Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Corn exchanges

click photo to enlarge
A nineteenth century building that can be found in many of England's towns and cities is the corn exchange. Most of them were built during Victoria's reign, though some date from the first few decades of the 1800s. Their main purpose was to provide a space where farmers and merchants could trade cereals. However, anyone who has seen a selection of corn exchanges will realise that important subsidiary purposes of the buildings were to proclaim the wealth of those involved in this branch of agriculture and to adorn the community of which they were a part: corn exchanges are often very ostentatious! It's unusual to find a corn exchange that merges comfortably with the vernacular style of the locality: in the main they are built of stone, usually in a classical style, though occasionally Gothic is used, and they mostly dwarf the buildings around them.

Where the corn exchange is entirely new (as opposed to a conversion of an existing building) they are typically three bays wide. The central bay has the main entrance door, and often the flanking bays have doors too. Central towers are not uncommon, even above a classical facade where no Greek or Roman would have put one (though the architects of the English Renaissance such as Wren might have done so). A discernible order of architecture is often seen: at Newark it is Corinthian, King's Lynn chose Ionic. But what is mandatory (apart from the date of construction and, usually, the words "Corn Exchange") is sculpture, either in relief or in the form of symbolic figures - Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, is commonly seen. Other popular subjects are, unsurprisingly, sheaves of wheat, scythes and sickles, cornucopias and rakes.

The life of most corn exchanges wasn't very long, the process of trading wheat changed, and these interesting, showy buildings were often turned to new uses based around the large trading hall that had been the focus of their commercial activity. Many towns converted them into theatres. This happened at Stamford, Lincolnshire, at Cambridge and at King's Lynn (above) to name but three. Others, such as the one on the High Street in Hull became museums. At Newark (above) a nightclub currently makes use of the building. It is a testament to their quality and adaptability, as well as the local affection that exists for these buildings, that they continue to serve their communities many years after their original purpose has passed. Long may they continue to do so.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
 F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/160 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On