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Cambridge live

Venue History

1842

A “corn exchange” – a building for farmers and merchants to trade cereal grains – was built on St Andrew’s Hill in Cambridge, in a position now occupied by the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Downing Street.

1868

It is decided to build a new Corn Exchange building in its modern day location, at the time the site of the Black Bear Inn

1869

A design competition is launched, and won by local architect Richard Reynolds Rowe.

1870

Construction is temporarily delayed while local draper Robert Sayle contests the amount of money being spent on this new development (rather than on the Market Square)

1873

Builder William Elworthy of Upwell contracted. The foundations are dug. During the building work, the remains of a Priory of Friars Hermits are uncovered. These are gifted to a museum in New Zealand.

1874

The foundation is formally laid by Mayor John Death, constructed from Cornish granite from the Cheese Wring quarry. A statue of Jonas Webb is erected.

1875

Quarter of a million local bricks – red, yellow and dark blue – are selected to use for the construction. The decorative patterns made can still be seen on the building to this day.

Grand Opening

1875

The Corn Exchange formally opens on 6 November. The occasion is marked with a civic procession from the Guildhall, followed by a dinner for local dignitaries.  

On 8 November a promenade concert is held, featuring the Coldstream Guards and a local choral society. The audience are horrified by a mistake made during the rendition of the National Anthem, and the ensuing riots lead to attacks on the Mayor’s house. The incident gains such publicity that sightseers come to the Corn Exchange from miles around, ironically, at first seriously interfering with the trading of corn at the venue.

1898

The Corn Exchange branches out, holding the first of the motor shows which were to go on to be a popular event through the early part of the next century.

The Early Twentieth Century: The Corn Exchange becomes part of Cambridge life

1910

More of the earliest motor shows are held.

1917

Grocers move in to the Corn Exchange, from the overcrowded streets of Petty Curry, causing queues and blockages in the building.

1925

The London Symphony Orchestra performs, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.

1935

“Tea for a Thousand” is served in the Corn Exchange.

1940s

During World War 2, the venue is used as a base for local women to “do their bit” by cleaning and repairing rifles.

1950s

The Corn Exchange begins to be put to an increasingly wide range of uses, including roller skating, wrestling and boxing bouts, and county badminton matches.  A temporary wooden bridge is constructed to link the Guildhall and Corn Exchange buildings, for dances and balls.

The Post-War Years: The Corn Exchange loses its way

1965

The trading of corn at the venue ceases as a new “corn exchange” is built at the cattle market site. The venue is hired out as a warehouse

1970s

The building is used for a mixture of purposes: one day sales, pop concerts and exhibitions. It is hired out for £10 a day – or half price for Cambridge locals!

1971

The decision is made that the Corn Exchange building will be converted into a proper concert hall, rather than incorporating a brand new concert hall into the Lion Yard development project.

1972

Ex-Pink Floyd founder and troubled  local genius Syd Barrett makes his last ever musical appearance, at the Corn Exchange, supporting the Nektar.

1973

The Council’s search to find funding for the planned Corn Exchange conversion founders.

1974

Riots once again hit the Corn Exchange! This time it’s a thousand angry Drifters fans, after the band fail to show for their gig.

1981

A combination of the unsafe roof and noise objections from local residents lead to the closure of the Corn Exchange.  600 people march under the banner “Keep Cambridge Life” in protest.

The Late Twentieth Century to Today: The revival of the Corn Exchange

1982

The conversion of the building into a proper concert hall begins

1986

The new, greatly improved Corn Exchange – much like the building in use to this day – reopens in November with an Open Weekend. Box Car Willie plays the first concert in the renovated venue, on 3 December.

1987

The official opening takes place on 4 February. A special fanfare is composed for the occasion by Professor Robin Orr, and performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

1988

A “Director” post is created to oversee the running of the venue.

1998

Going from strength to strength, the venue wins its second Charter Mark for excellence in public service.

2006

The venue gets an overhaul, with internal redecoration and other improvements made.

2011

The Corn Exchange celebrates its 25th anniversary since its reopening in 1986 with a Royal Philharmonic Orchestra gala performance.

Pop, Rock, Classical Music, Dance, Comedy and more: The stellar list of Corn Exchange performers. Over the years the Corn Exchange has brought some of the biggest, most exciting, popular and inspiring names in music, comedy and dance to Cambridge.

A pre-stardom (and Ziggy Stardust-dom) David Bowie appeared with his band The Buzz in 1966, followed three years later in March 1969 by The Who. Queen spread some of their glam sparkle over the venue in 1974, while the following year saw the distinctly more prosaic pub-rock of Dr Feelgood. Take That – first time around – made fans swoon in November 1992, contrasting with Britpop stars Oasis, who played in 1994. Acclaimed company Theatre de Complicité brought their production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle to delight theatre goers in 1997, while Eddie Izzard’s surrealistic stand-up arrived the same year. In the audience for Eddie’s show was Jimmy Carr – then a student in the city – at his first ever comedy show. This was to go on to inspire him in his own career, and he has now appeared at the Corn Exchange 25 times himself!

Dance fans have been well served by the venue too. The Royal Ballet performed in December 1997, with Darcey Bussell appearing two years later in Dance Bites. The late 90s also saw an appearance from quirky Icelandic superstar Bjork (1998), one of the last appearances by Ian Dury of Blockheads fame, in 1999 just a year before his death, and a wonderful performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in April. 1999.  They returned in March of the following year, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

The 21st century saw appearances from old musical legends like Van Morrison, Chuck Berry and John Martyn, as well as young upstarts like Arctic Monkeys, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse. More of the biggest names in comedy continued to play Cambridge, with both Lenny Henry and Russell Brand starring in 2007. Bands that were booked for the following year included The Manic Street Preachers, Elbow and Primal Scream, while pop fans were well-served by the likes of Sugababes. The venue had quite a coup in 2010, when Radiohead’s Thom Yorke chose the Corn Exchange for a one-off solo show, to raise money for the Green party.