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Royal Exchange, Manchester

Royal Exchange, Manchester
Exterior of the Royal Exchange
General information
Architectural style Classical style. Baroque turret at north-west corner.
Town or city Manchester
Country England
Construction started 1914
Completed 1921
Design and construction
Architect Bradshaw, Gass and Hope

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

The Royal Exchange was heavily damaged in the Manchester Blitz and in the 1996 Manchester bombing. The current building is the last of several buildings on the site used for commodities exchange, primarily but not exclusively of cotton and textiles.


  • History 1
  • Architecture 2
    • Theatre 2.1
  • Theatre programme 3
  • Notable people 4
    • Directors 4.1
    • Actors 4.2
  • Key productions 5
  • The Bruntwood Prize 6
  • Ghosts 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10


The cotton industry in Lancashire was served by the Manchester Royal Exchange which traded in spun yarn and finished goods throughout the world including Africa while the Liverpool Cotton Exchange traded in imported raw cotton. In the 18th century the trade was part of part the slave trade in which African slaves were transported to America where the cotton was grown and then exported to Liverpool where the raw cotton was sold.[2] The first exchange opened in 1729 but closed by the end of the century. As the cotton industry boomed, the need for a new exchange was recognised.

The Manchester Exchange in 1835

  • 1874 – Royal Exchange, Manchester, Lancashire
  • Royal Exchange Manchester
  • What's On At The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
  • The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition 2008
  • The Bruntwood Playwriting Competition 2008 Blog

External links

  • Ashmore, Owen (1969). Industrial Archaeology of Lancashire. David & Charles.  
  • Hartwell, Clare (2001). Pevsner Architectural Guides: Manchester. London: Penguin Books.  
  • Parkinson-Bailey, John J (2000). Manchester: an Architectural History. Manchester:  
  • Scott, RDH (1976). The Biggest Room in the World: A Short History of the Royal Exchange. Royal Exchange Theatre Trust.  
  • The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976–1998. The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Limited. 1998.  


  1. ^ a b c  
  2. ^ a b c Why was cotton so important in north west England?, Revealing Histories, retrieved 26 May 2012 
  3. ^ Lewis, Samuel (1848), "Manchester", A Topographical Dictionary of England (British History Online): 580–583, retrieved 22 October 2014 
  4. ^ a b c d e Hartwell, p155.
  5. ^ Parkinson-Bailey p142.
  6. ^ Ashmore, p24.
  7. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p169.
  8. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p206
  9. ^ Programme for Happy Birthday, Sir Larry, 31 May 1987
  10. ^ Parkinson-Bailey, p257.
  11. ^ "Royal Exchange Manchester - Theatre History". Royal Exchange, Manchester. Retrieved 2012-10-27. 
  12. ^ "Review of Hindle Wakes/So Special". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  13. ^ "Rejected Gray Wins TMA's Best New Play - - News -". Retrieved 20 May 2012. 
  14. ^ Geddes, Diana (17 September 1976). "Is Manchester's new theatre a white elephant or a rose?". The Times Newspaper. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  15. ^ "Building Specifications - The Theatre". Royal Exchange Theatre. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  16. ^ "Building Specifications - The Studio". Royal Exchange Theatre. Retrieved 2012-10-31. 
  17. ^ The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976–1998, p 62
  18. ^ a b c The Royal Exchange Theatre Company Words & Pictures 1976–1998
  19. ^ a b Braham Murray
  20. ^
  21. ^ The Royal Exchange
  22. ^ a b MEN Awards, [2]], City Life,10 February 2011
  23. ^ a b Theatre Awards


The Royal Exchange building is reputed to be haunted. One ghost is reputed to be that of the actor and founding artistic director, James Maxwell. Another is 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.


In 2006, 1,800 scripts were submitted for consideration. The winning entry was Ben Musgrave's Pretend You Have Big Buildings for which he received a prize of £15,000 and his play was performed as part of the Manchester International Festival 2007. In 2008 the Exchange and Bruntwood ran a second competition. Judges included Brenda Blethyn, Michael Sheen, Roger Michell and actor/director Richard Wilson. The £40,000 prize fund was split equally between Vivienne Franzmann for Mogadishu (main house and Lyric Hammersmith 2011), Fiona Peek for Salt (The Studio 2010), Andrew Sheridan for Winterlong (The Studio, 2011) and Naylah Ahmed for Butcher Boys.

In 2005, the Royal Exchange Theatre launched the Bruntwood Playwriting Competition to encourage a new generation of playwrights from the UK and Ireland. The competition had its roots in two regional competitions called WRITE which attracted over 400 entries. The first two competitions resulted in three festivals of new writing which showcased eight new writers one of which, Nick Leather, became writer in residence. The theatre produced his script, All the Ordinary Angels, in October 2005.

The Bruntwood Prize

The company has produced a very wide range of plays from 31 Shakespeare revivals to over 100 premieres; from neglected European classics to adaptations of famous novels. The many critically acclaimed and award winning productions include:[18][20][21]

Key productions

The company has always had a reputation for spotting young actors before they became famous. Kate Winslet, Hugh Grant, David Tennant, Michael Sheen and most recently Andrew Garfield all appeared at the Royal Exchange long before starring in film and television.

Other notable actors have appeared at the theatre and these include Brian Cox, Albert Finney, Alex Jennings, Ben Kingsley, Leo McKern, Helen Mirren, David Morrissey, Vanessa Redgrave, Imogen Stubbs, John Thaw, Harriet Walter, Julie Walters and Sam West.

Throughout its history the theatre has attracted great actors and a number of them have taken on many roles over the years. Actors who have been particularly associated with the Exchange and have appeared in several different productions include : -[18][19] Lorraine Ashbourne, Brenda Blethyn, Tom Courtenay, Amanda Donohoe, Gabrielle Drake, Lindsay Duncan, Ray Fearon, Michael Feast, Robert Glenister, Derek Griffiths, Dilys Hamlett, Claire Higgins, Andrew Sheridon, Paterson Joseph, Cush Jumbo, Ben Keaton, Robert Lindsay, Ian McDiarmid, Tim McInnerny, Janet McTeer, Patrick O'Kane, Trevor Peacock, Maxine Peake, Pete Postlethwaite, Linus Roache, David Schofield, Andy Serkis, Michael Sheen, David Threlfall and Julie Hesmondhalgh.


The company is renowned for its innovative designers, composers and choreographers which include Lez Brotherston, Johanna Bryant, Chris Monks, Alan Price, Jeremy Sams, Rae Smith and Mark Thomas.

Many other directors have worked at the Royal Exchange amongst them Lucy Bailey, Michael Buffong, Robert Delamere, Jacob Murray, Adrian Noble, Steven Pimlott and Richard Wilson.

Nicholas Hytner (1985–1989), Ian McDiarmid (1986–1988) and Phyllida Lloyd (1990–1991).

Associate Artistic Directors include:-

In 2014 Sarah Frankcom became the sole artistic director.

The company has been run by a group of artistic directors since its inception. According to Braham Murray: -"Although the names have changed we have remained a team of like-minded individuals sharing a common vision of the purpose and potency of theatre."[17] These individuals include[18][19]


Notable people

The Royal Exchange also presents visiting theatre companies in the Studio; folk, jazz and rock concerts; and discussions, readings and literary events. It engages children of all ages in drama activities and groups and has performances including these children and teens. Performances include The Freedom Bird and The Boy Who Ran from the Sea.

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 new writing. Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov have been the mainstay of its repertoire but the theatre has staged classics from other areas of the canon including the British premieres of La Ronde and The Prince Of Homburg and 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.

Theatre programme

The Studio is a 90-seat studio theatre with no fixed stage area and moveable seats, allowing for a variety of production styles (in the round, thrust etc.) It acts as host to a programme of visiting touring theatre companies, stand-up comedians and performances for young people.[16]

The theatre can seat an audience of up to 700 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 are two galleries, each with 150 seats set in two rows.[15]

The theatre features a seven-sided steel and glass module that squats within the building's Great Hall. It is a pure theatre in the round in which the stage area is surrounded on all sides, and above, by seating.[4] Its unique design conceived by Richard Negri of the Wimbledon School of Art is intended to create a vivid and immediate relationship between actors and audiences. As the floor of the exchange was unable to take the weight of the theatre and its audience, the module is suspended from the four columns carrying the hall's central dome. Only the stage area and ground-level seating rest on the floor. The 150-ton theatre structure opened in 1976 at a cost of £1 million amid some scepticism from Mancunians.[14]

The exterior of the circular theatre pod in the Great Central Hall


The exchange has four storeys and two attic storeys built on a rectangular plan in Portland stone. It was designed in the Classical style. Its slate roof has three glazed domes and on the ground floor an arcade orientated east to west. It has a central atrium at first-floor level. The ground floor facade has channelled rusticated piers and the first, second and third floors have Corinthian columns with entablature and a modillioned cornice. The first attic storey has a balustraded parapet while the second attic storey has a mansard roof. At the north-west corner is a Baroque turret and there are domes over other corners. The west side has a massive round-headed entrance arch with wide steps up and the first and second floor windows have round-headed arches. The third floor and first attic storey have mullioned windows.[1]

View towards the arches and theatre in the Great Central Hall


In 1999, the Royal Exchange was awarded 'Theatre of the Year' in the Barclays Theatre Awards, in recognition of its refurbishment and ambitious re-opening season.[13]

The building was damaged on 15 June 1996 when an IRA bomb exploded in Corporation Street less than 50 yards away. The blast caused the dome to move, although the main structure was undamaged.[10] That the adjacent St Ann's Church survived almost unscathed is probably due to the sheltering effect of the stone-built exchange. Repairs took over two years and cost £32 million, a sum provided by the National Lottery.[11] Whilst the exchange was rebuilt, the theatre company performed in Castlefield. The theatre was repaired and provided with a second performance space, the Studio, a bookshop, craft shop, restaurant, bars and rooms for corporate hospitality. The theatre's workshops, costume department and rehearsal rooms were moved to Swan Street. The refurbished theatre re-opened on 30 November 1998 by Prince Edward. The opening production, Stanley Houghton's Hindle Wakes was the play that should have opened the day the bomb was exploded.[12]

The Royal Exchange Arcade is a public route which passes under the building and contains retail units.

The building remained empty until 1973 when it was used to house a theatre company. The Royal Exchange Theatre was founded in 1976 by artistic directorsMichael Elliott, Caspar Wrede, Richard Negri, James Maxwell and Braham Murray. It was opened by Laurence Olivier on 15 September 1976.[9] In 1979, the artistic directorship was augmented by the appointment of Gregory Hersov.

The exchange was seriously damaged during World War II when it took a direct hit from a bomb during a German air raid in the Manchester Blitz at Christmas in 1940. Its interior was rebuilt with a smaller trading area.[4][7] The top stages of the clock tower, which had been destroyed, were replaced in a simpler form. Trading ceased in 1968, and the building was threatened with demolition.[4][8]

The second exchange was replaced by a third designed by Mills & Murgatroyd, constructed between 1867 and 1874.[4] It was extended and modified by Bradshaw Gass & Hope between 1914 and 1931 to form the largest trading hall in England.[4][5] The trading hall had three domes and was double the size of the current hall.[1] The colonnade parallel to Cross Street marked the its centre. On trading days merchants and brokers struck deals which supported the jobs of tens of thousands of textile workers in Manchester and the surrounding towns.[2] Manchester's cotton dealers and manufacturers trading from the Royal Exchange earned the city the name, Cottonopolis.[6]

As the cotton trade continued to expand, larger premises were required and its extension was completed in 1849. [3]

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