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St Nicholas Markets

A place to shop, eat and enjoy

History of St Nicks

History of St Nicholas Markets

The Exchange

The Exchange was built in 1741 to 1743 based on designs by John Wood the Elder of Bath.

In October 1831, a popular corn market was held every Tuesday and Thursday.  By 1869 the merchants had changed their minds about trading outdoors and persuaded the corporation to put a roof on the central hall.

Edward Middleton Barry added an upper storey and a glass roof and the works were completed by 1872.

The original glass roof was unfortunately damaged and demolished during the Second World War. It had to be removed and replaced in 1949 by the one which is there now.

During the mid to late 1960s, the Exchange was a popular concert venue. British Beat groups including The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Cream, The Pretty Things and Spencer Davis all played several times in the main hall. American Blues legends such as John Lee Hooker, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter also played here.

The Bristol Exchange now remains the last 18th century building of its kind. Today the Exchange is designated as a Grade I listed building under the possession of Bristol City Council.

The Nails

Four bronze tables are outside the Exchange on Corn Street. They were probably modelled after mobile tables which were taken to trade fairs and markets.

The bronze nails have flat tops and raised edges which prevent coins from tumbling onto the pavement. They were made as tables for merchants to carry out their business.

The oldest pillar is undated, but experts say it is late Elizabethan.

Deals could be closed by payment on the nails. They are believed to be the origin of the saying "pay on the nail" or "cash on the nail".

The clock

The clock was first installed in 1822. A second minute hand was later added to show the time in London as well as the local time in Bristol.

A red minute hand shows Greenwich Mean Time whilst a black minute hand shows the original Bristol time.

At the time, Greenwich Mean Time wasn't used as a standardised time throughout the country, so Bristol had its own time zone which was separate to London.  It wasn’t till June 1841, when the first train pulled into Bristol from London Waterloo that the idea of easy travel became a realistic option for the public. 

The trains ran to Greenwich Mean Time or “railway time”.  Bristolians needed to know when the trains were running so an extra hand was added to the central clock and Bristol officially adopted Greenwich Mean.