To celebrate Heritage Open Days 2020 we are publishing a series of blogs researched and written by Brighton Dome's heritage volunteers. The blogs reveal the fascinating stories connecting Brighton Dome's history with the Royal Pavilion Estate and the city.
Go to any market town and you are likely to find a corn exchange, often converted into a theatre, cinema, or a shopping mall. Many are now listed buildings. We know Brighton’s Corn Exchange started life in the early 1800s as a riding house alongside the Prince of Wales’ stables which is now Brighton Dome. So when and how did it get its current name?
The sale of corn in the 19th century moved from market places to inns, starting in Brighton at the Old Ship Hotel before transferring to The King and Queen Inn. Quaker corn traders objected to dealing in licensed premises and the market moved again in 1868, to what we now call the Corn Exchange, where it stayed until the building became a military hospital in 1914. Quakers were rural businessmen, brewers and corn merchants with a reputation for honesty and reliability. The occupations listed for the graves recently discovered in the Quaker burial ground underneath the Corn Exchange during its current restoration include a corn merchant and brewer.
Corn exchanges rarely operated for more than two hours a week so the buildings were let out for other purposes, including public meetings and concerts. Here in Brighton, a Lindfield businessman took out a lease in 1875 for the Brighton Corn Exchange Skating Rink, to capitalise on the latest craze from America.
The price of corn was regulated by the London Corn Exchange in Mark Lane. Parliament required corn prices to be published in the London Gazette and the corn merchants had to submit their weekly figures. Local farmers would take a sample of their grain in a small bag to show the dealers and this ‘selling by sample’ became a common practice.
Sussex landowners and tenant farmers grew wheat and rye for bread, oats for horses and barley for brewing. Many old windmills close to Brighton indicate a time when local farming was dependent on corn.
The heyday of purpose-built corn exchanges with their elaborate architecture came to an end after a fall in prices caused by imports of American corn and a series of bad harvests at home. The remodeling of the Corn Exchange in 1935 with its sculpture of the Ceres, goddess of agriculture above the entrance, is a nod to an important chapter in the life of this building when it was, for a time, the centre of Brighton’s agricultural economy.
Written by Heritage Volunteer Judy Woodman
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