Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre

The Dome itself normally gets all of the attention so this week I’m concentrating on two of its slightly less well-known neighbours – the Corn Exchange and Pavilion Theatre.

The Dome and Corn Exchange were built in 1803-8 as the Prince’s Stables and Riding House respectively. Sold to the people of Brighton by Queen Victoria in 1850, the Corn Exchange served as cavalry barracks from 1856-64. Its gravel floor was replaced with wood and lighting was added in 1867 but, otherwise, little was changed. William Porden took inspiration from the Corn Market in Paris when he designed the complex, which is why it’s fitting that the Brighton Corn Market was actually transferred there from the King & Queen Inn (a previous incarnation of today’s mock-Tudor extravaganza) in 1868.

The vast interior of the Grade I Listed Corn Exchange measures 178ft by 58ft with a truly impressive 34ft high unsupported arched ceiling. Porden actually struggled to find suitably large timber causing delays to the job! During the First World War, it became a military hospital and, afterwards, an exhibition and function room (as it is today). 1934 is the year which saw the Dome gain its famous Art Deco interior and there were alterations made by Robert Atkinson at the Corn Exchange too – the royal box was removed; the interior was made a single room again; and new windows were added looking out onto Church Street.

Around the corner on New Road but also connected behind the scenes is the 250 seat Grade II Listed Pavilion Theatre. It was designed by Atkinson and built as supper rooms for the Corn Exchange. It stands on a site previously occupied by the Dome Cottage and Mrs Fitzherbert’s stables. Despite the interior being pretty featureless, it works well as a cosy performance space for smaller audiences.

The Corn Exchange shares an imposing yellow brick Indian-style façade on Church Street with the Dome. Its distinctive entrance was added as part of the 1934 works and features a depiction by James Woodford of Ceres, the goddess of corn, above a canopy. Although less ostentatious, the Pavilion Theatre’s fortress-like frontage on New Road stands out amongst its neighbours without being obtrusive. I see it as being just as effective as the rest of the estate.

The last column of the series will be the one that I’ve been looking forward to writing most – “The Dome Behind the Scenes”.