City Hall – Leicester

Architects: Barnish and Silcock 1938

The medieval Leicester Guildhall was used as the Town Hall for around 300 years. By the mid-19th Century much larger premises were needed to support a rapidly growing industrial centre.  The Victorian Town Hall was opened in 1876 on the site of the old cattle market.

In 1919, Leicester was recognised as a city. It continued to expand, along with its Council. Conditions in the Town Hall soon became cramped and some departments began to move out. By 1930 it was agreed new municipal offices were needed to centralize the Housing, Electricity, Rates, Motor Licence and Valuation departments. They would form part of a major redevelopment of Charles Street, the so-called quarter of a million pound building on a million pound road.

The modest opening ceremony took place on 7th November 1938. In his speech the Lord Mayor, Councillor Frank Acton, said it was a privilege to open “this long sought-after and wonderful place.”  A stone tablet to mark the event can be seen opposite the reception desk in the entrance foyer. The building was designed to command attention and respect, and conform to a modern desire for simplicity. Clad in Portland Stone, its interior included many elegant Art Deco features, many of which have been restored.

Story of Leicester

The refurbishment was undertaken by Franklin Ellis Architects.

The office floors accommodate workstations for 480 staff, together with breakout areas and meeting rooms. The project included re-purposing original municipal spaces for new assembly functions; restoring period features; and providing a dignified civic interior appropriate to the functions of the Council. An environmentally conscious servicing solution minimises the building’s energy usage.

Attenborough Hall

By the 1930s, demand for electricity was growing rapidly. The Municipal Offices housed the Leicester Corporation Electricity Department (later the East Midland Electricity Board) and were specially furnished with a model kitchen for:

Housewives who are interested in the modern uses of electricity in the home.

A special theatre also presented weekly cookery demonstrations and a Service Centre displayed, sold and hired out electrical appliances.

The theatre is still extant, though sadly no longer available for cookery demonstrations.

On the back wall this mural remains as a reminder of the theatre’s the former use.

Many thanks to Grant Butterworth – Head of Planning, for negotiating access to the hall and accompanying us on our Modernist Mooch.

In the 1960s a nuclear bunker was constructed. This was one of many across the country built by local authorities to protect key personnel from radiation in the event of an attack, enabling some form of government to continue. Today, the bunker has long gone, and the basement of City Hall is now used as a storage area.

By 1963 the De Montfort Hall Box Office was located in the building.  This caused chaotic scenes in Charles Street when, in October of that year, around 3,000 youngsters queued all night for tickets to see The Beatles. When the Box Office opened at 9:30am, the queue stretched back to Humberstone Gate and was held in check by a pitifully thin line of police. The Leicester Mercury described the scene as:

A heaving, shouting, screaming, unruly, undignified, disorderly mob – a disgraceful night.

Pressure from the crowd caused a 10 foot square window in Halford´s shop to break.  With all the tickets sold, the crowd dispersed and the Leicester Mercury said Charles Street resembled

A filthy, unswept ghost street, badly in need of the cleaners to remove the mountains of waste paper and return its respectability. 

With thanks again to the Story of Leicester.

Leicester City Centre

On leaving the railway station turn right – there’s and enormous social housing tower block named Elizabeth House.

Architect: John Middleton 1976-79.

Next door a noisy neighbour the former British Telecom – St George’s Tower now Premier Inn with its newly acquired cladding of many colours.

Photo Steve Cadman

Next to City Hall architects: Barnish and Silcock 1938- the modest opening ceremony took place on 7th November 1938.

Once home to the Electricity Board Sowrooms specially furnished with a model kitchen for housewives who are interested in the modern uses of electricity in the home. A special theatre also presented weekly cookery demonstrations and a Service Centre displayed, sold and hired out electrical appliances.

Opposite City Hall the former Assurance Insurance HQ now Ramada Hotel.

Adjacent Halford House – former Leicester Temperance Building Society.

It was partly occupied by the firm of architects who built it in 1955-1959, Pick Everard Keay and Gimson. 

With its stunning clock surrounded by The Four Winds, by locally based artist Albert Pountney – he was head of sculpture at Leicester College of Art from 1947until 1960

Look out for the concrete planters known as Beckett’s Buckets – named for John Leslie Beckett, Leicester’s City Engineer and Surveyor 1941–64.

Lewis’s Tower on Humberstone Gate is all that remains of this Art Deco department store.

Up around the bend to the Curve Theatre Opened in 2008 by Her Majesty The Queen, designed by acclaimed architect Rafael Viñoly.

Originally designed and built in 1936 in the Streamline Moderne style by Robert Arthur Bullivant, and operated as an Odeon Cinema. The terracotta panels, which feature mermaids, were hand-moulded by William Neatby at the Lambeth premises of Doulton and Co.

The cinema was opened on 28th July 1938 with a screening of A Slight Case of Murder.

Grade II Listed August 1997 – the building has been restored and converted into a venue for corporate and social events renamed ATHENA.

Onward now to the Pfister & Vogle Warehouse – built in 1923 architects: Fosbrooke and Bedingfield for the Milwaukee based leather manufacturers.

Calling next at the Cardinal House Telephone Exchange 1970 – at 84m the tallest building in the city.

A sprawling complex of tower and outlying buildings.

No longer taking calls the Wharf Street Post Office and Telephone Exchange.

On 11 December 1959, the United Kingdom’s first drive-in post office opened. It was situated at the new Wharf Street Branch Post Office under the centre archway of the Wharf Street Telephone Exchange building in Leicester, which had a private road running through it.

Despite being announced in a burst of fanfare, the drive-in post office was ultimately considered to be a failure. From the initial 60 to 70 customers a day, this fell to 20 to 25 a day and, by 1963, the number of customers had tailed off to three per day and even this was not always maintained.

Postal Museum

Let’s carry on and park it in the Auto-Magic Lee Circle Car Park.

Much beloved of Sid James.

One of the oldest multi-storey car parks in Europe. When it opened in 1961, providing space for 1050 cars, it was also among the first automated public car parks, using coin-operated barriers. Beneath the six parking levels, the supermarket chain Tesco opened their first store outside London. Tesco was integrated with the car park above so that staff could take customers’ purchases direct to their cars. For some years the new supermarket featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest store by floor area in Europe.

The opening of the Leicester Tesco was a landmark event in the history of UK retailing and marked the beginning of self-service shopping, with customers required to use one of the company’s baskets or trolleys. A crowd of 2,000 gathered to see the opening of the store by ‘Carry On’ comedian Sid James in the presence of Sir Jack Cohen, founder of Tesco stores, who helped to pack bags at the check-outs. This was the first ‘discount store’ opened by Tesco.

Story of Leicester

Leicester Progressive Spiritualist Church

Epic House architects: Andrews, Emmerson & Sherlock 1963-1967

Formerly home to the UK’s first local radio station.

Crown House home to the Benefits Agency and County Court in the 1970’s

Let’s take a look at the Corah St Margaret’s Works – currently not working.

Corah was established by Nathaniel Corah, who began buying hosiery in Leicester to sell in Birmingham in 1815. The first extension was in 1882, when the company was the first in Leicester to introduce electric lighting to a factory. 

At the outbreak of World War II Corah had 4,500 employees but over half of that number left to join the Services or undertake war work.  Regardless of the reduced workforce the company produced 26 million knitted items for the government and processed around 250 million clothing coupons.  The engineering department was also extended to allow for the production of 80,000 gun parts and 30,000 parts for tank landing craft.

Despite all the innovation, good working practices, quality products and special relationship with Marks and Spencer, Corah was acquired by Coats Viyella in 1994.  The company was soon broken up and the St Margaret’s Works site closed within a decade.

Story of Leicester

The remains of the old Corah factory in Leicester city centre could be almost entirely demolished to make way for hundreds of 1,187 new homes.

Leicester Mercury

However here comes the cavalry:

C20 Society has joined Historic England and Leicester Civic Society in condemning plans to demolish the former Corah Factory, at the St Margaret’s Works site in the East Midlands city.

BISF Prefabs Wadsworth Lane – Hebden Bridge

Wadsworth Lane Hebden Bridge HX7 8DL

Calderdale is awash with non-traditional housing as can be seen on this site:

Non-traditional housing in Calderdale

The Second World War brought an even greater demand for the rapid construction of new dwellings. In addition to the need to rebuild homes damaged as a result of the war, the Government had other objectives that were set out in a white paper in 1945, to provide a separate dwelling for any family who wanted one and to complete the slum clearance programme started before the war. After the Second World War there was a surplus of steel and aluminium production, and an industry in need of diversification. These factors drove the move towards the use of prefabrication, as a result many new varieties of concrete, timber framed and steel framed systems emerged. Whilst most systems were intended to provide permanent or long-term housing a few were intended only as emergency or temporary solutions.

The homes on Wadsworth Lane are BISF Type A1 – designed by architect Frederick Gibberd and engineer Donovan Lee.

Manufactured by British Iron & Steel Federation and British Steel Homes Ltd.

Over 34,000 three-bedroom semi-detached houses and 1048 terraced houses were erected across England, Scotland and Wales.


Non Standard House

We have encountered the very same houses in Tin Town Wythenshawe

I walked up Wadsworth Lane in 2021.

I walked past again in 2022 – the home appear to be in good health, many improved or extended, yet retaining at least a little of their heritage.

They are lived in and loved.

Leicester University

Way back in 1972 the nation thought fit to celebrate its Modern University Buildings, rightly so, as many campuses represented the very best of the era’s architecture.

Leicester was foremost in this innovative use of C20 constructions.

Attenborough Tower

The Attenborough Building is the tallest building on the campus, and houses arts and humanities departments.

The building comprises three distinct elements: an 18-storey tower block containing 270 offices and tutorial rooms; a low-rise building, known within the University as the Attenborough Seminar Block, containing seminar rooms and computing facilities; and an underground area housing two large lecture theatres and the University Film Theatre.

It was designed by Arup Associates and constructed between 1968 and 1970, with Ove Arup as the chief engineers.

The university’s development plan at the time called for two other similar towers, but these were never built.

The building was named after Frederick Attenborough, who was principal of the then University College from 1932 until 1951, and father of Richard and David Attenborough. By the time of the opening ceremony Frederick was elderly and frail, so the building was opened on his behalf by his youngest son John.


Engineering Building

Opened in 1963 and widely regarded as one of the most architecturally important buildings of its era, the Engineering Building at Leicester is utterly distinctive.

Between them, architects James Gowan and James Stirling, plus engineer Frank Newby, created a unique piece of modern architecture designed around both the specific needs of the Engineering Department.

Atop the two cantilevered lecture theatres sit two joined towers containing labs and offices, their design inspired by the superstructure of an aircraft carrier. The rippling ‘waves’ of the two large glass roofs, angled at 45 degrees to the towers, face north to provide illumination without direct sunlight – which could affect delicate instruments.

There are actually two types of glass in the roof: translucent ply-glass with an inner layer of fibreglass, and opaque glass coated with aluminium. The distinction between the two only becomes noticeable at night when the building is illuminated.


The building’s walls are constructed of red Accrington brick and red Dutch tiles. Atop the taller tower is a water tank to provide hydraulic pressure, while the corner of the shorter tower is cambered to avoid overhanging part of Victoria Park. Within the ground floor workshop space, which is partitionable to provide flexibility, the floor is a series of concrete slabs that can be removed to provide foundations for machinery as required.

Visually stunning it may be, practical too, but the complexity of its design makes the Engineering Building very difficult – and hence expensive to keep in good repair, a situation exacerbated by the restrictions of its Grade II* listing.

Leicester University

Like Kahn at Philadelphia or Rudolph in New Haven, Stirling and Gowan at Leicester have given future architects and building committees a qualitative solution that can form a challenge for future efforts. They were not, themselves, forced into the strait-jacket of a local modernist cliché that was already established on the far side of the campus, and they refrained from setting up a rival one on their own quarter of the site-one which would have only required undoing at some future time. Instead, the architects addressed themselves to the immediate demands of the programme with devotion and respect.

Architectural Review 1963

Charles Wilson Building

Sir Charles Haynes Wilson was a Scottish political scientist and university administrator. As Principal of University College Leicester, he led the institution to university status in 1957 and served as the first Vice-Chancellor of the new University of Leicester, before becoming Principal of the University of Glasgow in 1961.

The building was designed by Sir Denys Lasdun in the brutalist style, and completed in 1963.

It is Category B listed. 

It is the university’s main social and catering building, and is licensed as a venue for civil weddings and civil partnerships.