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The Corn Exchange Leighton Buzzard

The Corn Exchange about 1905 [Z1130/72]
The Corn Exchange about 1905 [Z1130/72]

The Corn Exchange was built on the site of the old George and Dragon public house. The Bedfordshire Times of 25th March 1862 carried the following article on the laying of the foundation stone of the new building: "The foundation stone of the New Corn Exchange was laid on Monday, the 17th inst., in the presence of a large number of spectators. The ceremony took place shortly after 1 o'clock. The directors [of the Corn Exchange Company] met Colonel Hanmer, the lord of the manor, at Mrs. Bushell's Swan Hotel, and from thence proceeded to the spot".

"The proceedings were commenced by the Secretary reading a copy of the inscription which had been engrossed on parchment. It was as follows: - "The foundation stone of this Corn Exchange was laid this 17th day of March 1862, by Colonel Hanmer, K. H. Directors - John Dollin Bassett, chairman; Francis Bassett, William Stevens Cooper, John Warren Foll, Bernard Fountaine, Thomas Ginger, Samuel Hopkins, Edward Lawford, Thomas Procter, Henry William Ridgeway, Stephen H. Whichello; Frederick Willis, solicitor; Henry Whichello, secretary; Bassett, Son and Harris, bankers; Bellamy and Hardy, architects; Osborne Brothers, builders". The inscription was placed, as is customary, in a bottle, which also contained one of each of the coins of the realm minted this year".

"Colonel Hanmer said - Gentlemen, you have assembled here to-day on an interesting and important occasion. The Directors have done me the honour of requesting me to lay the first stone of this Corn Exchange. I have great pleasure in acceding to this request, and I assure you that I feel deeply sensible on this occasion to take so active a part in this ceremony, and I will now proceed with the performance of that which devolves upon me".

"Mr. Charles Ridgeway having presented the silver trowel to the gallant colonel, the stone was gently lowered, and the colonel performed the ceremony of laying the stone. Mr. S. Hopkins presented the mallet, and Mr. Ginger the plumb-line so that the stone was laid in the most skilful and workmanlike manner".

"Colonel Hanmer again addressed those assembled, congratulating the town of Leighton Buzzard upon the commencement of the erection of the new Corn Exchange, adding that the necessity of such a building had long been felt in the town, it being situated in an important agricultural district. Its erection would tend to the advantage of both buyer and seller, and would conduce to further increase the trade of the town (hear, hear). The necessity of a Corn Exchange was very apparent, for the corn trade was increasing, and the establishment of a convenient market for buying and selling would produce a further increase. As a shareholder, he begged to express his entire confidence in the committee of management (hear, hear). They had exerted themselves with great zeal, and prepared plans which deserved great credit, providing a very ornamental façade to the building. He could only say that he was expressing the hopes and wishes of the shareholders, and all connected with the undertaking, that this building might prove an honour to its projectors, an ornament and benefit to the town, and a source of fair profit to the shareholders and proprietors (hear, hear)".

"Mr. Frank Bassett, in giving a history of the origin of the undertaking, said that when the Corn Exchange was first projected a meeting was convened, and that meeting appointed a committee, which met and examined various sites, when the George Inn was offered and purchased. A company was then formed under the Limited Liability Act, a board of directors appointed, plans of the building drawn out, and tenders received. That of Messrs. Osborn Brothers, was accepted for £4,362, which had since been reduced to £4,262. As to profit, if the shareholders realised 3 or 4 per cent, they would, no doubt, be satisfied, taking into consideration the benefit the town would derive. Br. Bassett concluded by thanking the shareholders on behalf of the directors for the confidence reposed in them".

"A vote of thanks was then proposed to Colonel Hanmer and unanimously carried, which having been suitably responded to, the meeting broke up".

"In the evening the workmen and others spent a very pleasant evening in the enjoyment of an excellent supper at Mr. Young's, Plume of Feathers Inn".

 The Corn Exchange in an Illustrated London News engraving of 1863
The Corn Exchange in an Illustrated London News engraving of 1863

The London Illustrated News of 23rd May 1863 carried an article on the Corn Exchange on its completion [CRT130Lei47]:

"In the early part of the year 1861 a project was conceived to erect a Corn Exchange in the important agricultural town of Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, and, by the exertions of a few spirited individuals, the object has been successfully accomplished".

"The Exchange is a very handsome stone structure, situated in a commanding position, at one end of the market-place, with a good frontage. The Exchange-hall is spacious, and decorated with Ionic pilasters, cornice, and recessed, arched windows at the sides; the ceiling is formed into sunk coffers by enriched stiles, supported by coved ribs (light, sound, ventilation &c.), for night as well as by day, have been well tested, and are found good. The design throughout is chaste and original, the front being designed in the modern Italian style of architecture, and consists of two stories of three light Venetian windows, with deeply moulded and carved pilasters at the quoins, the whole surmounted by an open balustrade, with tiers and carved urns. In the centre is an open tower, projecting over the pavement, the lower storey of which is arched, and the upper one has carved caryatides, supporting a deep frieze and bold modillion cornice, over which a beautifully-proportioned octangular turret rises to a total height of about eighty-five feet, the whole forming a most imposing façade and an interesting ornament to the town. The basement storey consists of cellars for storing wine, &c. Through a wide entrance corridor (with various offices on each side for merchants), and rising by a broad flight of stone steps, the level of the assembly-room is attained, which is entered from a spacious landing. Attached to the assembly-rooms are retiring-rooms, which, with it, occupy all the space over the entrance and offices. The architects were Messrs. Bellamy and Hardy, of Lincoln. The cost of site and buildings was about £7500, and the works have been executed by Messrs. Osborne Brothers, builders, Leicester".

Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. Leighton Buzzard was assessed in 1927 and the valuer visiting the Corn Exchange on 2nd November [DV1/R80/17-18] noted that it was being used as a "Picture Palace" by A. R. Shipman and S. S. King. He commented: "used occasionally as cinema and for concerts etc. prices at present (whilst Oriel being redecorated) adults 1/6, 1/3, 1/-, 9d, 6d, children 9d, 6d and 3d; orchestra stalls 140, second seats 252, upper circle 123 - total 515, present total seating accommodation is now 486". The Corn Exchange itself was the first floor assembly hall measuring 27 feet by 50 feet with an ante-room 8 feet 6 inches by 13 feet, an office of 14 feet by 15 feet and two W. C.s.

The building also contained a public house called, reasonably enough, the Exchange. In 1927 the licensees were Edith Marion Farmborough and William Reynolds.

Site of the Corn Exchange in June 2008
Site of the Corn Exchange in June 2008

In 1932 the spire on the grand portico became unsafe and was take down. The building was sold privately by its owner A. H. Murby in 1951 subject to the building being open from 3rd to 11th May for use by the Leighton and Linslade Festival of Britain Committee for an industrial exhibition.

Tastes change and the "very handsome stone structure" of 1863 was viewed less enthusiastically in 1968. The comments on the Corn Exchange by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner in his Buildings of England series volume on Bedfordshire were brutal: "Victorian at its most irresponsible. Gay and vulgar … The style is a kind of dissolute Renaissance". It was around this time that the building was demolished. The ghost of the portico remains in a section of building which just out into the pavement [see above]. This belongs to modern shop buildings occupying the site. One wonders what Pevsner would make of them.