Exchange Arcade, Nottingham


The highlight of the 1929 Exchange Arcade in Nottingham is above your head, in the four frescoes which depict different stages of Nottingham’s history: there’s the arrival of the Vikings into the city in 868AD, William the Conqueror visiting Nottingham in 1068, Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, and Charles I raising his standard here from the Civil War period.

In this same section of the arcade are two domed windows throwing light down onto the shops below – I happened to stand here at exactly 11am, when the chimes of an impressive clock invisible from the arcade floor make quite a sound.

There are carvings above some of the shop fronts, depicting different aspects of Nottingham life and business, and there is a plaque in memory of the butcher’s son turned poet, Henry Kirke White, who was born in what was once the Shambles in Nottingham, on the site of the current arcade.

As for the businesses trading in this impressive building today, Gauntley’s stands at the entrance on High Street. This firm pre-dates the arcade by almost 50 years, but has been trading out of Exchange Arcade for a good few decades – they specialise in whiskies, wines, and cigars, with a small section also of men’s grooming products.

Castle Fine Art also catches the eye, with some fascinating works by Billy Connolly and Bob Dylan in its shop windows during our visit in spring 2023. Other than that, there is a mix of independent shops selling vintage clothes, running gear, furniture, kitchens, and a barbers alongside more recognizable brands like Dr Martens and Patisserie Valerie.

My favourite shop today

Gauntley’s just for its tradition, though I’d be buying the whisky or port rather than the cigars! But the Castle Fine Arts is stunning also, with the Billy Connolly story of how he got into making art, after comedy, particularly fascinating

My pick of the arcade’s past

The Exchange Arcade, Nottingham opened in 1929 as part of the big Exchange Building, and has remained a highlight of Nottingham shopping centre for almost 100 years. The building was opened by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VIII. The Nottingham Journal went so far as to claim in 1930 that “No city in the English provinces is able to boast so magnificent a shopping centre as that possessed by Nottingham.”

A local draper, G. W. Stapleton, was the very first tenant before the arcade was even officially opened, but he was quickly followed by shops selling “boots, shoes, millinery, optical goods, frocks and costumes,” with Burton’s food emporium taking up half the stores in the initial arcade. Stapletons was still going in 1987, after a major refurbishment of the arcade (anyone know when they finally closed down?), while Burton’s also kept going until the 1980s refit.

The arcade was also known as the Council House Arcade for a time, and in the early post-war years, there was a dramatic arrest of two men in army uniforms, after they had broken into one of the arcade’s long-standing shops, Duval, the ladies’ clothes shop. One soldier tried to run off with a blue frock, but was chased by the arcade caretaker after he slipped out of his great coat. The frock ended up being left on the arcade gates; the soldier went to trial…

In another incident involving serving military personnel, an Australian paratrooper was arrested in 1947 for sleeping in the entrance to one of the arcade shops one night. He was some way from his base in Swindon, but he told the court he had been drinking and ‘wanted a kip’ – his case was dismissed. He’d be 98 if still around today. I wonder if John Shepley is still alive to tell the tale…

This arcade in films or books

Some scenes from the later series of the TV drama Boon (1980s and 90s) were filmed in the Exchange Arcade.

What’s your favourite shop in the arcade today?

What memories do you have of visits in years gone by?

Have you got any good stories to add on the past of this arcade?

Have you seen Exchange Arcade Nottingham in any other film or book?

Is there a website for this arcade?

The Exchange Arcade in Nottingham does have its own website. Click the link to view.

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