Oxted & District History Society - Talk
Oxted & District History Society

John Tolley’s account of Thomas Gresham was followed by a visit to Osterley Park as part of this year’s summer outing (page 11).

Spy, smuggler, arms dealer and merchant banker, Thomas Gresham was born in 1519, part of a family of minor gentry from Holt in Norfolk. The family benefited from the dissolution of the monasteries by buying vast tracts of land cheaply, including the whole of Oxted and Limpsfield.

Thomas served an eight year apprenticeship and by 1543 was an established merchant. He married into another merchant family and lived much of his time in Antwerp, then the trading capital of Europe. He joined Edward VI’s Council, promising to clear the debts run up by Henry VIII. He varied the exchange rate, reducing the sterling value of debt repayments, organised a forced loan from the cloth traders and speculated in lead. Thomas continued in a similar role under Queen Mary.

On Mary’s death in 1558, Thomas transferred his allegiance to Queen Elizabeth and Cecil. He promoted a new sound coinage, no overseas debt and the support of English trade. In 1564, he persuaded the City of London to set up a bourse, similar to that in Antwerp. Opened by the Queen in 1571, it was named the Royal Exchange. Thomas died, aged 60, in 1579.