• The Art Deco building was designed “to command attention and respect” and conform to a “modern desire for simplicity”; a staple of 1930s design aesthetic
  • A nuclear bunker was built inside during the Cold War of the 1960s, one of many built by local authorities across the UK
  • Sympathetically restored to its former glory the building is once again the central offices of the local authority

New municipal offices for a growing city

Leicester used its medieval Guildhall 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.

Meeting the electricity needs of a modern city

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 entrance to the ‘City of Leicester Electricity Service’

From Bunkers to Beatles

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.

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”. 

The queue on Charles Street to buy Beatles tickets, 1963. Leicester Mercury Archive

The City Council returns

The Municipal Offices were vacated in 1975 when Council departments moved to New Walk Centre (now demolished). In 2014, following a refurbishment which restored the building to its former glory, the Council returned, making City Hall (as the building is now called) its new headquarters.

Visitor information
Can be seen from the street

Gallery

Roman Leicester

(47- 500) A military fort was erected, attracting traders and a growing civilian community to Leicester (known as Ratae Corieltauvorum to the Romans). The town steadily grew throughout the reign of the Romans.

Medieval Leicester

(500 – 1500) The early years of this period was one of unrest with Saxon, Danes and Norman invaders having their influences over the town. Later, of course, came Richard III and the final battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought on Leicester’s doorstep.

Tudor & Stuart Leicester

(1500 – 1700) The wool trade flourished in Leicester with one local, a former mayor named William Wigston, making his fortune. During the English Civil War a bloody battle was fought as the forces of King Charles I laid siege to the town.

Georgian Leicester

(1700 – 1837) The knitting industry had really stared to take hold and Leicester was fast becoming the main centre of hosiery manufacture in Britain. This new prosperity was reflected throughout the town with broader, paved streets lined with elegant brick buildings and genteel residences.

Edwardian Leicester

(1901 – 1910) Electric trams came to the streets of Leicester and increased literacy among the citizens led to many becoming politicised. The famous 1905 ‘March of the Unemployed to London’ left from Leicester market when 30,000 people came to witness the historic event.

Early 20th Century Leicester

(1910 – 1973) The diverse industrial base meant Leicester was able to cope with the economic challenges of the 1920s and 1930s. New light engineering businesses, such as typewriter and scientific instrument making, complemented the more traditional industries of hosiery and footwear manufacturing.

Modern Leicester

(1973 – present day) Industry was still thriving in the city during the 1970s, with the work opportunities attracting many immigrants from all over the world. While industry has declined in recent years, excellent transport links have made Leicester an attractive centre for many businesses. The City now has much to be proud of including its sporting achievements and the richness of its cultural heritage and diversity.

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