winning script, All the Ordinary Angels, in October 2005.

In November 2005, the Theatre and Bruntwood, a Manchester based property company, joined forces which enabled the competition to go nationwide.

In 2006, 1800 scripts were submitted for consideration. The winning entry was Ben Musgrave’s Pretend You Have Big Buildings. Musgrave received a prize of £15,000 and his play was performed on the main stage as part of the Manchester International Festival 2007. A second prize of 10,000 was awarded to Duncan Macmillan’s “Monster”, which was also performed during the Manchester International Festival in The Studio. A third prize of £5000 was awarded to Phil Porter’s The Cracks In My Skin, which was performed in The Studio in February 2008.

Other prizes awarded in 2007 were The Under 26 Prize - £5,000 - which went to Matt Hartley for his play Sixty Five Miles. Finally, The North West Prize went to Ian Kershaw with Candy Land.

2008's competition was launched in March. Judges this year included Brenda Blethyn, Michael Sheen, Roger Michell and actor/director Richard Wilson.


The Royal Exchange building and the theatre itself are reputed to be haunted. One of the ghosts is reputed to be that of the actor and founding artistic director, James Maxwell. Another is that of a maternal Victorian lady, well dressed and with "a passion for drink".

In 2006, the building was the subject of a paranormal investigation by the Most Haunted programme on Living TV.


  1. ^ Former Royal Exchange, Images of England,, retrieved 2008-12-10  
  2. ^ a b c d e Hartwell, p155.
  3. ^ Parkinson-Bailey p142.
  4. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p169.
  5. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p206
  6. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p257.


  • Hartwell, Clare. Pevsner Architectural Guides: Manchester. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-071131-7.  
  • Parkinson-Bailey, John J. Manchester: an Architectural History. Manchester: Manchester University Press. ISBN 0-7190-5606-3.  
  • Scott, RDH. The Biggest Room in the World: A Short History of the Royal Exchange. Royal Exchange Theatre Trust. ISBN 978-0859720335.  

External links

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