Lost Buildings of Wolverhampton

The Exchange

The Exchange stood at the end of Exchange Street (which may have been cut through to provide access to it), immediately in front of the west front of St. Peter's, where the gardens, war memorial and statute of Lady Wulfruna now stand.

This drawing may have been made before the Exchange was even built.

It shows the glass dome and an entrance which does not appear again.

Maybe it was never built that way, maybe it was changed at the same time the dome was removed. The steps to the right may be the same steps as are still there.

Nobody has a good word to say for this building. John Roper, in "Wolverhampton as it Was", Vol. 1., calls it a "Victorian white elephant ... erected at a cost of £11,000 by a company of shareholders between 1850 and 1853. It was designed by G. T. Robinson, another Wolverhampton architect and a rival of Edward Banks. Its life was short and the building was demolished in 1898." He returns to the subject in Vol.2 of that work, saying the building was "originally intended simply as a Corn Exchange for the use of farmers and millers" and that "the large glass cupola ... had to be removed in 1851 'having given undeniable signs of depression'. One assumes that the depression was structural, not the result of feeling bad about all the criticism it got.
This photo gives a good impression of how this rather bleak-looking building would have dominated it surroundings.

The awkward plinth may have been designed to deal with the difference in ground levels between front and back.

The posters show the proprietors' enthusiasm for raising money anyhow.

From an old glass slide, courtesy David Clare.

Frank Mason, The Book of Wolverhampton, p.109 has slightly different details but not a better opinion: "The Exchange, built 1851. A good example of bad Victorian architecture, it immediately began to fall down and had to be strengthened and the dome removed. It was described as the only building ever constructed with the foundations at the top. The lighting was bad, and the acoustics worse. In 1863 the Agricultural Hall was built for the greater convenience of the farmers. The Exchange was pulled down in 1898."
This photo shows the Exchange in its setting. 

The road is Cheapside, with the retail market on the left and the Exchange beyond it.

The pillar in St. Peter's churchyard can be seen in the centre distance.

Note how the front of St. Peter's was completely obscured.

But in his work, "Yesterday's Town: Wolverhampton", p99, Mason refers to Dickens' use of the Exchange as for his public readings and his pleasure at the enthusiastic audiences he always found there. He also refers to Dickens commenting, in a letter, about seeing "the iron masters standing out in the streets where they conduct their business, making such a noise they confuse me horribly". Of this Mason says: "he shows how unpopular it was as a place of business. The ironmasters were still using the pavement as they had always done." This suggests, and Upton is with him, that the building was intended, at least in part, for the ironmasters to conduct their business in. Upton and Mason agree that the ironmasters never did; and everyone seems to agree that, if the corn merchants did, they certainly didn't like it.

But there are many references and much evidence of the other uses to which the building was put, bad acoustics and lighting or not. Dickens was not the only performer who used the building. Many visiting artists did so and many plays and concerts were put on. Probably the owners were letting it out for whatever use they could find.

Anyway, nobody seems to have objected to its demolition and its disappearance certainly opened up the front of St. Peter's to public view.

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