Context 138 - March 2015

22 C O N T E X T 1 3 8 : M A R C H 2 0 1 5 are mostly in favour of the present building with only one brief voice saying ‘Pull it down!’. It then features contributions from Smigielski and the manager of the building, Harry Mellor. Their comments give a good illustration of two views that fail to meet on any level. Smigielski, using the language of the professional planner who is well versed in the ideas of townscape, dismisses the proposed plans as being too dominant and the elevation being more suitable for a ‘supermarket’, ‘garage’, or ‘light entertainment of a brash type’. He makes it clear that it does not fit harmoniously into the square and would be an ‘intruder’, a ‘gate crasher’, ‘shouting with a shrill voice’.While he admits that not everyone likesVictorian buildings of this sort, he does suggest that ‘there is such a thing as enlightened public opinion’ that comes down in favour of preserving the building. Mellor does not buy into any of this. He argues that statements about beauty and ugliness are ‘quite arbitrary’, and that the critical comments he has received about the proposed designs are almost ‘unbalanced’ and come from a ‘hysteria for preservation’. He says that the proposed hexagon, ‘honeycomb’, design for the front of the building can be found in nature, is designed to blend in with theTown Hall, and should be perfectly acceptable. Elizabeth Dixon of ‘the local history society’ points out that Town Hall Square is a conservation area (one of the first four in Leicester) and says that nothing should be built that would detract from theTown Hall. She comments on people’s changing attitudes towards Victorian architecture, which were slowly becoming more positive. While he would not pull the building down, a younger contributor describes it as aVictorian monstrosity with no value architecturally, but he agrees that the designs for the new building do not fit into the square well. He states that ‘on the whole,Victoriana didn’t give us very much’, citing the clock tower as ‘pretty revolting’ and theTown Hall as ‘hideous’. However, he also recognises that tastes change. This recording neatly illustrates the range of opinions prevalent at the time towards the retention of Victorian buildings in Leicester. Although the local press covered the story, the advantage of this programme is that the listener can clearly hear the deeply felt emotions invested in the debate.The recording is also a valuable record of the opinions and attitude of Konrad Smigielski, a man whose influence on Leicester during his decade in office was huge. More than any written document, the radio programmes bring his sometimes abrasive personality to life, and demonstrate the language and tone of voice he would use when addressing an audience. The second example is a programme from 1972 about the Haymarket Centre, a shopping mall in the centre of Leicester. In 1967 a newWoolco store in Oadby (a small town several miles to the south of the city) became one of Britain’s first out-of-town shopping centres.The store was air conditioned, had 800 parking spaces, and offered a one-stop shop that sold fashion and household goods, jewellery, toiletries and groceries. It was advertised as an American shopping experience, made good profits, and was perceived as a threat to the city centre. Although the Haymarket Centre was planned before Woolco was built, as part of a ‘major shopping and entertainment centre which could be described as Leicester’s Piccadilly Circus’, it was clearly being seen as part of the city’s response to Woolco even before it officially opened in 1973. However, the centre has never been liked much by local people and the Pevsner architectural guide describes it as ‘safe’ and ‘dull’. In the programme, the secretary of the Chamber of Trade, Howard Bosworth, expresses worries about two issues: rents being too high in the centre (rent levels were still to be announced at the time), and the possibility of gaps appearing in other parts of the city as retailers moved into the Haymarket. Bosworth also mentions the need to compete with Derby and Nottingham for shoppers. The reporter acknowledges that, other than a new theatre, the ‘entertainment complex’ originally planned for the centre had not materialised. Alderman Bowder calls this ‘unfortunate’ but goes on to say that the centre is ‘all important’. If people do not like the city centre they will go to ‘these great concrete blocks with acres of parking outside in the country… A city must live, and it must attract people so that it has an organic life and a vibrating at the centre… If we let Leicester crumble and decay then life will ebb away from it.’ Interesting though this is, unlike the Sun Alliance programme this report does not give us the feeling of any continuing debate, or convey any of the mixed emotions tied up in the redevelopment of the Haymarket area.The failure of the scheme to provide the leisure amenities originally planned for may have been covered in other programmes that have not survived.Whatever the reasons for this, in this instance the radio archive only provides a small part of the story. Speaking to Radio Leicester in 1998, celebrated local author Sue Townsend was scathing about the developers and lamented the many well-known buildings that were demolished to make way for the centre. For her, the Haymarket symbolised all that was wrong with planning in that period. More than 40 years on, many of the problems con- fronted by the planners of the 1970s are still being tackled today: traffic, conservation, making city centres vibrant; these are all recurring themes. Indeed, at the time of writing the city centre is again undergoing a number of major developments that are trying to reverse some of the worst effects of the past. Regional archives are a valuable resource for under- standing the past.The ‘In Perspective’ programmes that covered planning issues were created by knowledgeable journalists who had access to local politicians and interested citizens. The challenge for the archivist is twofold: to preserve and make available the analogue material of the past (only a small part of the Radio Leicester archive has been digitised), and to ensure that the digital material currently being produced will be available in another 40 years’ time, so that Leicester’s citizens of the future will be able to listen to the voices of the people who are currently shaping the city. References Gunn, S (2015, forthcoming) ‘Between Modernism and Conservation: Konrad Smigielski and the planning of postwar Leicester’ in Richard Rodger, ed, A History of Modern Leicester, Carnegie Press, Lancaster Pevsner, N, and Williamson, E (1984) The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, second edition,Yale University Press Woolworths Museum, www.woolworthsmuseum. The recordings referenced are part of the Radio Leicester recordings held at the East Midlands Oral History Archive and are available to listen to by request: Radio Leicester ‘In Perspective’ 1659, Sun Alliance Building Radio Leicester ‘In Perspective’ 1696, Haymarket Centre/ Sun Alliance Sue Townsend interviewed by Radio Leicester for ‘The MillenniumVoices’ project on 15 September 1998 Colin Hyde manages the East Midlands Oral History Archive at the University of Leicester.