The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Stamford Hall, Leicester (photo: Elain Harwood)
St Barnabas Library, Leicester (photo: Elain Harwood)
St Joseph's Church, Leicester (photo: Elain Harwood)

C20 AGM visit to Leicester

There is a lot to admire in Leicester, including this year’s C20 AGM location: the recently refurbished City Hall, a 1930s neo-classical building by Liverpool architects Barnish & Silcock. The copper murals are a must-see. Then we joined Elain Harwood’s tour at [Joe] Orton Square, with views of The Curve, a striking contemporary theatre with some very good inter-war neighbours, such as the Odeon cinema and the Pfister & Vogel Leather Factors. The Kingstone store (Raymond McGrath, 1937) has vitrolite curtain walling. Prosperity continued into the 1960s with the Lee Circle Car Park, a continuous double ramp originally housing a Tesco and car wash.

Beyond the inner ring road, we found some impressive circular forms. St Barnabas Library, seemingly Asplund in plan and moderne in style, was by local architects Symington, Prince & Pike, part of a programme of interwar library and museum expansion. Further east, the 1960s Catholic Church of St Joseph also centered on a circular drum-like interior. We ended in the gardens of 22 Avenue Road, a late 1950s open-plan single-storey modernist house for the Goddard family.

Sunday brought a tour of the Leicester University Engineering Building (Stirling & Gowan, 1959 – 63) where the workshops are being restored. Most of the campus was designed by Arup, Leslie Martin and Denys Lasdun. After visiting Lutyens’ Arch of Remembrance, we discovered the impressive municipal Central Fire Station by A & T E Sawday (1927). Then New Walk, a tree-lined pedestrian route since 1785 and the New Walk Museum (with its collection of German Expressionist art) and the wonderful Goddard’s Plate Powder & Polish factory of 1935. In the city centre Elain picked out more good inter-war architecture, such as the Fenwicks extension and the County Offices.

From Jewry Wall and the complementary brutalism of the neighbouring museum and Vaughn College (by Trevor Dannatt) we followed King Richards Road, taking in the National Space Centre, a listed petrol station at Red Hill, and a second Symington, Prince & Pike library at Southfields. Also worth picking out were the 60s County Hall at Blaby (very Tracy Island), a Lasdun hall of residence and a contemporary housing extension at Westfield Road (a bit like the Barcelona Pavilion). Finally, St Aidan’s Church in New Parks, by Basil Spence. Essentially a rectangular nave with cloister and neighbouring campanile, a pleasing rhythm of steel, concrete, brick and timber, made really special by the ceramic murals by William Gordon.

Chris Matthews

C20 members visited Leicester in June 2016


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