901-1/11/578 CORN STREET
Also Known As: THE EXCHANGE, EXCHANGE AVENUE, CENTRE
THE EXCHANGE, ALL SAINTS LANE, CENTRE
The Exchange stands at the centre of the south-east side of Corn Street, the focus of a collection of commercial buildings, of which sixteen others are listed. It now contains a market and offices. Built in 1741-3 by John Wood the Elder; among the craftsmen were Thomas Paty, 'Ornament Carver', and John Griffin, 'Ornament Plaisterer'. The courtyard raised and roofed 1872 by E. M. Barry; current roof 1949. Limestone ashlar, lateral stacks, hipped slate and leaded roof, with C20 glazed roof to the market. Single-depth rooms to four sides of a courtyard in a manner typical of Continental exchanges from the medieval period. Palladian style.
EXTERIOR: The principal elevation is symmetrical with a pedimented 3-window centre set forward, a rusticated ground floor to a plat band, pedestal course to 3/4 Corinthian columns to the centre and pilasters to the sides, to an enriched entablature and modillion cornice, with balustrade and dies and a parapet with good foliate urns to the centre and sides of the door with studs and cast-iron lion-head knockers. Ground-floor windows have incised voussoirs, first-floor windows have Corinthian pilaster jambs with entablature and pediments, alternate triangular and segmental, with a central Venetian window, square second-floor windows with eared architraves and central clock face of 1822; 6/6-pane and second-floor 3/3-pane sashes with thick bars. Below the frieze is a band of well-detailed swag and festoon to human and animal heads symbolizing trade, and a royal coat of arms in the tympanum. The returns have 15-window ranges, the ten windows to the rear enclosing the 2-storey courtyard, with Gibbs surrounds to the ground-floor openings. 3-storey front ends have outer window sections set back, central first-floor pedimented windows, cornices to the rest, with a good doorway to the front with oak leaf surround, long consoles to a cornice, to double 6-panel doors and plate-glass overlights; the rear courtyard has similar windows with first-floor pediments to rear and fourth from the front; six doorways, with a semicircular arch in the rusticated section to the back. The rear elevation is symmetrical with a pedimented 3-window centre and both ends set forward with leaded cyma domes, semicircular ground-floor arches, with niches flanking the central entrance, first-floor windows with aprons and alternate triangular and segmental pediments, and plate-glass sashes. Two basement windows have 6/9-pane sashes beneath grilles. The sides of the formerly open courtyard have aisles each side with 5 x 5 bays on Corinthian columns to an entablature, with mid-C19 caryatids above the semicircular arches with paterae in the soffits, head keys and the entablature above broken forward; central pediments to the front and back have city arms. Pilasters to the sides of the courtyard to a frieze with festoons and heads, niches between, and doorways to the middle of each side with Corinthian pilasters to semicircular-arched doorways with tympana with plasterwork heads representing Asia, Africa and America. A glazed roof of 1949 added at the height of the entablature. Ashlar stacks to the sides and ridges, the latter with pediment mouldings and cartouches to the inner sides. Good cast-lead rainwater hoppers with cartouches.
INTERIOR: Entrance lobby with 3 x 3 bays, Corinthian columns and pilasters to coffered beams with paterae, side and end Venetian doorways on Corinthian pilasters, the one to the end with double half-glazed doors and coffered arch with head key; the side doorways have architraves set within them with bead and reel architraves, steps up to double 6-panel doors, and wrought-iron railings. To the right is an open-well stair with uncut string, column-on-vase baluster and column newels, moulded ramped rails; a matching stair to the left, and open-well stairs to the rear each side. The former tavern to the front right has wainscotting, panelled shutters and doors, cornices, and fire surrounds with fluted jambs, coved corbels and mantels. Segmental-arched basement vaults.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: Attached wall lanterns with wrought-iron brackets and flared gas lamps, two to the right and one to the left return. The cast-iron basement area railings to the front are listed separately, as are two gas lamps which stand before the building, one to the north east corner, one to the north west corner. Also listed are the four 'nails' placed in front of the Exchange - C16 and C17 brass turned flat-top stands, said to have been used for the exchange of money.
HISTORY: The Exchange, Corn Street, was built to provide a space for Bristol's merchants to transact their business; previously they had used the open arcaded Tolzey outside the nearby church of All Saints, from where the historic nails, said to be the original subjects of the expression 'to pay on the nail', were moved. The Corporation started planning a replacement in 1717, but it was not until 1741 that John Wood was given the commission. Wood originally proposed a covered hall rather than an open court, but 'the Citizens in General, then startled with the Novelty of a covered Place to meet in upon Mercantile Affairs', insisted on the model employed for exchanges in Antwerp and London since the sixteenth century. The building incorporated a tavern and coffee house to make business run more smoothly; another coffee house was built adjacent to the Exchange in 1782 (also listed).
During the first half of the eighteenth century Bristol enjoyed great prosperity, and the Exchange served both to facilitate business and to demonstrate its success. Much of Bristol's trade depended on slavery, its merchants being involved in every part of the 'triangular trade'. Metal-wares which were used to purchase slaves were made in Bristol; Bristol ships transported slaves from the African coast to work on plantations in the West-Indies, then carried back sugar to be refined in Bristol factories. Tobacco, also produced by slave labour, was an essential part of Bristol's economy. Between 1630 and 1807 about 2.5 million Africans were bought and sold by Bristol merchants.
The decoration of the Exchange, both on the facade and in the courtyard, proudly proclaims the international nature of Bristol's trading interests which, directly or indirectly, were associated with the slave trade. The rich carving below the frieze at the front of the building was described by Wood as representing 'Great Britain and the four Quarters of the World, with the chief Products and Manufactures of every Country'. Exotic animals include a camel and an elephant. The carved heads include an African woman and an Indian man (Bristol merchants were involved in the East India trade, buying Indian textiles which would then procure slaves), and an American Indian woman (Bristol slavers delivered thousands of slaves to America). In the Exchange proper, intended to accommodate six hundred merchants, plasterwork heads representing Africa, India, and America, look down from above three doors.
SOURCES: John Wood (1743) 'A Description of the Exchange of Bristol'; W. Ison, The Georgian Buildings of Bristol (1952); A. Gomme, M. Jenner and B. Little, Bristol, An Architectural History (1979); Tim Mowl (1988) 'John Wood. Architect of Obsession'; Dictionary of National Biography; Andrew Foyle, Bristol (2004); N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: North Somerset and Bristol, 1958
REASONS FOR DESIGNATION
The Exchange, Bristol, is designated at Grade I for the following principal reasons:
* Widely regarded as Wood's outstanding public building, and as being amongst the finest civic structures of the eighteenth century
* An early and imaginative example of the palace facade based on Palladian principles
* Group value with the historic 'nails', and gas lamps, in front of building; the adjacent paired post office and coffee shop, planned a year later than the Exchange; and a number of other listed commercial buildings
* Exceptionally rich external carving, of unusual and significant subject-matter
* Strong connection with the slave-dependent mercantile community of eighteenth-century Bristol adds to historical interest of building. This amendment is written in 2007, the bicentenary year of the 1807 Abolition Act.
Listing NGR: ST5885972992