Exchange Gateway

This is not the kind of street you might wander up after dark. Exchange Gateway, at the top of Fargate, is one of those forgotten parts of the city centre. Thousands pass its arched entrance every day, many of whom have never braved it up here. These days it acts as a service lane and fire escapes for properties backing onto Orchard Square and Fargate. Apart from its covered entrance there is little for the pedestrian to see. It is a dead end, and seemingly always has been, but its function has changed over the centuries.

At one time, this was a narrow street of multi-occupancy shops, houses, workshops and offices. A glance at an old directory shows that Exchange Gateway was home to small-scale tool manufacturers, cutlery producers, picture-framers and cabinet makers. This was also where the Sheffield Free Press newspaper was located, founded in 1850 – “a new impartial unsectarian journal” – but ending publication seven years later.

An 1867 newspaper tells us that “the buildings are old, four-storeys high of long range, and a considerable quantity of wood in their completion.” A fire had consumed the premises of Hobson and Wilson, brass-casters, and threatened to destroy the whole block. This was just one of many serious fires that occurred here, and no doubt contributed to its altered appearance.

For years, the street was unadopted by the council, its road surface out of character with the nearby thoroughfares. Its secluded location meant it was a haven for thieves, robbing people as they walked at night, and regularly breaking into properties. Its usefulness increased in the 1860s when the Cutler’s Hall, on Church Street, built a large extension at the rear, its approach being from Exchange Gateway.

The footprint of the street is virtually unaltered, but the greatest makeover was in the 1980s when Orchard Square shopping precinct was built, clearing old properties and replacing them with shops whose service doors lead out into Exchange Gateway. Nowadays the street is still out of sorts with its surroundings, a favourite for the homeless, drug-users and a sleeping place for the odd drunk.