Welcome to the Exchange

St Nicholas’ Market is an area synonymous with Bristol, having grown with and around the twisted movements of this river city. Having plodded along from its Anglo Saxon founding thud, St Nick’s writhed up through the turmoil of the middle ages to acquire a more stately and gentrified gait as the port and city sucked in the riches of other nations before lindy hopping and head banging through the Cultural Revolution as St Nicks became a popular music venue. (The Rolling Stones played there don’t ya know).

Bristol Independents

Nowadays you are more likely to be scuffling through the stalls, distracted by trinkets, absorbed by arts and photographs, shoveling your face with some worldly feast – or tripping into a mild hallucinogenic nightmare after taking on more that you bargained for from a certain chili sauce purveyor.

St Nick’s is proud to be home to independent traders and to Bristol’s own currency.

It holds a place in everyone’s heart but next time you are passing the time there here are 12 things to look out for…..

1) The Exchange Building – the only eighteenth century exchange building left in the country.

Rather self explanatory it was rebuilt to be the eptiome of Bristol’s mercantile activity; an architectural centre piece for the occupation that dominated Bristol in the early modern period.

A place of prestige and pride it was built in 1741 – 43 by the chap responsible for fashioning much of Bath’s distinctive Palladian style, John Wood the Elder. While the carvings were completed by Thomas Paty, part of the family who attempted Bristol and Clifton’s version of palladianism. The Paty’s were often slightly ‘technically’ incorrect in their architecture, giving a slightly off kilter charm that fits in so well in this city.

Corn Street Exchange Clock - Bristol Time 1

2) One of Bristol’s iconic quirks the Exchange Clock. In the centre of the tympanum above the main doorway this clock tells the time according to GMT but also has a second minute hand lagging 11 minutes behind which denotes Bristol Time. (Want to know more? Click here)

cafe revival full

cafe revival window

3) Revival Coffee House. Just as it claims Revival is the oldest coffee house in Bristol. Flicking back 300 years coffee houses were rather a different institution. The place where the city’s traders would meet in the mornings to get their fix of the city’s gossip and cut their business deals. So maybe not such a different place……


4) So after business had been discussed, hyped up a caffeine injections trading deals would be struck on the Nails outside the front of the Exchange. This supposedly forms the root of the phrase ‘paying on the nails’, although the nails are not just peculiar to Bristol.

Nails John BarkerNails Robert Kitchen

Amidst the clutter of stalls, chairs and coffee stalls there are four nails outside the front of the Exchange. But  although very similar, each nail is unique, being different, designs, ages and adorned with different inscriptions. The oldest is undated but believed to be late Elizabethan, while we know that the other three were all bequeathed by individual merchants, who had made their fortunes through changing silver by the Exchange. (The second oldest (above right) was bequeathed to the city by Robert Kitchen, a prominent Bristolian merchant who dies in 1594, while the subsequent two are dated 1625 and 1631 respectively).

However, rather than being planted in front of the Exchange where they now reside they were originally nestled under a covered walkway along the South Wall of All Saints Church known as the Merchants Tolzey (just round from here in All Saints Court).

all saints court

 Moving on and taking a walk on the opposite side of the Exchange down Exchange Avenue……

exchange street corner Exchange Street

5) So taking a stroll down Exchange Avenue and you see this….


……or don’t see it. This is one of the drainpipes set into the walls to evade the carriage wheels of unsteady drivers attempting to wheedle their way through the cramped street.


St Nicks Parish Marker

6) Looking up and right there is then also this little fellow, one of the old city’s parish markers.  In this case marking the Parish of St Nicholas. If you are wondering around any of Old City and King Street keep your eyes peeled, there are a fair few of them dotted around, like this one marking St Leonard’s on Corn Street ….. just remember to look where you are going occasionally.

St Leonards Parish Marker

7) Ducking back into the covered market and well, it’s covered. But this glass ceiling was a later addition in 1872 by Edward Middleton Barry as when John Wood the Elder presented his plan to the traders of Bristol they insisted that they would rather do their dealings outside.

Glass Roof St Nicks food court

Before the ceiling……

the courtyard 1822 unknown engraver

The Courtyard 1822, Unknown Engraver

8) So while we are staring up ever noticed the colourful carvings before along the architrave?  And above the doors are carvings showing Bristol’s links with the four corners of the globe, with persons representing Africa and Asia and America in the niches above the doorways.

carvings Africa carvings America Carvings Asia

9) Tootle down through the market to the outside wall and you are greeted by another brightly painted face, this time an ornate cast iron drinking fountain, produced to celebrate Queen Victoria’s 40th birthday. We take water for granted now, but with access to clean drinking water hard to come by in a dirty, industrial Victorian city this was seen as a gift to Bristol.

Victorian Fountain

10) A few skips to the left and more carvings align the entrance to Shine hairdressers and in particular is a rather unusual and mysterious veiled Lady.

veiled lady

Who is she I do not know, but a darn clever bit of sculpting to make stone look like a sheer veil.

11) Looking then to the eponymous church, St Nicholas, along its Baldwin street façade it is covered with a spattering of pock marks. These are in fact shrapnel dents from the bombing in World War 2. (Read more here).

st nicks big shrapnel_edited-1

12) Finally, striking at 12 (geddit?) is the clock on St Nicholas’ tower, the only church clock in the country to have a second hand. (Click here for more info).

St Nick's Clock Close - Bristol Time (3)


Door Knocker St Nicks Flowers

That’s it for now, I’ll see you in the Rummer for a cocktail!



One thought on “A bit of time at St Nicks……

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