Exchange Street was the first planned street in Norwich. Up until then, every thoroughfare had been worn into the landscape by accident, by footfall, hoofprint or in some cases the dried-up bed of an old stream. These roads were little more than desire lines with ideas above their station.
It was difficult to get from the marketplace to Norwich Over-the-Water, the area beyond the river around St George's and Magdalen Street. The warren of lanes between the Market Cross and St Andrew's Hall by the river were only wide enough to accommodate a single cart at a time, and when this cart had to stop for hours to unload goods, the entire network stopped with it. So in the 1820s, when the time came to build a new Corn Exchange on the north-east corner of the market, it was decided that a new street would be hacked through the warren, beginning at that spot.
There were several obstacles in the way, however: first of all, the courtyard of an Elizabethan mansion on what is now the junction with Pottergate. The mansion had been used as an exhibition space by John Crome and his 'Norwich Society' of painters. But the place was demolished. Next there was another narrow passage following the outline of the ruins of St Crouch's Church. This ruined chapel, also known as St Cross or St Crowche's, faced onto St Andrew's Street in the Middle Ages. The church was pulled down in Edward VI's time by ardent Protestants, and now, in 1820 only a few walls survived, plus a tavern facing onto St Andrew's called the Hole in the Wall. All of this was demolished to create Exchange Street, opening up the junction we see today.
In the 1960s, George Plunkett photographed the last relic of St Crouch's church: a stone corbel with the face of an angel, which had been liberated from the ruins and embedded in a flint wall on St Andrew's street. Nothing now remains.
The last remnant of the vanished church.
Those eyes have seen a lot.
Photo by George Plunkett, 1967.
The new street then took in part of St Andrew's, taking a sharp turn around the shuttered buildings of the Duke of Norfolk's palace (where the multistorey car park is now) and becoming Duke Street where it crossed the Wensum on a brand-spanking-new iron bridge.
At the same time as all of these works, four gas chandeliers were put up at the top of the new Exchange Street, by the marketplace. This was the brightest night-time Norwich had ever seen. Progress was coming, the gaslights said.
Today Exchange Street is a busy one-way thoroughfare. Along its length you'll find a certain ubiquitous department store; a plaque commemorating the megastars Franz Liszt and Niccolò Paganini, both of whom played at the Exchange in its heyday; and a three-storey-high mural by Anmar Mirza, towering over the neighbourhood.