Bedford Corn Exchange is a five-bay, two-storey building. The roof has a slate covering and the walls are constructed of white brick with Bath stone cornices and pennant stone dressings.
The Corn Exchange, St Paul's Square, Bedford, Bedfordshire. View from south. © Historic England. Photographed by Patricia Payne
The Corn Exchange, St Paul's Square, Bedford, Bedfordshire. View from south. © Historic England. Photographed by Patricia Payne

Bedford Buildings Listed

Bedford Corn Exchange has been listed at Grade II by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on the advice of Historic England.

As part of the Bedford High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ), delivered by Historic England and Bedford Borough Council, Historic England is reviewing and researching the historic buildings within the HSHAZ area. More detailed information has also been added to the list entry for the Harpur Suite, built in the mid-19th century as an Assembly Rooms.

Bedford Corn Exchange

| Newly listed at Grade II

Bedford Corn Exchange is an elegant Victorian public building, enriched with classical detailing and architectural features, including an ornate ceiling with three glass domes.

Dated 1874, it was built to the designs of John Ladds RIBA (1835-1926) and Henry William Powell FRIBA (1847-1900). It replaced an earlier and smaller Corn Exchange, which stood nearby and was demolished in 1904.

The hall of the Corn Exchange was designed to be a spacious assembly room. The elegant interior was illuminated by three domed ceiling lights and large windows on the front and side walls.
The basement was designed to house offices, cloakrooms, a kitchen, hall keeper’s room and dining rooms.

In 1926, the Corn Exchange was refurbished with a new rock maple dance floor and ornate decoration. The walls and ceiling were painted in light pastel shades contrasting with the dark wood panelling, and the moulding of the ceiling was painted in various colours.

Wartime entertainment

During the Second World War, the Music and Religious Departments of the BBC decamped to Bedford when it became too dangerous for them to be based in London or at their wartime home, Bristol. Around 400 musicians, staff and engineers moved to the town, and many buildings were used as studios, offices and lodgings.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra used the venue between September 1941 and July 1945 for public concerts, which were broadcast to the nation. The Corn Exchange was also used as an Armed Forces Canteen.

The BBC Proms came to Bedford in 1944, and the Golden Jubilee Concert was held at the Corn Exchange, celebrating 50 years of the Proms.

Captain Glenn Miller and the American Band of the Supreme Allied Command gave their first broadcast in Great Britain from the Corn Exchange in July 1944. A wealth of British guest stars performed with them, including Dorothy Careless, Bruce Trent, Sergeant Jimmy Miller, Vera Lynn and Anne Shelton.

Glenn Miller played his last concert at the Corn Exchange in August 1944, before he disappeared, later that year, in an aircraft somewhere over the Channel. He is commemorated with a sculptural bust by Patricia Finch, placed on the front elevation of the Corn Exchange in 1994.

Harpur Suite

| Listed at Grade II*; list entry updated

The Harpur Suite was built as Assembly Rooms between 1834 and 1835, to the designs of Thomas Gwyn Elger (1794-1841) an architect and builder, who served as Mayor of Bedford in 1830, 1835, and 1838.

He designed a number of notable buildings, including a 55-arch causeway at St Ives, Cambridgeshire (1822, listed at Grade II*), and the Harpur Trust girls’ and infants’ school in Bedford (1840, demolished in 1974).

An elegant public building, the Assembly Rooms was created in the Greek Revival style, as befits the home of an early learned society encouraging education in the arts and sciences.

The east wall of the Assembly Rooms features a stained-glass window by Thomas Willement (1786-1871), a leading Victorian designer of stained glass.

The private subscription library of the Bedford Literary and Scientific Institute was bought by the Town Council in 1936.

The building reopened as a public library in 1937 with a stock of 22,000 books, a lending library, reference library, John Bunyan Library, children’s library, reading room and lecture hall.

In 1969, St. Paul’s Methodist Church and Sunday School, next to the library, were demolished and replaced by a new and purpose-built Bedford Central Library, which opened in 1972.

The former public library became known as the Harpur Suite. An extension, added around 1975, linked it to the Corn Exchange on St Paul’s Square, together functioning as an entertainment venue for the town.

The Harpur Suite was listed at Grade II* in 1952, and further detailed information has been added to the List entry this year.