Secrets of the past uncovered during refurbishment

19 Oct 2023

Historic carvings, long-lost memories and forgotten entrances are just some of the secrets revealed during the refurbishment of our Grade I and Grade II listed Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre.

Award-winning architects Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios (FCBS) worked alongside many skilled contractors to uncover and conserve vital historical features and protect the buildings for generations to come. Support from The National Lottery Heritage Fund has also been instrumental in helping us research and celebrate Brighton Dome’s rich history.

The beginning

Reaching back over 200 years, the Concert Hall and Corn Exchange were originally built as the stable and riding school for the Prince Regent in 1803.

Years later during a radical Art-Deco refurbishment in 1934-35, the Studio Theatre was built as a supper room by architect Robert Atkinson.

Wide-shot of inside Brighton Dome's refurbished Studio Theatre. Directly across from the camera across the stage floor is the upholstered tanned tiered audience seating with short staircases up each side. A grand lighting rig is suspended from the white/ cream diamond-detail ceiling with house lights dotted around the perimeter. The floor is a dark wood and perimeter walls of the venue are painted a rich grey/ brown.

Inside the Studio Theatre. Photo: Andy Stagg 

Paint was stripped away to uncover the beautiful original wooden beams of the Corn Exchange ceiling, revealing its 18 metre single span timber frame - the widest of its kind in the country! The ceiling’s beams have been painstakingly repaired and restored to the original designs by architect William Porden in the 1800s.

Close up of one of the Corn Exchange's original arched wooden ceiling beams, secured in two places by black metal brackets.

Close-up of the original beams. Photo: Andy Stagg

During the work, Roman numerals interpreting Porden’s plans were discovered, etched into the timber by the original carpenters who had the unenviable task of assembling the beams into the roof – a sort of historic graffiti!

Elsewhere, 200 year old archive drawings were used to recreate the detail for 34 pilaster columns on the Corn Exchange walls.

Close up of one of the Corn Exchange's pilaster columns recreated from the original 1800s designs: a light wooden column with minimal ornate detailing.

A pilaster column in the Corn Exchange. Photo: Andy Stagg 

Forgotten spaces, remembered places

The site has revealed a rich and varied history during this latest refurbishment.

As part of the Corn Exchange restoration, workers discovered three ancient Quaker burial sites beneath the floor, unearthing remains dating back over 300-years. A total of 18 skeletons were found, which were carefully excavated by archeologists and laid to rest at Memorial Cemetery, Woodingdean.

Three archaeologists wearing high-vis jackets and white hard-hats at work excavating the Quaker burial ground in 2017 on the site of the Corn Exchange. The ground is stripped back to the brown dirt and archaeological digs are dotted around the site.

Archaeologists explore the ancient Quaker burial site. Photo: Carlotta Luke

Elsewhere, 200 year old archive drawings were used to recreate the detail for 34 pilaster columns on the Corn Exchange walls.

Close up of faded Art Deco 'Entrance' signage engraved in all caps into the stone of exterior Corn Exchange wall.

Art Deco entrance engraving. Photographer unknown 

Greeted by a Goddess

Artists and audiences will be welcomed by the gilded statue of Ceres, the Roman Goddess of Agriculture – referring to the venue’s original purpose as a corn market in the late 1800s.

Originally created by James Woodford OBE RA in 1934-35, Ceres has now been restored to her former glory with careful restoration work and gold leaf finishing.

Close up of the Ceres statue above the entrance of the Corn Exchange. She is completely gilded in gold-leaf, standing with her arms outstretched and wearing flowing garments with her hair up in a high bun. She is framed in a oval of gold-leaf gilded flames. Just outside the framing are stone carvings of winged angels playing trumpets against clouds (3 either side); these are in-front of a blue painted sky.

Statue of Ceres originally by James Woodford. Photo: Andy Stagg 

A kingdom for a horse

Reflecting the venue’s history as a riding house and stables, the new Gallery Bar showcases architectural design studio Drinkall Dean’s etchings of the Prince Regent’s horses' names along the bar front.

Gallery Bar in Brighton Dome Corn Exchange

Gallery Bar, designed by Drinkall Dean. Photo: Andy Stagg 

The spectacular horse sculpture by West Sussex-based artist Graham Heeley, inspired by a painting of one of the Prince Regent’s favourite horses, Nonpareil, is suspended from the ceiling of the atrium.

Golden horse statue suspended by golden balloons from the ceiling of Brighton Dome's Gallery Bar

Horse sculpture by Graham Heeley. Photo: Andy Stagg 

Visitors can explore the timeline of the venues, from 1800s to present day.

Interactive digital screen showing the history of Brighton Dome's Corn Exchange

Interactive timeline by SquintOpera. Photo: Andy Stagg 

Flower power

Our other brand-new bar, the Festival Bar, features floral wallpaper, referencing the poster of the first ever Brighton Festival in 1967. The poster’s eye motif has been combined with art by Mike McInnerney, who also designed album covers for The Who, who were a part of the 1967 festival lineup.

Festival Bar in the Corn Exchange

Festival Bar. Photo: Andy Stagg 

See for yourselves

We’re thrilled to be welcoming back live performance to the Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre from November and there are also plans to open the spaces during the day to visitors wishing to explore the heritage displays. Check out our website and keep an eye on our socials for more information...

The refurbishment of the Corn Exchange and Studio Theatre is the first phase of a regeneration project by Brighton & Hove City Council, in partnership with Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival and Brighton & Hove Museums.

Alongside The National Lottery Heritage Fund, additional funding has come from Arts Council England, Coast to Capital, Local Enterprise Partnership, alongside trusts and foundations and many individual donors, We want to say a huge thank you to all the sponsors and organisations who have made the refurbishment possible.