In Mediaeval times the Cornhill, or Market Hill as it was also known, became the centre of trade and local government in Ipswich. This market place was the site of the mediaeval pillar-cross of stone, erected about 1510. The Cross itself was replaced in 1628 by another more elaborate structure as a result of a bequest in 1610. The new market Cross, which stood towards the east side of the Cornhill, lasted until 1812.
The first recorded building in the area was the Flesh Market, or shambles, mentioned in 1346 and reconstructed in 1378 and 1583. The upper part on the last Shambles building was in the form of an open gallery, which provided a vantage point for viewing public occasions on the square below. The Rotunda, which replaced the Shambles in 1793, lasted only until 1810, when the first Corn Exchange was erected by the Corporation.
The Corn Exchange, built at a cost of £33,000 and opened in March 1812, has a forbidding appearance. Its exterior was jail-like, the openings in the walls being grated with heavy iron bars. The interior was open to the sky and merchants and others were sheltered from the rain merely round the sides of the buildings.
In July 1849 a number of merchants asked the Council to heighten its walls, roof it with glass, convert the iron gratins to windows and clear away the corner shops. A schemer costing about £1,100 was eventually agreed, which involved a virtual rebuilding since the walls were taken down to ground level.
During the 1860's the Corn Exchange was becoming crowded on market days and the Council began to consider various alternatives, including the possibility of converting the Public Hall. In 1879 the Council decided to acquire the King Street site at the rear of the Town Hall for £12,000.
This time the Council did not get into any difficulty over the architectural competition as there was widespread agreement in favour of the design (one of 15) entered by Brightwen Binyon under the nom-de-plume "North Light". Building started in the autumn of 1880. The foundation stone was laid on 22nd October 1880 by Mayor D. H. Booth. The cost of the building was £25,000. In July 1882 the hoardings round the new Corn Exchange were cleared away and although the roadway at King Street had not been surfaced the public footpath was open. It was opened on 26th July 1882 by Mayor Frederick Fish.
In August 1888 the fruit and vegetable market was transferred from Falcon Street to the Corn Exchange where it remained until November 1970. The last Corn Market was held at the Corn Exchange on 29th June 1972.
During 1971 it was decided to remodel the Corn Exchange. The main requirements were for meeting, exhibitions, shows and other spectator events. The cost of remodelling was £800,000. The 'new' Corn Exchange was opened by the Duke of Gloucester on 22nd September 1975. The Grand Hall is used for live shows by touring companies and local groups, keep fit, discos, dances and dinners, an annual beer festival in September, etc. The Robert Cross Hall is used mainly for craft fairs, exhibitions (art and photographic) and late night musical entertainment.