Bedford Corn Exchange given Grade II listing

Famously, Glenn Miller played his last concert there in August 1944, before he disappeared

By Clare Turner
Thursday, 23rd June 2022, 7:00 am

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.

And as part of the Bedford High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ), more detailed information has also been added to the list entry for the Harpur Suite.

Dating back to 1874, the Corn Exchange was built to the designs of John Ladds RIBA (1835-1926) and Henry William Powell FRIBA (1847-1900).

Bedford Corn Exchange, in St Paul's Square (Picture: Patricia Payne/Historic England Archive)

It replaced an earlier and smaller Corn Exchange, which stood nearby and was demolished in 1904.

Its hall was designed to be a spacious assembly room. The 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 and became popular for dances between the wars.

Interior of the concert hall view at the Corn Exchange (Picture: Patricia Payne/Historic England Archive)

The BBC Symphony Orchestra used the venue between September 1941 and July 1945 for public concerts, which were broadcast to the nation.

Famously, 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.

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.

Band leader, Glenn Miller at the microphone, at the forces concert at the Corn Exchange, Bedford, July 18, 1944. (Picture: Bedfordshire Archives (Beds Times collection))

And the Harpur Suite – which was listed at Grade II* in 1952 – has had its list entry updated.

Eilíse McGuane, Historic England listing adviser said: “These remarkable Victorian public buildings were created as social destinations for people to experience education, leisure and entertainment.

“The impressive architecture and stunning interiors show how important they were to the people of Bedford. We’d love for people to add their own photos, memories and information onto the list entries for these beautiful buildings.”

The Harpur Suite, in Harpur Square (Picture: Patricia Payne/Historic England Archive)