Case study: The Royal Exchange, London Grasshopper Weather Vane

Complete restoration of the gilded copper weather vane set on top of The Royal Exchange. Founded in 1565 by Sir Thomas Gresham, the weathervane at the top, a large gilded copper grasshopper, represented his family symbol.

When a storm caused extensive damage to the copper grasshopper weathervane, including knocking off one of its legs, it was decided to take it down for the complete copper restoration.

The weather vane was removed over one weekend using a giant mobile crane.

It was cleaned of old paint layers back to base metal, and the damaged legs were repaired by soldering, then strengthened using copper tubing.

The copper grasshopper was then painted before being gilded using double thickness 23.5 carat gold leaf applied onto an oil size.

The restored gilded copper grasshopper was then craned back onto the top of the Royal Exchange tower.


The Royal Exchange and Weathervane History


Officially opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1571, The Royal Exchange was built by Sir Thomas Gresham to provide a trading place for merchants. During the 1600’s however, stockbrokers were forbidden from entering the Royal Exchange due to their bad-mannered ways forced to operate from other buildings nearby.

The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London leading to the second exchange, designed by Edward Jarman, being built opening in 1669. Sadly, this was also obliterated in a fire in 1838.

The third and existing Royal Exchange was designed by William Tite, sensitively mimicking the architecture of Gresham’s original, whilst incorporating new classic design modelled on The Pantheon in Rome. Trading ceased at The Royal Exchange with the outbreak of WWII and didn't restart at war end.

The gilded copper grasshopper that sits proudly on top of The Royal Exchange incredibly survived both the Great Fire and second fire, outliving its buildings. Legend links Gresham to the grasshopper, suggesting it is based on a family crest. Additionally, the grasshopper has been symbolic of the merchant for many years and also an ancient symbol of good luck.

The first documented weathervane dates back to 48BC, a cast bronze image of Triton that flew on top of a tower still standing near the Acropolis in Athens. On British record, the earliest example was erected on top of Winchester Cathedral in the 10th century.

This was primarily due to a papal decree in the 9th century stipulating a cock should be mounted to every Church in Christendom in recollection of Peter’s treachery of Christ. The oldest existing weathervane dates from approximately 1340 and sits on top of the Ottery Saint Mary church in Devon.

Over the following years, differing designs cropped up and weathervanes became popular amongst the nobility of Medieval Britain despite a royal license being a prerequisite in the 1200’s. Weather vanes were almost always constructed from copper until the 18thcentury, when wrought iron took over. In a quest for manufacturing efficiency, these two became obsolete leading to cast iron vanes in the 19thcentury rarely made by hand.




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