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.

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