Nottingham Street Tales: Exchange Walk

by Joe Earp

Today Exchange Walk is a busy shopping thoroughfare which daily sees thousands of shoppers walk up and down its route. With its many leading retail shops and outlets it is very surprising to know that the thoroughfare originally was little more than a yard.

Exchange Walk was originally created in 1868. It was originally a yard which went by the name of Gears’ Yard. It was named after a Mr William Gears who occupied it and who was a fishmonger in Nottingham Market Place. It’s name then changed to Farmer’s Yard after Mr James Farmer who established the drapery business upon its western side.

James Farmer with the help of the proprietors of Smith’s Bank set about planning the thoroughfare. Smith’s Bank was located on the Market Square and the original building is still in use as a bank. The bank was originally established in the 1650s by Nottingham man Thomas Smith (1631-99). Thomas Smith was originally a cloth mercer or merchant. By 1658 Smith had acquired business premises in Peck Lane, Nottingham. He is believed to have been England’s first banker outside London.

Farmer and the proprietors of Smith’s Bank quickly saw the potential of the planned thoroughfare, linking St. Peter’s Square to the Market Place. At their joint expense they made Exchange Walk, which was at that time private property.

The name Exchange Walk comes from The Exchange Building which was built between 1724 and 1726 replacing a shambles of buildings on the same site. It cost £2,400 at the time and comprised a four-storey, eleven bay frontage 123 feet (37 m) long. The architect was Marmaduke Pennell. The Exchange Building was demolished in the late 1920’s and was replaced by the Nottingham Council House. There is a shopping mall which is also called The Exchange which forms part of the present Council House building. The Exchange was Nottingham’s first ‘modern’ shopping centre. It was opened on 22nd May 1929 by the Prince of Wales, who later became Edward VIII.

Farmer and the authorities of Smith’s Bank planned to make Exchange Walk into a major shopping thoroughfare which would have rivalled some of the city’s other major shopping streets. However the plans for Exchange Walk were rejected by the town. The planners of Exchange Walk were reported to have been greatly shocked at the rejection. It was their aim to create a main thoroughfare which would have been suitable for vehicles.

However perhaps it is a positive thing that Exchange Walk did not develop into a much bigger shopping lane. The thoroughfare carries a large amount of pedestrian traffic today and thus relieves the traffic along Wheeler Gate. Perhaps more importantly it saves hours of valuable time in acting as a short cut to the Square rather than being diverted up Wheeler Gate and Bridlesmith Gate.


A view looking towards Exchange Walk standing from St Peter’s Square, Nottingham, circa 1950s- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.


Exchange Walk, Nottingham, c 1950- Photo Credit: The Paul Nix Collection.



About nottinghamhiddenhistoryteam

Originally formed in 1965 to try to save or at least record before destruction the cave sites continually discovered during the major redevelopment of the City that took place in Nottingham in the 1960′s. Almost every day new sites were unearthed and destroyed before anyone was notified; last thing they wanted was someone telling them to stop what they were doing; TIME is MONEY. The word HIDDEN in the Team’s title is because a lot of what was being invisibly lost in the redevelopment was our early history in the caves, they are under most, if now all, of Nottingham. In the 80’s and 90’s the Team conducted with the help of Dr Robert Morrell and Syd Henley, research and work on Nottingham’s history, folklore and local archaeology. The Team published quarterly magazines on their findings. The Team lapsed for a few years after the death of Paul Nix who was the team leader for thirty plus years. The Team has reformed and is now back working on Nottingham local history. On this blog you will find a series of history, folklore and archaeological related articles and information. Most of the material published will be specifically related to Nottingham/shire local history.
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