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.