The opening of the new Cambridge Corn Exchange – the dedication to the people of Cambridge. November 1875

Before the inaugural concert – and the headline-grabbing disturbances, the borough council held an opening ceremony for the construction of a grand hall that would serve not only as a corn exchange, but also as a concert hall right up to the present day. The building will be 150 years old in 2025 – something to celebrate?

The Cambridge Corn Exchange is still one of my favourite buildings in Cambridge despite its challenging acoustics and the fact that it’s tucked away out of sight rather than a magnificent centrepiece building. It was completed only 13 years after the town opened the large assembly hall of The Guildhall – also still with us.

What follows is the speech given by the Mayor of Cambridge – Alderman John Death to the assembled crowd – transcribed from the British Newspaper Archive. It’s from an extended article in the Cambridge Chronicle and Journal of 13 Nov 1875.

“Ladies and gentlemen. It is now my pleasant duty as Mayor of the Borough of Cambridge to declare the new Corn Exchange opened. [Cheers]

“I said when I had the honour of laying the foundation stone in 1874 that you would have a building worthy of the borough in which you live – [Cheers] – and the hopes I then expressed have been fully realised.

“You have now got a Corn Exchange worthy of a town like Cambridge, which is the centre of a very important agricultural district. And I trust that the ratepayers will not be punished in respect of the expense of the building, but that the building will be so much used for the purposes for which it was intended, that it will realise a sufficient income to pay a fair rate of interest for the outlay of money upon it. [Cheers].

“Gentlemen, that being so, I am sure the ratepayers will not thank me alone, but every member of the Council for having erected this capacious building, which will not only accommodate those in the habit of attending the market, but will be devoted to the very useful object of popular amusements [Cheers].

“This hall is to be called not only the Corn Exchange, but the Poor Man’s Hall. [Cheers]. You are as much interested in it as any other member of the Corporation or any other gentleman. The Corn Exchange is part of your freehold as inhabitants of the borough, however poor you may be, as much as of the wealthy and influential. [Applause]. And I hope to live to see the building frequently filled with audiences enjoying harmless amusement.

“In most large towns there are buildings to accommodate the working classes, where they may have a little recreation as well as those who can better afford to pay for it; and I hope the amusements to be carried on here will be harmless and cheap, and that we shall see the Corn Exchange used not for one purpose only, but for every purpose it can be devoted to, useful to society. [Cheers]

“Gentlemen, I cannot tell you more than that. The Corn Exchange is now declared open ; and in conclusion, I will repeat the expression of my hope that we may not have to punish the ratepayers through the erection of the handsome place behind me – [cheers] – by laying on any extra rate to meet the expenses. I have now to thank you for the patience with which you have listened to me.” [Great Cheering].”

Above – Alderman John Death, via Mill Road Cemetery, which is where he and his wife Caroline are buried

Above – Antony Carpen [me!] photographed by Claire Borley singing on stage at Cambridge Corn Exchange 142 years after its official opening. Claire has photographed far more famous faces than me on the stage – have a look at her portfolio here. You may recognise a few!

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