2019 marks a significant anniversary for The Exchange, as it has been at the very centre of retailing in Nottingham for an unbroken 90 years.
Housed adjacent to the city’s historic Council House, The Exchange is a nationally celebrated Grade II* listed building, and offers a stylish and atmospheric shopping experience redolent of a bygone era.
The Exchange Buildings were constructed between 1927 and 1929 as part of a major civic building project which included the Council House, and replaced the former Nottingham Exchange which was the main office of the Nottingham Corporation. It was the city’s first true shopping centre and was opened on 22nd May 1929 by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII.
Originally, the arcade was occupied by Joseph Burton Esq, who operated an upmarket food emporium which was considered the Fortnum & Mason of Nottingham. Celebrated locally for its memorable window displays, in 1937 Burtons won the £5,000 first prize in a Daily Mail-sponsored national shop window-dressing competition for George V1’s Coronation. Many Nottingham residents also recall the display, designed by William Birch, for The Queen’s 1953 Coronation, where life-size figures of Life Guard troopers flanked every shop window – one of which was devoted to a display of copies of the Coronation regalia.
The centre enjoyed an unbroken record of retailing in the city over the next 50 years, but by the early 1980s was in need of updating. A major refurbishment was subsequently undertaken to provide 17 retail units in high quality, atmospheric surroundings, which was completed in 1985.
The Exchange Buildings also house a magnificent 200ft high dome, beneath which there are four fresco murals depicting the history of Nottingham. Each mural was the work of renowned Nottinghamshire artist, Noel Denholm Davis, who used local celebrities as models. The building’s architect Thomas Cecil Howitt himself appears in the guise of William the Conqueror’s surveyor, and legendary Notts County goalkeeper, Albert Iremonger is depicted as Little John. The inscription around the base of the dome reads:
‘The Corporation of Nottingham erected this building for counsel and welcome, and to show merchandise and crafts’.
This cathedral-like space is The Exchange’s principal feature and one of the most photographed sights in the city. In 2014, the centre undertook a major £150,000 refurbishment of the arcade’s stone floor, with 25 tonnes of newly cut York Stone replacing the original 85-year-old slabs. Blending perfectly with the Portland Stone from which the main building is constructed, the new floor returned the arcade to the look which greeted its first customers 85 years before.
Today, The Exchange houses 17 stores, incorporating some of the UK’s best-known high street brands including Radley, Karen Millen, Dr Martens, Oasis and Jack Wolfskin as well as a selection of independent retailers in fashion, eyewear and fine wine. The centre also caters for the home and interiors customer, through award-winning brands Harvey Jones Kitchens, Sofa.com and Castle Fine Art. Food is still very much a part of the centre, with Patisserie Valerie and Pret a Manger providing a tangible connection to Joseph Burton’s original store.
The Exchange is unquestionably Nottingham’s most exclusive speciality shopping venue, and continues to uphold the unbroken history of retailing in the city for which it is justifiably renowned.