The Royal Exchange is a grade II listed Victorian building bounded by St Ann’s Square, Market Street and Cross Street. The complex includes the Royal Exchange Theatre, and the Royal Exchange shopping centre.
The current building is the last of several buildings on the site used for commodities exchange, primarily but not exclusively of cotton and textiles.
The first exchange was built near to the present site in 1792. The first exchange was replaced by a second, larger, exchange that was constructed between 1806 and 1809. The second exchange was enlarged between 1847 and 1849. The second exchange was in turn replaced, by a third exchange by 'Mills & Murgatroyd', constructed between 1867 and 1874. The building was then extended and modified by 'Bradshaw Gass & Hope' between 1914 and 1931 to form the largest trading room in England. Thus was the importance of Manchester at this time.
The theatre's unique design was conceived by Richard Negri of Wimbledon School of Art, and was intended to create an unusually vivid and immediate relationship between actors and audiences. As the floor of the Exchange would not be able to take the great weight of the theatre and its audience, the module is suspended from four columns that also carry the hall's central dome. Only the stage area and ground-level seating rest on the floor of the hall itself.
The theatre can seat up to 700 people 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 lie two galleries, each with 150 seats set in two rows. Every seat has a clear view of the stage.
Repairs after the IRA bombing adjacent in Corporation Street took over two years to complete and cost £32 million, a sum provided by the National Lottery.
The Royal Exchange building and the theatre itself are reputed to be haunted. One of the ghosts is reputed to be that of the actor and founding artistic director, James Maxwell.