Albert Hall Building, Colchester, a Grade II listed building by Raphael (1817-77) and Joshua (1822-47) Brandon. At the west end of the High Street, this was built as a corn exchange, next to the earlier corn exchange (above left) which later became the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Fire Office. A picture of the Brandons' building was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845 (see p. 44), the year it was opened. The Exchange was faced with the same stone as the old town hall, and the building was crowned by an allegorical sculpture of Ceres "scattering round her the produce of an abundant harvest" ("Albert Hall"). Unfortunately, the work deteriorated so much that it had to be removed later (see Cooper and Elrington — here and elsewhere the sculpture is wrongly assumed to be a depiction of Britannia).
In a charming touch, the capitals of its Ionic columns were carved as horizontal sheaves of corn. The sheaves are complemented by heads of grain at the front of each capital, as well as bearing the conventional egg and dart design.
As another example of attention to detail, the two bays projecting at each end originally displayed attractive reliefs of "agrarian produce and implements of husbandry" ("Albert Hall"). These panels can still be seen, since they were carefully removed and re-sited at a car park on nearby Balkerne Hill. Each shows a robed maiden, perhaps Ceres again, standing in the fields amid lush growth and holding, respectively, a spade and a sickle.
An illustration of the building in its original state.
Later, the building ceased to function as a corn exchange, and in 1885 became the premises of the newly founded Albert School of Science and Art. It was probably at this time that the outer niches were adapted to make windows. In 1894 the school's management was taken over by the government, and more changes were made, to give it lecture rooms and laboratories. The school developed into a technical institute, moving into new premises in 1912. Despite having stood empty or been used for various other purposes, it still survives to testify to the versatility of architects better known for their enthusiasm for the neo-Gothic, and church architecture.
Text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. Very many thanks to historians Jess Jephcott, who gave me permission to reproduce the postcard at the top, and Dr. Patrick S. Denney of Essex University, who kindly provided the last illustration. The detail of the capital has been cropped and adapted from a photograph by Howard Lake on Flickr, available on this Creative Commons License. Click on all the images to enlarge them.
"The Colchester Corn Exchange." In The Builder. Vol. II. 27 July 1844: 371. Internet Library of Early Journals. Project by the Universities of Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford. Web. 4 May 2015.
Cooper, Janet, and C. R. Elrington, eds. "Albert Hall." In A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. London, 1994: 274-277. See also "Further Education" in the same volume, 352-366. British History Online. Web. 4 May 2015.
Exhibition of the Royal Academy. Google Books. Free eBook. Web. 4 May 2015.
Created 3 May 2015