THE CORNHALL CONTROVERSY
One of the most bitter controversies ever to afflict East Dereham, centred round the Cornhall, built at a cost of £ 1,800 by the Cornhall Company, a public company floated by a number of prominent people mostly connected with farming, who, were anxious to do something for the good of the town. Amongst the first shareholders were Lord Sondes, The Earl of Leicester, Lord Suffield, Captain Adlington and Lord Hastings.
In those days the site of the present hall was part of the market place, and was considerably disfigured by "The Shambles" which, judging by old drawings, were in the form of fixed butchers stalls in a somewhat dilapidated condition. These stalls were privately owned, and the market tolls due from them belonged to the lessee under the Crown, these were sold by the Crown to the late Harvey Rix in 1876, who subsequently sold them to the local board, now the Council.
To obtain the site for the hall it was necessary to purchase it piecemeal from the five or six different owners of "The Shambles", together with the ground occupied by the outjutting porch of the Red Lion Inn. The purchase also included a piece of ground in front of the hall belonging to Suttons the Drapers and Abrams the Chemists, which was not built on, but given to the town to be part of the market place. A permit to build was obtained from the Crown, and the work of construction being carried out by Goggs of Swaffham.
The building itself is a very substantial one, covering an area 86 feet by 55 feet, and possessing an annex measuring 75 feet by 28 feet, (This was demolished in the early 70s to make way for three small retail outlets). The frontage is a corinthian columned canopy surmounted by a figure of Coke of Norfolk, and was opened on February 11 1857.
The townsmen were split into two camps, for the hall was built on the public highway
over "Lion Hill" and many public and private rights were ignored. The trouble brewed and
fermented and six months later overflowed to the Norfolk Assizes, where, on July 19 1857
The East Dereham Corn Exchange Company was indicted for obstructing "Lion Hill" and
The jury found that there was an obstruction of "Lion Hill", but they also found that the public
were materially benefited by the alteration and no order was made for the demolition of the
hall. In May 1858 the action came before the Vice-Chancellors court.
The Corn Exchange Company were ordered to pay certain costs, but the Vice-Chancellor
declined to order the building to be pulled down as asked for by the relators, because it was a
great public improvement.
In June, the Attorney General confirmed the judgement, the final decision, providing that upon
payment by the proprietors of the new Corn Exchange of the costs awarded by the court of
chancery and of £100 to the East Dereham Corn Market Company, (their rivals) the suit would
be withdrawn. QUOTE, "These proceedings are therefore terminated. The hall is to remain
and the payment for admission will continue as before." UNQUOTE.
This decision was greeted in Dereham by "The joyous ringing of the church bells", which,
somewhat upset the Vicar, Parson Armstrong who had no desire to take sides in this affair.
THE STATUE OF COKE OF NORFOLK
The stone statue of Coke, which stood above the entrance of the corn exchange was unvieled on September 6 1858. Mr. Freeman of Swanton was the principle promoter of the public fund with which the statue was purchased. It weighed more than three tons having been carved from a single block of portland stone weighing seven tons.
The luncheon in celebration of the inauguration was presided over by Lord Sondes, but it was "a tame affair" according to Parson Armstrong, who wrote in his diary, " The bag which enveloped the respectable old gentleman was suddenly pulled over his head, and one man fired a gun, and six more got up a cheer. The attendance in the hall was not very large". This figure was one of three, of which the other two were never used.
Bereft of the plough and cornsheaf which formerly flanked the statue, Coke continued to gaze over the town to the green fields beyond until June 21 1950, on that day, the longest day of the year, there occurred a freak storm during which one flash of lightening fused a water and gas pipe in a house at Becclesgate, so that "water flowed into the good housewife's oven", and another flash struck Coke of Norfolk which had dominated the market place for over ninety years. The head of the statue was split into four pieces, two of which crashed through the glass roof into the 2/9d seats, as is remembered by the duty projectionist on that day Mr. S. Blanch, while a further portion rolled across the road to the door of Mr. Robinsons chemist shop opposite. After an effort to save the statue it was decided to remove it as the main portion had also been split by the flash and was a public danger. Today nothing remains but the plinth on which Coke of Norfolk once proudly stood.
As previously mentioned it was due to the efforts of a Swanton farmer that the statue originally came into existence. At a Dereham Rotary luncheon at the time the statue was being demolished, it was proposed by a landowner of Swanton, Edward Kieth Esq., "That some effort should be made to preserve Coke's memory in Dereham which is still the agricultural centre for Mid-Norfok by the putting up of a plaque". Unfortunately research shows that this proposal has never materialised.
THE WAR YEARS
Like many other concerns The Corn Exchange was adversely affected by the war. During an air raid in 1915 the roof was blown off, leaving the hall without cover for three months and involving a cost of £400 for it's repair.
OCCUPATION BY THE ARMY
DEREHAM & FAKENHAM TIMES JAN 10 1915
A volunteer training corps for Dereham & District, affiliated to the central association, was formed at a meeting held on Tuesday night at the Dereham Cornhall, and addressed by Mr Reeve of Norwich. The arrangements for the meeting had been made by the Urban District Council, and clerk Mr. B.H.Vores, acted as secretary. The chairman of the council
Mr G. Brett presided over a large attendance....... and this lengthy report ends with .......At the
close of the meeting seventy names of intending members were handed to the chairman.
Two weeks later on Jan 30th 1915 The Dereham & Fakenham Times reported "The first drill
of the Dereham & District Volunteer Training Corps will take place at The Cornhall Exchange
on Saturday night at 7-45pm.
The secretary Mr. George Hewitt wishes it to be known that members will be enrolled on this
occasion. The following week it was reported that fifty members were enrolled at the first
The Corn Exchanges occupation by the Army rendered it useless for it's intended purpose, and, finally the fixed price of corn made an exchange entirely unnecessary. These factors with others, contributed largely towards it's failure as a paying concern, and the company having been wound up, the hall itself was put up for public auction on Feb 23 1924.
DEREHAM & FAKENHAM TIMES SATURDAY MARCH 18 1924
AUCTION OF THE CORNHALL
The Council, after being given first option of purchase which they turned down, the Corn Exchange was put up for public auction, which was poorly attended, the bidding started at £800 mounting by £100 at a time until it was knocked down to Mr.Nash of Kings Lynn for £1,200.
THE CINEMA AT THE EXCHANGE
The Cinema came to the Exchange building in about 1924. After the necessary conversions the cinema could seat some 600 people, and screened some of the most up to date films of the day, these were of course silent films. Later the balcony or, circle was installed, this brought the seating capacity up to approximately 810.This alteration made it necessary to move the projection suite up to it's present position, hence the rather ugly protrusion in the top of the arch on the outside of the building. The original projection port holes, although now bricked up can still be found in the void under the balcony seating, and, the original silent screen is still to be found painted on the wall behind the screen now in place.(fig. one) During its heyday a pair of statues holding illuminated torches used to flank the black with gold sunrise effect curtains covering the screen, which, were opened and closed by hand from the projection suite.
Before the building had mains electricity the power was derived from two diesel generators used on a week about rota.
The age of the talkie came to the Exchange Theatre in 1929, the changeover from silent to sound being carried out over-night and the first sound film to be screened was called "Sunny side up".
At this time Dereham boasted two cinemas, the other was the Mayfair or, as was locally called "The Pool Cinema" in Norwich street (now the Memorial Hall) as this was the towns
swimming pool for six months of the year, which although has been dry for many years still exists under the maple floor. The Mayfair/Pool cinema was owned by the same company as the Exchange cinema. Mr Colin Aldis, probably the longest serving person to have worked at the Exchange used to ferry the news reels between the two cinema's by trade bike, a practice which was common in towns and cities with more than one cinema.
In 1962 the cinema balcony was split from the stalls to make way for the "Sunshine Rooms" dance hall, formally the Wellington Club, which hosted many now famous bands including Jimmy Hendrix and Geno Washington.
With the cinema separated from the ground, floor it was now left with only 210 seats and was taken over by Colin Brian Aldis in 1966 and re-named The C.B.A. Cinema, Colins's initials, and his logo, (fig two) was based around the now obsolete A.B.C. logo. (fig Three)
Fig 2 Fig 3
For those who may be interested in the technical side, the first projection equipment to be installed by Colin was a single Bell and Howell 16mm machine adapted to take the full programme on two spools, but this was soon to be replaced by a Hortzon full size cinema 16mm projector with a xenon arc lamp, and then a pair of Kalee model 12 35mm projectors ( fig four) made in Leeds, standing some seven feet high, fitted with B.T.P. sound heads (British Talking Pictures) and Vulcan type D L carbon are lamps. These machines were later modified by changing from the old 2000ft. film spools which ran for twenty minutes each, to 6000ft. film spools which ran for just over an hour each, and also replacing the Vulcan arc lamps for the more up to date Auto-Arcs, (fig five) which could run for the extra time needed on the new larger spools, although these too are now obsolete having been replaced by the Xenon Arc, a self contained are bulb, many of the "old school" will say that they prefer the carbon are because it gives a much whiter light than it's xenon replacement.
In 1972 the C.B.A. Cinema was sadly forced to vacate it's long established home at the Exchange building and was moved to the Memorial Hall, using only the fixed seating in the balcony which only amounted to 110 seats.
THE EXCHANGE WELCOMES BILL AND CHRIS
In 1975 the town welcomed two newcomers, Mr. William George Edgar Nightingal and Mr Christopher Sidney LeMoignan, who initially moved here to open a Bingo and Social Club, on hearing how the cinema was forced to close it's curtains to the patrons of the Exchange, decided the building having been associated with the film industry for so many years should be given another chance, and so, Mr Aldis was asked if he would like to move his machinery back to the home of the cinema in Dereham, thankfully he agreed, and once again the cinema was back in it's rightful place, in the centre of the community.
And so Bill and Chris having re-instated the cinema, turned their sights on forming Chasedraw Ltd, And opened Dereham's first Bingo and Social Club and named it The Lucky 'D'. But not satisfied with a Cinema and a Bingo Club, they had yet another surprise for the town.
THE BIRTH OF THE PLOUGH & FURROW
One of Bill's life long ambitions was to own a Free-Trade public house, but while working all over the country in different Bingo Clubs with Chris, he was never given the opportunity, so, with the acquisition of the lease on the Corn Exchange building, both Bill and Chris worked with unsurpassed enthusiasm to reach this goal.
The area now known as "The Plough and Furrow" had been used in the past as among other things as "The Tavern Bar" which only went back as far as the end of the existing Plough bar top, with tables formed in the shape of coffin lids, and seats made from padded half wooden barrels. Two of the resident bands that played at the Tavern Bar were, "The Rubber Band" featuring two of the Rix brothers, one of which went on to form the band "Sparrow", and the other band was called "Stockpot". After the closure of The Tavern Bar the basement area stood empty for many years. That was until the Dereham Amateur Boxing Club needed temporary training quarters, and after a short stay, they found more suitable premises at the old stammers mill, and moved out, once again leaving the area as an unused void.
Enter the architects, and in no time at all the seed had been planted. Contractors were hired
and work should have started, but, it was noticed that the bar had been positioned where the back bar / glass shelves are, and it was Bill that asked the question that sent the architects into total panic, "Where have you hidden the beer cellar?" So, after a short delay the work started in earnest, first on the agenda, enlarge the floor area. Easier said than done, not possible to get a digger into the building it had to he dug out by hand, and, with men and one enthusiastic youngster Neil Hardy, now a local electrician, armed with nothing more than pick axes, shovels, several lengths of builders deals and dogged determination the bar was extended to nearly twice it's original size. Moving several tons of heavy compacted rock hard clay type soil, and replacing the original brick pillars, which had supported the weight of generations of visitors to the Cornhall since 1857, with steel pillars and beams.
During the renovations an old door was allegedly found with strange carvings, unfortunately, it was disposed of before it could he examined or photographed.
With amazing speed the Plough and Furrow began to take shape, this may well have had something to do with what we all thought was Chris's impatience at getting what he wanted, .namely from drawing board to drawing pints in the shortest tine possible, I can still remember him dashing into the heart of the hustle and bustle of busy workers, rubbing his hands together saying in his gravelly voice and with that infectious grin that he always seemed to sport, 'I love it when a plan comes together", and as you can see it was worth it.
The Plough and Furrow opened on March 14 1978 and has been fortunate in being one of the busiest public houses in Dereham for a while.
This Tudor style free-house has had three major re-vamps in it's 26 year history, and although it has always had free entertainment of some description, it boasted probably the first permanently installed disco and lighting rig and the first five foot video projection screen in Dereham.
The first manager way back in 1978 was Mr Harry 'the lung' Lever, (so called because he was a diving instructor) another long serving manager was Mr Peter Chambers, then Mr Mark Blows, followed by Mr Phil Ward.
Sadly Bill Nightingal passed away in 1979 and Chris LeMoignan in 1993, they are both missed very much but will never be forgotten. On Chris's death the company was left by will to three directors, Miss Joanne Cross, Mr Mark Blows, and Mr Martin Morrell, Mark decided to sell his shares to Joanne and Martin to take on a different career, and sadly passed away suddenly some time later.
Attendance's then began to fall at the Lucky 'D' Bingo and Social Club which in turn forced Chasedraw into voluntary liquidation, and the floor space that it occupied was then let by the landlord to the Hollywood Cinema chain which had already taken over C.B.A. Cinema in the early 90s., allowing them to expand by putting two smaller screens in what used to be The Sunshine Rooms/Bingo Club, at this point Mr Morrell also left the fold leaving only Miss Cross at The Plough and Furrow.
I hope that this brief history of the East Dereham Corn Exchange has interested you, and that you come to take a look, at one of the most impressive buildings afforded to our town.
Phil Ward 1994
Transcribed to HTML using OCR by Frank Shaw 2005