Hinckley Historian Magazine

Hinckley Historian Magazine No.65 - The Saga of the Seat of Local Government - Hinckley Council Offices

The Council Offices, Station Road
The Council Offices, Station Road

The Local Government Act of 1894 created new Urban and Rural District Councils. On Saturday, 15th December 1894, 27 candidates contested 15 seats for the new Hinckley Urban District Council. Two Polling Stations were provided (Hinckley North and South Divisions) for the 2,040 electors of whom around 1,400 or 69% actually cast a vote.

Hinckley Urban District Council held its first meeting on Tuesday, 8th January 1895. Mr George Bott, a Liberal and Chairman of the old Local Board which had previously provided government in the town was unanimously elected as the first Council Chairman. At this time the Council Chamber where the august body held its first meeting was in Albert Road School, now Holliers Walk School. Leeson, who was a road foreman, carried the minute book, Council seal and documents to the meeting in his barrow, covered by a sack. Shirley Atkins, who became Clerk to the Council in 1900 and remained in post until 1945, described this regular event in a conversation with Fred Warren, former Deputy Clerk to Hinckley Urban District Council. It is recorded in Fred's, 'History of the Hinckley Urban District Council 1895 - 1974' and provides much of the content of this article.

The Council Offices at the beginning of the Twentieth Century were over Ted Lord's Boot Shop, a property near the bottom of Castle Street on the same side as the Borough and long since demolished. An office for the Council Surveyor was on the ground floor at the back of the premises. These arrangements were insufficient and in 1903 purpose built offices were erected on Station Road and these are still in existence today. The architect was Mr F C Cook and the style of building complemented what Pevsner called the 'Nonconformist Gothic' of the old Hinckley Library which had been built in 1888. In April 1904, the Council held its Annual Meeting in the Chamber which was part of these splendid offices built at a cost of £2,500.

As time progressed and the Hinckley Urban District Council extended its operations consideration was given to the extension of the Council Offices or the building of completely new premises. In 1936 the Urban District was enlarged to include Barwell, Burbage, Earl Shilton and Stoke Golding and a report was commissioned relating to the site for a new building for the Council Offices. Eleven sites were considered ranging from Station Road to the old Workhouse but any progress was halted by the coming of war in 1939. By this time the Council had leased other properties in Station Road to provide for its needs.

In September 1944, when allied troops were advancing in Europe, the Council issued a report on future planning in Hinckley's urban area. The details of this report were given in an article which I wrote in Hinckley Historian No 33 in 1994, fifty years after it was originally presented. In essence this planning scheme provided for a Civic Centre and Council Offices on what is today Church Walk Car Park. The proposed new Town Hall would consist of three storeys looking towards Castle Street. A Council Chamber would be on the opposite so - called 'quiet side' of the building overlooking Argent's Mead which was bequeathed to the Council by Miss Margery Payne who died in 1946. Argent's Mead was to be held in trust forever as an open space for the people of Hinckley.

Following the end of the Second World War attention turned to new Council Offices. The period of austerity curtailed any active developments until the 1950s. Hinckley's old Vicarage which lay at the southern side of Argent's Mead was regarded as too large and in 1950 negotiations, which had originally begun in 1938, were re-opened for Council purchase of the property. The site of about three and a half acres was finally bought by Hinckley Urban District Council in 1955 at a cost of £7,000. A new Vicarage was built on the site of the old Vicarage paddock and in 1956 the Council Surveyor's department took over the Victorian Vicarage, now renamed Argent House.

In the following decade the Council considered a variety of proposals for new Council Offices to be built on the Argent's Mead site acquired from the Church Commissioners. At the end of 1958 Sir John Brown, Henson and Partners, London architects, were commissioned to prepare outline plans. A variety of possible plans was considered by the Council in 1959 and in July approval was given to a three-storey T-shaped building with a pitched roof at an estimated cost of £145,000. The plans did not meet with universal local approval and certainly did not satisfy the Hinckley Civic Society of those days. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government informed the Council that the Royal Fine Art Commission wished to investigate and comment on the design.

During 1960 the Chairman and other members of the Royal Fine Art Commission met representatives of the Council and a planning consultant, Maxwell Fry, made a number of new recommendations. The outcome of this extensive review of the plans already proposed was a detailed revision by Sir John Brown, Henson and Partners of their original submission. It is that building, the result of the Royal Fine Art Commission's review of 1960, which is soon to be demolished, half a century later!

Final approval of the plans was given in January 1964 by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and tenders were invited for the construction of the Council Offices whose cost was estimated at £219,615. By March 1965 ten tenders had been submitted by building contractors. The tender which proved to be successful came from Messrs J Parnell and Son Ltd, a company from across the county boundary in Rugby. Their tender, the lowest, was a modest £298,609 Is 1 Id and nearly £80,000 greater than the original estimate! Work began on 19th July 1965, eleven days after a formal contract had been signed.

Part of the front Elevation of the council offices at Argents Mead in 1968
Part of the front Elevation of the council offices at Argents Mead in 1968

Completion of the building of the Council Offices was achieved in October 1967 and the council employees occupied their new building within a month. Fred Wan-en, in his account of the Official opening of the Council Offices in 1968, stated that the estimated final cost from furniture to roads and car parks would approach £365,000. The new building was in two sections. The main 210 foot long office building faced south and consisted of a basement and three storeys above. In the basement in the 1960s was a Civil Defence Area Control Centre in case of nuclear attack along with strong rooms, stores and a boiler room. The building was of reinforced concrete, now fatigued after forty years, faced with reconstructed panels of Portland stone.

Hinckley's new Council Chamber had seating for the Council Chairman, in those days Councillor Me Crystal and forty-two councillors and officers. A public gallery for 60 people was located above and to the rear of the Chamber. Below the Council Chamber, Argent Hall had seating for 150 and could be used for meetings.

Members of Hinckley U.D.C and Chief Officers on the steps of the new Council Offices in 1968
Members of Hinckley U.D.C and Chief Officers on the steps of the new Council Offices in 1968

Members of Hinckley U. D. C. and Chief Officers

Back Row: H M Etherington (Engineer & Surveyor), J W Kay (Treasurer), Dr. J B Kershaw (Medical Officer of Health), L F Whitmore ( Chief Public Health Inspector), K H Ceeney (Librarian).

Third Row: Councillors F. L. Palmer, J H P Essex, W E Beadsmoore, F W Daglcy, F J Geary, F G Taylor, H R Evans.

Second Row: Councillors R E Paris, D. Collins, W Davies, J Robinson, J H Collins, T. E. Brown, A A Ball, J Baker.

Front Row: Councillors J G S Tompkins, W Brown, R A McCrystal (Chairman), J B Staniforth (Vice-Chairman), T O McGrah, W K Wileman

The grand opening of the Council Offices took place on Wednesday 17th July 1968 at 3.00pm. A welcome was provided by Councillor Me Crystal, Council Chairman. The ceremonial opening of the main door was carried out by Lord Fisher of Lambeth who had crowned the Queen in 1953 when he served as Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Fisher was the most distinguished of local figures having grown up at Higham on the Hill where his father was Rector and indeed five Fishers had been Rectors in the village over a period of 161 years.

In 1974 the Urban District Council Offices became the seat of local government for the new larger Borough of Hinckley and Bosworth. Over the succeeding years they have served the people of our Borough but in this year of grace two thousand and ten it is proposed that they will be vacated within the next two years because of concrete fatigue. In the future the Council propose to move to refurbished accommodation in the old Flude factory. I wonder what Shirley Atkins, for many years Clerk of the Council, who I interviewed in 1975 when he was 100, would have thought of the changing shape of local government and the buildings which have accommodated the Council?

A number of books have been consulted for this article. The principal sources were as follows:

A History of the Hinckley Urban District Council 1895 - 1974 by H F Warren (who served as Deputy Clerk to the Council) - Published 1982

The Official Opening of New Council Offices

Hinckley Wednesday 17th July 1968 by H F Warren

The Story of Higham-on-the-Hill

The Centre of England by Michael Cox - Published 2002

Author: Hugh Beavin

Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine