28 April 2018
The Corn Exchange remains a
landmark building in Lichfield
The Corn Exchange on the corner of Conduit Street and Bore Street, which is one of the landmark buildings in the centre of Lichfield, was first built as market hall and savings bank, and now accommodates shops, a restaurant and office.
It was built as the Lichfield Corn Exchange and a combined Market Hall in 1849-1850. It was designed in the Tudor Gothic style by the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson and Son of Saint John Street.
Thomas Johnson trained as a pupil of the Lichfield architect Joseph Potter (1756–1842), who had a large practice in Staffordshire and the neighbouring counties in the late 18th and early 19th century. Potter lived in Pipehill, south-west of Lichfield, but had his office in Saint John Street. Apart from restorations to Lichfield Cathedral, his work includes Newton’s College (1800-1802), the Causeway Bridge, Bird Street (1816), Freeford Hall, which he enlarged for William Dyott (1826-1827), and Holy Cross Church, Upper John Street (1835).
By 1814, the Potter practice was run from a house on the north side of Saint John’s Hospital. Later it was continued by his son, Joseph Potter, who designed the Guildhall (1846-1848) and who died in 1875.
Meanwhile, Thomas Johnson went on to work as a junior partner with the prolific Staffordshire architect James Trubshaw (1777-1853) of Little Haywood, near Colwich. Soon, Johnson married Trubshaw’s eldest daughter, Mary.
In 1828, Johnson and Potter worked on the nave of Saint Mary’s Church (Church of England) in Uttoxeter. But a year later, in 1829, Johnson set up his own practice as an architect in Tamworth Street, Lichfield, and he continued to design churches, including the very large Saint James’s in Longton (1832-1834). By 1834, he was living in the house that later became Davidson House in Upper Saint John Street.
Around this time, Johnson fell under the influence of the Cambridge Camden Society, which was strongly influenced by AWN Pugin. The early members included Canon James Law, a prebendary and chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral and a former Master of Saint John’s Hospital (1821-1826).
Both Law and Johnson were founding members of the Lichfield Society for the Encouragement of Ecclesiastical Architecture in 1841, and both were active committee members. Canon William Gresley (1801-1876) of Saint Mary’s, a leading Tractarian and former curate of Saint Chad’s, was the first chairman, and the committee met in Canon Law’s house in Market Street. Other committee members included the antiquarian and lawyer, William Salt of Stafford, and the Revd Richard Rawle of Cheadle.
In 1841, Thomas Johnson also began working on the restoration of Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, and he did further work there in 1848-1849.
In 1842-1843, he worked with the London-born architect Sydney Smirke – who also designed the Hinkley family home at Beacon Place – in the controversial restoration of Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield. During that work, the original memorial stone commissioned by Samuel Johnson for his family was removed as Saint Michael’s was repaved, and much of the mediaeval fabric of the church was lost. But Johnson’s restoration work is a remarkable example of the strong influence of Pugin’s ideas on his work, and the historian of Staffordshire Gothic architecture, the Revd Michael J Fisher, says it is a surprisingly good example of Gothic for its time.
In 1846, Johnson completed his rebuilding of All Saints’ Church, Leigh, two miles off the A522 between Cheadle and Uttoxeter. Michael J Fisher, in his Staffordshire and the Gothic Revival describes this as ‘one of the most remarkable of Staffordshire’s Victorian churches’ and he laments that the importance of this church has not been fully recognised. This work was funded mainly by Richard Bagot of Blithfield, Bishop of Oxford and later Bishop of Bath and Wells, and a former rector of All Saints’. The bishop’s son, the Revd Lewis Bagot family, was the incumbent at the time of Johnson’s rebuilding, while the bishop’s nephew, the Revd Hervey Bagot, was Rector of Blithfield and an active member of the Lichfield Society with Johnson. The chancel furnishings and floor tiles at Leigh have been attributed to Pugin and were donated by Herbert Minton, who also donated the reredos.
Johnson was also the architect of Christ Church, Lichfield, which was built in 1846-1847 on Christchurch Lane, just off Walsall Road. The church was designed in the Victorian Gothic Revival style and was built of sandstone quarried in Lichfield. It was consecrated on 26 October 1847 by the Bishop of Lichfield, John Lonsdale.
Johnson’s other works in Lichfield include a wing, school room and front wall built ca 1849 at the former Lichfield Grammar School on Saint John Street.
At the same time, he designed the railway bridge crossing Upper Saint John Street which leads trains to and from Lichfield City Station, and which I described in the Lichfield Gazette in 2013. The bridge, close to Davidson House, was built in 1849 for the South Staffordshire Railway Company. In his design, Johnson tried to evoke a city gate, with battlements, heraldic decoration, and side towers containing multi-arched pedestrian ways. Bishop Lonsdale, who consecrated Christ Church a few years earlier, and the Bagot family are among the Lichfield notables he singled out for commemoration in the heraldic images on the bridge next to his home in Upper John Street.
When Thomas Johnson died in 1853, he was succeeded by his son, also Thomas Johnson, who died in 1865, and the work of the two sons is sometimes confused.
Before Johnson built the combined Corn Exchange and Market Hall in the mid-19th century, a number of businesses with houses stood on the site, as well as a market for the poor.
In the late Middle Ages, the Market Cross of Lichfield stood to the north of Saint Mary’s Church. In 1522-1533, the Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, James Denton, surrounded the Market Cross with eight arches and roofed it, making a structure ‘for poor market folks to stand dry in.’ This building was topped with eight statues of apostles, two brass crucifixes on the east and west sides, and a bell.
During the Civil War, Dean Denton’s market arcade was destroyed by the Parliamentarians in 1643. A new market house was built in the 1650s, and part of the cost was met with £41 10s ‘British money’ that had been collected in Lichfield in the mid-1640s.
This money was intended for the relief of the army in Ireland, but it was held onto by the collectors, and in 1652 they gave it to Lichfield Corporation towards building a market house. The building evidently consisted of an upper storey on an open arcade. In 1668, the trustees of the Conduit Lands paid for repairs to it, including repairs to 15 piers and four windows. In 1701, the corporation leased rooms ‘over the Market Cross.’
The building also had a market bell. A renewal of the lease in 1716 reserved to the corporation the right to ring the bell.
The market house was rebuilt at the trustees' expense in the early 1730s. The new building was single-storey with two arched openings on each of its four sides. The corporation provided a market bell in 1756-1757.
This market house was pulled down in 1789, and in the early 1790s the Roundabout House to the east and the former fire engine house beside it were demolished too.
A subscription for a new market house opened in the mid-1790s, with the corporation contributing £10, the Marquess of Stafford contributed £50, and the Conduit Lands trustees gave £100.
The new building, completed in 1797, stood on the site of the Roundabout House and was designed apparently by an architect named Statham. This was a stone building with arched openings and was surmounted by a balustrade.
The Market Place was enlarged in 1835 with the demolition of a range of houses at the north-east corner. Lichfield Corporation paid £200 towards the cost, and the Conduit Lands trustees contributed £550.
However, a decision was taken in 1848 to build a combined market hall and corn exchange, and the market house was pulled down in 1849.
Thomas Johnson’s new Corn Exchange opened in 1850. It is built of brick with ashlar dressings and has a fish-scale tile roof with brick stacks.
This is a two-storey, seven-window range, with a recessed two-window range to the left. There is a seven-bay arcade with four-centre arches with keys. The first floor has a sill course. At the top, there is a stone-coped parapet with round projections – the left end has a shaped gable, the right end has an octagonal pavilion with a parapet with shaped gablets and round pinnacles and a pyramidal roof.
The arcade has a brick groin vault with transverse arches, inner four-centred arched openings with late 20th century shop fronts, and an entrance at the left end.
The first floor has double-chamfered-mullioned windows with leaded glazing, most of two lights though the window that to left end has three lights with a round-headed upper light, the second last window to the right has four lights with transom and two round-headed upper lights, and the octagon has windows of two round-headed lights to the angled faces.
There are square panels with raised black letters reading ‘The Corn Exchange.’
The recessed range has a window that was originally of three lights, and a mid-20th century shop front at the corner. The first floor has canted a oriel with 1:3:1 lights with round-headed lights, and a three-light window to the left, all ovolo-mullioned. This is dated 1849, and there is shaped gable and cross-axial stack.
The right return has similar details and a 20th century, single-storey addition. The lettering reads: ‘Market Hall.’
The left return has a shop front with an entrance to the left with a four-centred head with a cornice, overlight and glazed door. The first floor has a single light and a three-light window. Here the lettering reads ‘Savings Bank.’ There is a parapet and a 20th century dormer.
Inside the building, there are jack arches to the shops and a hammer-beam roof in the first floor hall.
The arcaded ground floor was a market hall, and the upper floor, with an octagonal north end, housed the corn exchange, and was also used as an assembly hall. A savings bank in the same style was built at the Bore Street end of the building. The market hall was let to the corporation and was used as a butter and poultry market. The doors and glazing were added around 1889.
The whole building was bought by Lichfield Corporation on 15 February 1902. The ground floor continued in use as a market hall, and the upper floor, after being occupied by the War Office from 1916, became the Lichfield City Institute in 1920.
In the mid-1970s, shops were built on the ground floor and the upper floor was converted into a restaurant. Today McKenzie’s is one of the best-known restaurants in Lichfield, and the Corn Exchange with its arcade remains one of the landmark buildings in Lichfield.