2012 Highlights

Christopher Hartley

16 May 2012

Chris Hartley

Chris is currently studying for a D.Phil at Oxford University on the subject of Financial Crisis in English and American Literature. Prior to this he obtained a BSc. in Economics from the London School of Economics and an MA in English Literature from Birkbeck College. He also spent several years working in financial services prior to his return to academia.

Abstract: The Carnivals of Exchange Alley and Exchange Square: The City in 1720 and 2017

In 1720, Jonathan Swift wrote in his poem The Bubble, a satire on the follies of the South Sea Bubble: 

There is a Gulph where thousands fell,

Here all the bold Advent’rers came;

A narrow Sound, though deep as Hell,

Change-Alley is the dreadful Name

Change-Alley - Exchange Alley, to give it its full name - the epicentre of the first great crash of the capitalist era, is now nothing more than a half-forgotten and rather dingy pedestrian thoroughfare linking Cornhill and Lombard Street, but it retains something of the ‘Gulph of Hell’ about it when you walk through. This paper describes the ‘carnival of speculation’ that took place on Exchange Alley during the summer of 1720, with a view to sketching-out a brief history of how the City of London, despite its rapidly rising twenty-first-century glass towers, remains both spatially and culturally a scene of carnival in economic form not dissimilar in spirit to the Renaissance carnivals described by Mikhail Bakhtin in his book Rabelais and His World. Today’s investment bankers may have moved a few streets, from Exchange Alley to Exchange Square, but the ability of their ‘magick’ to ‘cheat our eyes’, is much as Swift described almost three hundred years ago. What is it about the City that has kept this square mile the site of the ‘Feast of Fools’ for so long? And is this finally changing?