Context 167 - March 2021

12 C O N T E X T 1 6 7 : M A R C H 2 0 2 1 MICHAEL TAYLOR Kenneth Browne and townscape in Leicester Analytical sketches and sketch proposals by the architect and illustrator Kenneth Browne were at the heart of Leicester’s planning and urban design in the 1960s. Writing in the mid-1950s, WG Hoskins set out a cosy and agreeable image of Leicester, the city that had recently been his home and workplace: ‘It has a small-town homeliness… a comfortable feeling of life still revolving around ‘the old Clock Tower’ as it did in grandfather’s time… a delightful Betjeman town that one would not willingly see too much changed’1. These pleasant qualities are still recognisable, but this was at best a partial picture of what was a large and thriving manufacturing city with a diverse industrial base. Even as Hoskins was writing, radical change was coming. Between 1958 and 1962 the inner ring road crashed through the western part of the Roman and medieval town, severing and partly destroying a complex historic centre that had survived the second world war largely intact. Then in 1962 the corporation appointed the charismatic and controversial Pole Konrad Smigielski as city planning officer, only the second such appointment in the country. In the popular imagination, Smigielski is blamed for all of the real or perceived evils of the ’60s. Research by Simon Gunn of the University of Leicester 2 , however, has revealed a much more complex legacy. Smigielski certainly had a modern agenda, exemplified by his plans for a high-density urban extension to the north-west of Leicester, linked to and through the city by a monorail, by redevelopment plans for parts of the city centre, and by a scientific approach to transport planning set out in the Leicester Traffic Plan³. But the other side of Smigielski’s vision was conservation: he designated Leicester’s first three conservation areas in 1969 and the city’s first housing general improvement area. His eventual resignation in 1972 was triggered by disagreement with councillors over a conservation issue. Smigielski recruited talented staff, among them architects and designers. He also commissioned Kenneth Browne to provide illustrative drawings and what amounts to a townscape study, one of many carried out at the time by Browne himself and by Gordon Cullen. Kenneth Browne 4 was both an architect and an accomplished illustra- tor. At the time he worked in Leicester he would have been townscape editor of Architectural Review , following in Cullen’s footsteps. Browne produced both illustrative and analytical drawings of Leicester. Some of the former were included in the Leicester Traffic Plan and blown- up prints of selected drawings were displayed in the foyer of the planning department. The Traffic Plan included a photomontage by Browne showing a monorail car gliding through the city centre.The Traffic Plan also includes a fully realised drawing of a traffic-free Gallowtree Gate, Leicester’s first experiment with pedestrian preference, pictured on a sunny spring day with more than a hint of homage to Rotterdam’s Lijnbaan. The second set of drawings, in some ways more interesting, is the main subject of this article. It consists of 39 sketches in ball-point pen and wax crayon on quarto sheets of Architectural Review notepaper. For many years they were stored in the planning department and since 2014 they have been deposited in the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. The set contains both analytical sketches and sketch pro- posals using a visual methodology and language familiar to readers of Cullen’s Townscape . The analytical sketches focus mainly on the areas later designated as the first three conserva- tion areas: the Castle and JewryWall, NewWalk, and the surviving eastern part of the medieval town, including the cathedral and Guildhall, with the Georgian precinct developed on the site of the Greyfriars.The drawings are a delight, Castle Gateway and St Mary de Castro churchyard 1 WG Hoskins (1957) Leicestershire: an illustrated essay on the history of the landscape, Hodder and Stoughton, London 2 Simon Gunn (2016) ‘Between Modernism and Conservation: Konrad Smigielski and the planning of post-war Leicester’ in Richard Rodger and Rebecca Madgin, Leicester: a modern history, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster 3 WK Smigielski (1964) Leicester Traffic Plan: report on traffic and urban policy, Leicester Corporation 4 Sherban Cantacuzino (2009) Obituary of Kenneth Browne 1917–2009, The Guardian, 9 April