CAHS Snapshots of Local History

With contributions from Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society, members & friends

Find out more about this prestigious building, complete with ghost horse and cart!

Cirencester’s Corn Hall – a building of many uses

A market town needs to have a market, that’s obvious, somewhere to act as a focal point for trade. This could be indoor or outdoor, or frequently both. Cirencester has a long history of enjoying just this, meeting various needs and changing in character and location over the centuries.

The Market Place (not Square, please!) ‘does what it says on the tin’ with space for outdoor markets and offering indoor markets of various kinds and in various buildings, evolving over time. Its open space, refurbished and enlarged, now hosts a rich choice of themed markets, and Cirencester Town Council’s monthly market schedule shows the regularity and variety on offer.

In history, this open space hosted medieval fairs (market fore-runners) and livestock markets, which were moved away from the town centre in the 1860s. There are good stories attached to each of these, but this article is primarily concerned with the main indoor markets and especially the Corn Hall, in the very heart of the town.

There are two parts to the Corn Hall story of 1862-63: the Hall itself, built behind buildings fronting the Market Place and accessed via its own wide passage (as it still is), and the Corn Hall Buildings so-called which replaced earlier market functions and were constructed in scale to present a fine façade to the Market Place suitable for such a central town-centre location.

All this is linked to a rebuilding, or at least a façade upgrade to the neighbouring Kings Head Hotel with which it is inextricably linked, to provide Cirencester with two very imposing buildings of contemporary date, bold and dominant features of the street scene, then as now.

It is possible to trace this story in some detail in the pages of the Wilts & Glos Standard at the time. The Corn Hall Company was set up specifically for this project and its successors remained in ownership right down to 1951 when the building was sold to Cirencester Urban District Council. It then remained in local authority ownership until sold back with safeguards to a private company in more recent times.

Writing in his History of Cirencester two decades after its opening, K.J. Beecham described the Corn Hall as largely attended by the farmers and corn dealers of the neighbourhood who previously ‘had been compelled to transact their business at the Inns in the town, especially at the Old White Hart, where they were accustomed to stand outside with their little sample bags on the wide window boards.’ Beecham noted how much business had been transacted in this way, with Cirencester lagging behind other corn-trading centres in making modern provision. Now it could catch up, with an appropriately-named Corn Hall.

But there was much more. The Hall was largely used for lectures, concerts, public and political meetings, dances and entertainments. There was (and remains) a wide staircase link with the Assembly Room of the King’s Head Hotel, described as ‘formerly the principal room in the town for similar entertainments but now rarely used for such purposes.’

Accessed along the wide corridor of the Corn Hall Buildings from the street were dedicated spaces for Butter and Poultry Markets, plus the Cirencester Permanent Library & Subscription Reading Room, the School of Art, the Mechanics’ Institute, various business offices, and rooms for the hall keeper. Over the years these and other activities grew or waned in popularity or fashion, and some were replaced. The new Bingham Library opened nearby in Dyer Street in 1905, providing further space for cultural and social activities.

Nevertheless, the Corn Hall has remained central to town life for some 160 years now, albeit many aspects of its original provision are now delivered elsewhere in the town. Not surprisingly, modern-day commercial activities such as shops, restaurants and other specialist trading have come to dominate, a sign of our times.

Looking at the Corn Hall façade from the Market Place, a work of art in itself according to the local paper, there is much to see illustrating this story. Constructed of Bath stone ashlar, it presents much evidence of its Italian style, and some attractive architectural sculpture by leading artist Henry Frith (other sources suggest this is the work of William Forsyth).

Above the first-floor windows are panels characteristic of the different activities on the site. The central panel has the arms of the town, the Cotswold phoenix, which is actually one of the few places where it can be seen in Cirencester. On the right is Agriculture – sheaf of wheat, plough and rake, and beyond that Fine Arts, with a palette, easel and bust. On the left is Commerce – a ship, anchor, bale and globe and on the extreme left Music with harp and trumpet. Key stones have stone heads, very much keeping in style.

This mid-Victorian building was clearly of its time but has worn and adapted well and continues to play a very relevant role in Cirencester town life.

David Viner  


Support Cirencester’s principal heritage societies and their event programmes: Archaeological & Historical Society (www.cirenhistory.org.uk) and Civic Society (www.ccsoc.org.uk), which runs a programme of Town Walks in the season plus pre-booked for small groups. See the Society’s website or phone William Cooper on 01285 88 55 90.

To keep up to date with what´s going on in town, feel free to join our Facebook group by clicking here

0 comments on “CAHS Snapshots of Local History

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: