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What is Gresham College?

For over 400 years Gresham Professors have given free public lectures in the City of London. The College is named after Sir Thomas Gresham, son of Sir Richard Gresham who was Lord Mayor in 1537/38 and who conceived the idea of building an Exchange modelled on the Antwerp Bourse. This was brought to fruition by Sir Thomas, on land provided by the Corporation of London, and was given the royal appellation by Queen Elizabeth I.

Sir Thomas was appointed Royal Agent in Antwerp by Edward VI, a position which he held throughout Mary’s reign and the first nine years of Elizabeth’s. His fine mansion in Bishopsgate was the first home of Gresham College. It was there that the Professors gave their lectures until 1768, their salaries being met from rental income from the shops around the Royal Exchange which Sir Thomas had bequeathed jointly to the City Corporation and the Mercers’ Company. This period saw the formation and early development at Gresham College of The Royal Society, and the tenure of chairs by a number of distinguished Professors, including Sir Christopher Wren.

The new Gresham College

In later years lectures were given in various places in the City until the construction of a new Gresham College, opened in 1842, in Gresham Street. The College has been based at Barnard’s Inn Hall since 1991. Barnard’s Inn was an Inn of Chancery associated with Gray’s Inn, and was described by Dickens in Great Expectations. In 1892 it was purchased by the Mercers’ Company to house the Mercers’ School, which remained there until it closed in 1959. In 1985 the Chair of Commerce, funded by the Mercers’ School Memorial Trust, was added to the seven ancient Professorships of Astronomy, Divinity, Geometry, Law, Music, Physic and Rhetoric. Professors generally have a three-year tenure.

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