WALLINGFORD has been a market town since its Saxon origins and the tradition of exchanging produce by barter or sale at stalls in the Market Place is still seen on Fridays.

Rich crops of local barley and wheat ensured that the sale of ‘corn’ (the generic term for such grains) was always an important market feature.

In 1670 a new town hall, raised on pillars, provided a convenient covered area for corn sales.

By the mid 19th century when the town was prospering, a need was felt to find a more suitable place for the exchange of corn.

In 1856 an opportunity arose to buy and demolish a property in the market place and build instead a prestigious new corn exchange.

A grand design was agreed by the new ‘Corn Exchange Committee’ (whose minutes survive in the Berkshire Record Office).

A cast-iron construction – to support a light-providing glass roof – was commissioned from the Wilder family of iron-founders.

The iron supports were actually manufactured by James Wilder & Son of Reading, whose facilities were better suited to the task than the local Wallingford branch.

The records of the job survive in papers and ledgers of the Wilder business, luckily rescued from a skip in 1974 and now safely kept in Wallingford Museum.

The roof ironwork was estimated at £299.9s 9d (£299.48) but additional costs for transport, fitting, scaffolding, guttering, a water cistern and a £2 enamelled urinal (!) raised the total to £409.16s 6d (£409.83.)

Local builder Moses Winter began work in August 1856 and the new Corn Exchange opened in December.

From the outset, running costs were offset by hiring out the hall as a venue for entertainments ‘paying 10s (50p) for a religious meeting and not less than 20s (£1) for others, including auctions, concerts and exhibitions’. It proved very popular.

The one weakness in the original design was the glass roof.

By 1888 broken glass panels needed repair, then in 1897 a report states: ‘...glazing very defective. Wet comes in at every joint’.

Repairs cost £166.3s.0d (£166.15). Then in 1916, when the glass proved too light for early ‘cinematograph exhibitions’, blacking out was suggested!

The Corn Exchange was used for its initial purpose only until 1934. During the wars years the army used it, and later it was partitioned to provide various local government offices. By 1970 it was empty and derelict but in 1976, the Sinodun Players, the local Dramatic Society, bravely took it on and transformed it by volunteer effort into the magnificent theatre and cinema it is today.

Sadly, however, the glass roof is up to its old tricks and this time £350,000 needs to be raised to put the matter right once and for all. This lovely historic building is well worth saving, so please help the Sinodun Players out if you possibly can.

Visit cornexchange.org.uk/roof-fund-appeal