The neo-classical building, designed by architects Pocock and Glover, held collections of books, scientific specimens, a museum of antiquities, machines and models, a reference library and incorporated a reading room and a large space for public meetings. A stone statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess representing wisdom and the arts, was placed above the entrance.
At its opening meeting the hall was “most uncomfortably crammed, an immense number of persons had to stand.” The meeting was attended by “all the ladies of the respectable families of Huntingdon and Godmanchester” although it was remarked on that Science was a dark mystery which women would not enjoy, unlike the “more congenial pursuits of Literature.”
Throughout the Victorian era the Institution provided a venue for various church activities, public events such as celebrations of royal weddings, entertainments, lectures and social meetings of local groups. Billiards, chess, smoking and music rooms were popular additions.
The Institution remained a successful venture into the first half of the last century, and saw the building of the art deco Hippodrome Cinema next door in 1933, and the conversion of the cellars to an air raid shelter in WW2. During the war, the billiard rooms were freely patronised by military personnel stationed in the local area, and 581 temporary military memberships were issued.
After the war use of the building declined, and when the town council sought to build a commemorative Community Centre as a war memorial it was eventually decided (after a decade of public fundraising and slow progress), rather than erect a new building, the former Institution building should be adapted.
The building was bought for £2705 in 1956, and reopened in 1959 as The Commemoration Hall, with new stairs for the gallery under the octagonal skylight that had housed the library and museum, a new kitchen and booking office, and a maplewood dance floor and a stage in the main hall.
The building opened to the public in 1842 as the Huntingdon Literary and Scientific Institution, with the objectives of promoting “Moral and Intellectual Improvement, Scientific and General Information, Agricultural Knowledge, Literature and The Arts.”