Leeds Corn Exchange has been a feature of the city centre since 1864, during which time it has taken on various roles. It is widely considered as one of the finest Victorian buildings in the country, and is so well regarded that it has been granted Grade I listed status.
The corn exchange was originally constructed, as the name would suggest, to house merchants and corn dealers. The first Leeds Corn Exchange was built at the north end of Briggate in 1827, until it became evident that a new structure was needed.
Leeds was starting to thrive, and so local dignitaries concluded that a new and improved corn exchange would improve the city’s image. Not only was the existing building too small, but it didn’t give the sense of grandeur that Leeds was aspiring to.
Hull architect Cuthbert Broderick was awarded the contract to design Leeds Corn Exchange. He had already proved himself with the design of Leeds Town Hall and seemed the logical choice for the city’s next big project.
He was tasked with the job in 1858 and took a lot of his inspiration from architecture on the continent. This is perhaps most evident in the roof, which was modelled on the Halle au Ble in Paris. Measuring at 75 feet high, the partly-glazed dome is designed to maximise the amount of sunlight that can enter the building.
Construction work was completed in 1864, with the total bill amounting to £30,000. Leeds Corn Exchange didn’t have an official opening ceremony, probably because there was a delay in the project being completed. However, it quickly found a place in the hearts of local people, providing Leeds city with another striking focal point that showcased its wealth and forward thinking nature.
The success of Leeds Corn Exchange soon became apparent, with traders from other northern cities such as Nottingham, Hull, Newcastle and Manchester making the most of the building. Train links to the West Yorkshire hotspot made it relatively simple for traders to make the journey, which ultimately worked in the building’s favour.
The corn exchange continued to function until the 1950s, but the number of traders soon started to fall dramatically. As a result, the Leeds Civic Trust proposed that the building should be renovated and turned into a concert venue.
This wasn’t given the go ahead following protests by tenants. Instead, Leeds City Council opted to give a 999-year least to Speciality Shops. The London-based firm transformed Leeds Corn Exchange into a top quality shopping centre, and when restoration work was carried out in 1998-90, brought the site back to its former glory.
In fact, corn trading continued at the venue until 1994, when it finally ceased after 131 years. A small number of traders took up the opportunity to continue working from the building when it reopened in February 1990, as the new owners allocated them an area they could use on Tuesdays.
Leeds Corn Exchange remains an important retail hub for the city and is just as outstanding as the day it was constructed. Its owners strive to welcome creative, innovative and independent retail enterprises, providing locals and visitors alike with a quite different shopping experience.