I used to work at Martins Bank – a private one in the City of London. Its logo contained a grasshopper. Tradition has it that Thomas Gresham founded the bank in 1563. His family crest included the grasshopper. The Martin family was one of the early London Goldsmiths. The bank was bought by Barclays Bank in 1969.
Curiously the Grasshopper could be seen on the top of the Royal Exchange. This building was originally founded in the 16th century by Thomas Gresham, a Tudor financier. The building was destroyed in 1666 by The Great Fire of London, rebuilt in 1669, repaired in 1821 and was again destroyed by fire in 1838.
The golden Gresham Grasshopper weathervane was rescued from the 1838 fire and is 11 feet (3.4 m) long. It stands 177 feet (54 m) above street level on a clock tower. The clock by Edward John Dent has a bell chime which is also a carillon that can play the national anthem and others.
The current building opened in 1844, and adheres to the original layout – consisting of a four-sided structure surrounding a central courtyard where merchants and tradesmen could do business.
Why a grasshopper? Legend has it that Thomas’s ancestor Roger de Gresham was abandoned as an infant in the marshlands of Norfolk. The rejected orphan was finally discovered after a woman was attracted by the sound of a chirruping grasshopper.
This grasshopper also appears in Change Alley marking the spot of Garraway’s Coffee House. It also marks a former goldsmith’s place later taken on by Martins Bank.
Thomas Gresham was a very influential figure in 16th century London, founding the first Royal Exchange and then a bequest in his will to setup Gresham College in 1597 to to bring ‘new learning’ to Londoners in English and not Latin which was the current language for most of the European universities.
The college was set in Gresham’s mansion on Bishopsgate until being redeveloped on the corner of Gresham and Basinghall Streets and then finally to Barnards’s Inn Hall in 1991. Today it still holds free public lectures.