By Alan Hall, Vice Chair of Bradford Civic Society
As part of Historic England’s “100 Places” project, Bradford Civic Society have nominated the city’s Wool Exchange as a building of national significance.
Right from medieval times woollen textiles were the foundation of England’s wealth, and by the nineteenth century Bradford had become the global centre of the trade, recognised as such especially after the then Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, laid the foundation stone for the Wool Exchange in 1864.
“The Wool Exchange, perhaps more than any other building, symbolises the wealth and importance that Bradford had gained by the mid-nineteenth century on the basis of the wool trade.”
– Historic England
Indeed, prior to 1914 Bradford was reckoned to be the wealthiest city in Europe, because of wool – though obviously the wealth was not evenly distributed among its citizens.
Designed in a Venetian Gothic style by Lockwood and Mawson, the building was completed in 1867, and was described as a “secular paean to Bradford’s role as the hub of the world’s wool trade.”
The building itself (Grade I listed) is quite magnificent and full of interesting features, including statues and busts of explorers, pioneers, one king, one saint and several free-trade evangelists. Some of its windows have a Star of David motif, probably because some of its key investors were members of Bradford’s German-Jewish community, who contributed much to Bradford’s booming wool trade.
The Wool Exchange no longer deals in wool, and its trading floor now houses a branch of Waterstones. It is probably the most aesthetically pleasing bookshop in the UK and remains a beloved meeting place for all Bradfordians.