The Drama of the Corn Exchange

  • 15 Jan 2012
  • Worcester People and Places
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The old commercial centre of the City had been at the Cornmarket. The main commodity on sale was corn, which was sold by sample in the open air. All around were inns with great storage capacity where the corn was kept until it was sold. In 1824, an open market was no longer thought a fit place for such transactions, but no change was made until 1847, when the demand for a covered corn-exchange gathered strength. Eventually, it was decided to erect a building worthy of the City, but arguments developed as to the site. Unfortunately, the scheme came at a moment of strong political rivalry concerning the Corn Laws. There was so much distress in the City with the sharp decline in the glove trade, that the City Whigs were for their abolition, thus bringing in cheaper bread. The Tory farmers and county landowners however, fearing a loss, fought for their retention. Somehow the political disagreements became associated with the setting up of two committees - each to build a new corn exchange in the City. The apathy of centuries gave way to a frenzy of competition. The hotel proprietors of Broad Street and Foregate Street saw their opportunity and supported the farmers party and a more central site, while the tradesmen around the old Cornmarket made strenous efforts to retain the old custom. The final issue wavered in the balance. There was a geluge of letters to the pree, sarcastic verses were sung, the Mayor intervened, but no one would listen to reason. Each committee went madly ahead to complete their exchange first. It resulted in the ridiculous situation of the building of two exchanges, one in the Cornmarket, and the other in Angel Street.

It was a disastrous affair. Millers and cornmerchants might frequent the Cornmarket, but few growers brought their samples there. The Cornmarket building cost £7,000 and was sold for £1,710, and converted into a music hall. It left the Cornmarket almost bereft of trade, The Angel Street building survived but proved a ruinous affair for its first shareholders. George Griffith's verses on the building of the two corn exchanges are, I think worthy of recording:

On the Building of Two Corn Exchanges in Worcester in 1848

The Earnest Cry and Prayer of the Kiddermister Farmers, Millers and Dealers, to their Worcester Bretheren.

Ye Worcester magnates, dealers, squires, Ye hopeful sons, and happy sires: We trust ye'll grant us our desires - No great request; Nor throw cold water on the fires That warm our breast

We hear you're bent upon an act That seems to give lie to the fact, Or certes that you're rather cracked, And lost to reason: 'Gainst sense it seems an over act, Of rank high treason.

Pray now in time take our advice, Nor think it'gainst to give it device- We shall not stoop to give it twice 'Twould be such lowness - We give it freely without price, Or fee, or bonus.

We humbly tell each Corn Committee, It seems to us a monstrous pity That you should build in your fair city Two new Echanges; Such madness, did it ever hit ye, True Sense deranges ?

Now one would be enough for you And as you know it would be true That we have none - we beg to sue You'll build the other In Kidderminster, if you view It as a brother.

But if you still resolve on both, Perhap's, when time has cool'd your wrath, You may at last feel nothing loth, Our griefs t'assuage, To send us one by that great sloth, Brunel's Broad Gauge

The last line shows the frustration of most people of that time in the troubles of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway, which seemed to get nowhere. In fact, the opening was still two years off.