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Leeds Corn Exchange
Duncan Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
Leeds Corn Exchange
associated engineer
Not known
date  7th May 1881 - 1864, opened 28th July 1863
era  Victorian  |  category  Building  |  reference  SE302334
ICE reference number  HEW 242
photo  PHEW, courtesy ICE
Leeds Corn Exchange is elliptical in plan. Its soaring domed roof is the most impressive feature, with its basket-like array of intersecting radial and concentric structural members. Now refurbished and Grade I listed, it is one of only three corn exchanges in the UK still operating as a centre for trade.
The present Leeds Corn Exchange replaced an earlier one at the north end of Briggate, completed in about 1827 (dem. c.1869). The original building soon proved too small and a new facility with a large open trading floor was proposed, located some 500m to the south.
In 1860, architect Cuthbert Brodrick (1821-1905) won a competition to design the new exchange, which many consider to be his finest work. The foundation stone was laid on 7th May 1861, and full construction commenced in 1862. Brodrick was also the architect for Leeds Town Hall (constructed 1853-8) and the Mechanics' Institute (1865-8, now a museum) as well as Scarborough’s Grand Hotel (1863-7).
The footprint of the corn exchange is an ellipse 57.9m long and 41.45m wide, its long axis running northwest-southeast. The building is two storeys high with a basement, and is constructed in masonry — sandstone for the exterior wall and rendered brick for the interior ones. The exterior elevations feature diamond rustication, in the manner of Palazzo di Diamanti in Ferrara, Italy. Single storey curved porticos with Tuscan columns mark the west (ground floor) and north (first floor) entrances.
The roof is an elliptical dome that rises to 22.9m above ground level (26.2m from the basement). Its structure is 13.7m high, and approximately 35.5m by 27.4m in plan. It consists of 19 semi-ellipitcal main ribs spanning longitudinally, and lighter-weight semicircular ribs spanning transversely, placed alternately above and below each main rib, creating a lattice effect.
All the ribs are of riveted wrought iron with L-section or T-section flanges and slender webs. Though it’s difficult to determine precisely how each member acts structurally, the ribs appear to form a very early space frame. The ironwork is overlaid by a cross hatch of timber boarding and is clad externally with slate.
Outside, the dome is surrounded by a level walkway and multi-flue chimney stacks behind a corniced sandstone parapet. The parapet supports a clock above the west entrance and at the north end of the exchange, two carved plaques for coats of arms.
The purpose of the building was to sell or exchange 'corn' (in this context, this means any millable grain) and other commodities, so it was essential to ensure plenty of natural light for proper quality assessment of the goods. The open plan form of Broderick's building was ideal for this. Light fell from a series of round-arched windows in double recesses on each storey and a large oval area of glazing, or oculus, at the top of the dome.
The main exchange floor is encircled by an inner ring wall composed of three tiers of rendered brick arcading, one at each floor. Suites of offices lie behind the arcades on the upper two levels. Offices on the ground floor open onto the trading area or the streets outside. The upper arcades are fronted by continuous balconies supported on cast iron brackets, and a clock is located on top of the wall at each end of the building. The stone-flagged basement was designed for storage.
Leeds Corn Exchange opened in part on 28th July 1863, and was completed in 1864. Grains, hops, peas, beans and oil cake were traded and, later, farmers' markets and leather fairs were held here. By 1915, the building’s natural lighting levels had been improved with the addition of a second roof light — a long panel of glazing wrapped around the north east side of the dome with panes similar to the central oculus.
In 1926-7, the interior was repainted — a task that involded the erection of full height scaffolding throughout the building. However, over the years the roof has leaked somewhat owing to movement in its cladding. Leeds City Council has undertaken several repairs.
The building was Grade I listed in October 1951. By the 1960s, trade had dwindled and business was transacted only one day a week. In 1985, a contract was awarded for its transformation into a retail complex. Refurbishment was carried out in 1989-90, and the building re-opened on 31st March 1990.
In 2006, a new landlord took over and embarked on a £1.5m refurbishment. Completed in 2008, development works included the removal of part of the ground floor and the opening up of the basement space, surrounded by a new galleried balcony to the ground floor to match the existing first floor balcony.
In 2014, further work was carried out to the dome. The two roof lights, which cover a total area of approximately 700 sq m, were waterproofed with a reinforced coating to the metal glazing bars and a transparent coating to the panes. The six-week project required specialist scaffolding and rope access equipment.
Architect: Cuthbert Brodrick
Architect (1989-90): Allsop & Lyall
Ironwork: Butler & Co of Stanningley
Masonry: Samuel Addy of Leeds
Research: ECPK
bibliography
https://leedscornexchange.co.uk
www.ice.org
www.leeds.gov.uk
www.victorianweb.org
reference sources   CEH North
Location

Leeds Corn Exchange