STEVE Rosier carefully considered the question before shaking his head. “If I’d have known in 2006 what I know now I would not have become involved.”

But he didn’t and he is – and today his decade-long battle to restore The Exchange, a structure steeped in Swindon’s history and heritage but which has become a decaying eyesore, is at last heading towards fruition.

Countless schemes have been submitted over the past 30 years to regenerate this sorry and frankly embarrassing sight and site in the heart of Old Town but they have all, like the building itself, fallen through.

Steve, 60, came on board ten years ago and after a decade of red tape, planning wrangles and a recession the scheme is about to take a giant step forward.

The contracts concerning all parties involved in the £35 million regeneration are set to be signed…at last paving the way for The Rise of The Exchange.

The scheme has already won widespread support and if all goes to plan then the transformation of the disfigured structure and its immediate environs will be complete by November, 2019.

Steve, an experienced developer, recalled his first sight of The Exchange – or what was left of it – in 2006, two years after the second of a pair of devastating arson attacks left it gutted.

“My initial thought was that it would be quite an exciting project and that it was certainly going to be a challenge,” he said.

He was appalled, however, at the appearance of the neo-classical Victorian building that he described as being “stuck there so long as an eyesore.”

Like most Swindonians of under 35 or so he has never seen it in “anything but a derelict condition.”

However, there was one big plus which still holds true today: “The structure is fine. We get it surveyed every two years.

“There are a few stones loose, but it’s not going to fall over.

“At least, not unless there’s a hurricane...”

He saw the building as a springboard for the revival of the High Street end of Old Town, with a hopeful knock-on effect that will include the demolition of some inappropriate out-of-character buildings.

The redevelopment is of such quality that it is hoped it will lure major brand retailers which Swindon does not have – and a marketing campaign will begin next month.

And these in turn will attract people from places such as Marlborough and Faringdon. At least, that’s the Big Hope – both for him and Swindon.


FOR more than 700 years it was at the heart of life in Swindon, serving as a venue for fairs, trading, concerts, political rallies, gatherings of a religious nature and a variety of entertainment and ‘sport’ that ranged from bear baiting to wrestling and sword fighting.

For several centuries miscreants were exposed to a tirade of verbal and physical abuse while incarcerated in the pillory and stocks there.

Now more than half-a-century after it degenerated into a shabby car park the People of Swindon are poised to regain their Market Square.

The crucial scheme drawn-up to transform one of Swindon’s most ancient spots may even include the return of a market cross – more than 160 years after the previous one was torn down.

Project manager Steve Rosier said: “There is no hard surfaced public space in Old Town, not since The Market Square became a car park. We intend to make full use of this urban square – to restore it as a place of vibrancy.”

Axing the scruffy car park is a key factor in The Exchange Project which includes transforming the historic but long rundown Market Square into a place “for people to socialise and relax.”

Steve said the rejuvenated square would have the appearance and atmosphere of a “mini Covent Garden” with an assortment of performers and entertainments replacing the humdrum sight of parked vehicles, car bay markings, ticket machines and tariff signage.

The proposed central area of stylishly paved open space would, he envisaged, once more become “the heartbeat of Swindon.”

The Market Square – or The Square as it is also known - was developed in the 13th Century during the reign of Henry III when Swindon, a rural hill-top settlement, was first recognised as a market town.

However it did not flourish until 1626 when Charles I granted a weekly market and two annual fairs to Swindon’s Lord of the Manor, Thomas Goddard.

As Swindon’s population steadily grew the Market Square became an obvious focal point and an increasingly bustling centre of activity.

Shameful as it seems, bear-baiting took place there until 1810 while setting bulls against dogs continued for a few more years. Wrestling and backsword (sharp wooden stick) fighting also pulled in the punters.

Vegetables, meat, poultry and butter were bought there, as were pigs, sheep and cattle on market days along with - as Swindon historian Frank Large recalled – “droves of Irish horses and occasionally of Shetland ponies, donkeys and foals.”

Corn was traded during the boom years of the early to mid-19th Century while outdoor concerts – especially at Christmas – were staged at The Square. It further served as a venue for the announcement of General Elections results and for holding religious sermons.

The ancient fairs evolved into funfairs with roundabouts, rides and amusements until the last Old Town Fair was staged in 1965, around the time The Square became the car park that is there today.

It is known that by 1662 there was a covered market cross at The Square– perhaps similar though nowhere near as grand as those in Malmesbury and Salisbury.

This in turn was replaced by a small circular market cross building that also sheltered traders in 1793.

It was demolished during the mid-19th Century, but Steve said they were considering installing a new one as a further nod towards Swindon’s market town heritage.

“It’s definitely a possibility. I think it would be appropriate for a new market cross to have some sort of functionality rather than just be ornamental,” he added.


THEY were exciting days for those who were both around and clued-up enough to have witnessed and appreciated them as American rock’n’roll inspired British Beat which then morphed into psychedelia and progressive rock.

Swindon did not miss out on the fun with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, Pink Floyd and Cream all coming to town. Located in the former Corn Exchange, the Locarno hosted its fair share of big guns from the early era of rock and pop.

On the cusp of becoming one of world’s greatest bands, and having already chalked up a couple of top ten singles, while creating an electrifying buzz on the UK’s live scene, The Who performed at the Old Town venue in 1965.

Others who played there during the Sixties included The Small Faces, The Yardbirds, Gene Vincent, Georgie Fame, The Animals, The Hollies, The Searchers, Lulu, Ten Years After, Family and Rory Gallagher’s blues rock trio Taste.

In a remarkable find, builders rummaging through debris at the Locarno following two fires in 2003 and 2004 discovered a scuffed accounts ledger covering the management’s financial transactions from 1959 to 1966.

It includes a list of artists they booked to play at the former Corn Hall, cinema and roller skating rink and gave details of how much they were paid.

Steve Rosier, in charge of the regeneration, said they planned to display the 50 year-old relic alongside other artefacts from the complex such as posters and photographs when it is restored as The Exchange.

When big band jazzers performed the Locarno during the late Fifties and early Sixties they were paid £20 a night.

But pop and rock spectacularly changed the game.

Five months after a gig at McIlroys Ballroom and with a couple of hits under their belt (I Can’t Explain and Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,) The Who brought their “maximum r’n’b” back to Swindon in October 1965.

The Locarno secured their services for 143 pounds, 14 shillings and ten pence. However, Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon probably could have doubled their fee a few weeks later after My Generation hit Number Two in the charts.

Steve owns several original Locarno posters advertising Sixties chart bands The Small Faces, Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames, The Merseybeats, The Searchers, and Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders.

“But I’d really love to get my hands on the one for The Who,” he said.

The Yardbirds are described on the poster for their Thursday, July 30, 1964 gig as “a fab ‘way out’ group.” Singles-wise, they were hit-less at the time but would have featured a promising young Eric Clapton on guitar.

The venue describes itself on the poster as “Swindon’s home of the stars.”

Beatles manager Brian Epstein may well have checked out the venue when his other charge, Cilla Black, appeared there on April 4, 1964 – the same night, incidentally, that The Stones performed their third and final Swindon gig a mile-and-a-half away at McIlroys.

The pre-Ringo, pre-hit, pre-Fab Four played McIlroys in July, 1962. But Steve said subsequent moves to bring the fast rising foursome to the Locarno floundered when the management refused to cough up an additional £50 that Epstein had demanded.

*Steve is keen to hear from anyone with souvenirs or memorabilia – photos, posters, flyers, tickets etc – from any era of the Locarno which he would like to incorporate into the revamped complex. He can be contacted at: Mob: 07552.395031 Email:

  • IT is the bane of many-a developer – the provision of parking. Underground parking will serve The Exchange development for those who work, live there or are staying at the hotel there if it materialises. “Parking is not cheap,” said Steve. “It will cost us £30,000-a-space.” There is no public parking attached to the scheme. While its provision is crucial to the success of The Exchange developers are not obliged to provide it. However he said there were various solutions to public parking in the area. Options that controversially include utilising a corner of Lawn Park for some parking, are being appraised to identify “what parking requirements are likely to meet Old Town’s future potential.”
    •  AS revealed several months ago the proposals feature a glass roof over the old Locarno Ballroom which will be surrounded by restaurants, cafés, bars, bistros, boutique cinema and niche retail shops. Market Square will assume its historic purpose as a public square – not a car park – with a “beautiful new public piazza.” The clock tower and façade will be restored, entertainment will be encouraged, as will a “sustainable street market.” The public realm along High Street and Wood Street will be transformed with high quality paved surfaces, signage, trees, street lighting – “all designed so people are more important than the motorcar.” The vision is “to restore the heart of Old Town, a place for people to live and work, relax and enjoy – with a shorter, more contemporary name, with the emphasis on ‘change.’” Personally, I make no bones about publicly backing this scheme. As Elvis once proclaimed, it’s now or never….