Corn Exchange, Leeds
Architect: C.B Brodrick (1860-3)
Drawing: C.B Brodrick (1860)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Drawings & Archives Collection
Exchanges were a prominent feature of the great Victorian commercial centres. Reflecting local industry, they specialised in one type of commodity, for example wool, cotton or coal. Forums for buying and selling, they required large trading floors, often resulting in innovative architecture. Sadly, however, few survive.
Leeds’ Corn Exchange, by C.B Brodrick, (built 1860-3), was one of the finest, and happily remains, converted to a shopping centre. Here the spectacular was combined with the practical. A vast, oval arena, this was a roofed Colosseum. It offered an ideal arrangement for businessmen to circulate, congregate, and react to market trends.
Brodrick’s watercolour impresses us in various ways. By keeping the viewpoint low, the full width, length and height can be appreciated. Placing the three traders in the middle, the building’s scale appears even greater. The treatment of light creates wonder: streaming from above, it picks up the delicate iron roof, the solid Classical walls, and casts deep shadows beneath the gallery balcony. No wonder Brodrick won the competition with this drawing.