Building DMU: Intertwined with the diverse history of Leicester

Building DMU: Intertwined with the diverse history of Leicester

Walking around the streets of Leicester reveals a variety of architectural styles, sometimes clashing, sometimes harmonious. Yet, these diverse structures tell a tale of a city that has endured many stages of growth and change - and are central to appreciating its vast heritage. This exhibition will explain how the buildings within DMU’s campus intertwine with Leicester’s past and contribute tremendously to the story of our city.

Painting of Leicester Castle Great Hall Court, Henry Goddard, before 1821, courtesy of the Goddard Family.
Photograph of the Crown Court after its restoration by DMU, 2012.

When a building is created, it generates an imprint about a place and time that once was; whether it lies within a sleepy village or bustling city, structures are a visible link with the past that help us understand the history and traditions we have inherited. From Roman ruins and medieval churches to Victorian factories or post-war constructions, buildings and their designers often reflect the needs and aspirations of an age as well as the spirit of the people who live among them.

Campus view to the east from Fletcher Tower featuring the James Went Building
Campus view to the east from DMU Art Tower based in the Vijay Patel Building, the Hugh Aston Building having replaced James Went Building.

A Brief Look at Leicester

The history of Leicester is long and varied, a past which is echoed in the architecture we see around us today. Revealing its Roman roots, Leicester’s (and in fact the East Midland’s) oldest structure is Jewry Wall - a length of Roman bath-house over nine metres long, dating back to 160AD.

In Roman times the most significant patron of architecture was the State; impressive buildings were necessary to fortify the public image of the Emperor’s administration, as well as to satisfy the requirements of the people.

Postcard of Jewry Wall, the ruins of the Roman bath houses. St Nicholas stands in the background.

Whilst development generally ceased after the Romans left in 410AD, by the 9th century the town was thriving once more - although subsequent Saxon and Norman architecture was crude in comparison, comprising mostly of huts with thatched roofs.

Beginning its life as the chapel for the nearby Castle, St Mary de Castro was founded in 1107 and was the church where sovereigns would worship during their time in Leicester. It is a Grade I listed building and the second oldest church in the City, containing a range of architectural work from various stages of development. The famous triple seat ‘sedilia’ from the original build is considered one of the finest Norman decorations in the country.

Postcard of the Norman Sedilia in St Mary de Castro church. This is considered some of the finest Norman masonry in the county.

Medieval Leicester established itself as an important, growing market town and several traces of this period remain throughout the city. Many churches and hospitals were constructed reflecting the commanding religious and pious nature of society, including Trinity Hospital and The Church of the Annunciation which are central to the story of DMU’s historical campus.

Leicester is fortunate to have one of the best preserved timber framed halls in the country, The Guildhall, built around 1390 as a meeting place for the Guild of Corpus Christi (a small but powerful group of businessmen and gentry). This type of building showcases the continuing development and strength of the urban government.

Postcard of Leicester Guildhall.

Despite being one of only a few market towns in the country in the 16th and 17th centuries, Leicester saw a stage of decline and much was written on the regrettable state of the buildings and of the town’s general condition. It was the industrial revolution that pushed the town towards recovery, expanding buildings and market life through improvements in roads and canals.

A general philanthropic concern also arose in the 18th century as wealthy patrons donated vast amounts of money for building projects which would improve the city – for example, the Leicester (now Royal) Infirmary was completed in 1771.

Print of Leicester (Royal) Infirmary, completed in 1771.

However, much of the city we see today is product of the 19th century. Victorian Leicester experienced rapid economic growth and a sudden surge in the urban population - town borders stretched and red-bricked housing developments erupted across the city. The manufacturing industry flourished, multiplying factories for hosiery, boot and shoe production, and structures for businesses such as banking and insurance.

In 1877 the Coffee and Cocoa House Movement was founded in Leicester. Closely linked to the Temperance Movement, it was an extremely successful attempt to provide working people an alternative to pubs and beer shops. Several tea and coffee shops popped up around the city including the East Gate Coffee House, built by local Quaker and architect, Edward Burgess, in 1885.

East Gate Coffee House, built by local Quaker and architect, Edward Burgess, in 1885..

In the 20th century, a ‘greater Leicester’ emerged, keeping the old town at its heart whilst responding to the need for social and economic change following the impact of two devastating wars. The demand for mass housing and producing buildings on a budget required innovation, giving birth to the idea of tower blocks, concrete shopping centres and housing estates.

Known as the New Walk Towers, the headquarters of the Leicester City Council were constructed in 1975 over a 1.8 acre site which housed 1,400 staff. The buildings were a perfect example of the Brutalist movement, which flourished from the 1950s to the mid-1970s and encouraged the use of beton brut (raw concrete). In 2010 they were declared structurally unsafe and were demolished in February 2015.

Lithograph print of the former New Walk premises of Leicester City Council, demolished in February 2015.


The Hawthorn Building was the first structure specifically created for DMU’s predecessor, the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School. Founded in 1897, it was the only building used by the School until the 1960s. Constructed from orange Leicester brick with Portland stone window surrounds, the original building comprised of one long wing with a grand central entrance (today this part faces the Hugh Aston building). The architects were a local firm, Everard and Pick. Samuel Perkins Pick was both an alumnus and teacher at the Art School.

Image of Hawthorn courtesy of David Reeder
Samuel Perkins Pick, architect. Courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland
Architectural elevation drawing of the Leicester Arts and Technical School, Samuel Perkins Pick, before 1897.

The first extension was completed in 1909 and ran along Richmond Street, the second along Asylum Street (now The Gateway) between 1927 and 1928. In order to construct this wing an asylum for orphan girls, which had been founded in 1800, was demolished. The building was completed in 1939 when the section facing Trinity House was finished.

Photo looking down The Gateway - the building on the left is the asylum, while Portland was later constructed on the right. Courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland

The same architects and builders were used throughout these different phases of construction. However, as the building took 38 years to finish tastes had changed- meaning the final section is comparatively more art deco in style. The doors of the north wing are decorated with copper panels designed by Percy Brown, Lecturer in Sculpture, showing the tools of art, crafts, science and technology.

The Bronze Doors, Hawthorn Building Newarke Wing.
Press cutting from The Leicester Mercury, Percy Brown inspects his designs on the final wing to be constructed to complete the Hawthorn Building, 1938

For a long time Hawthorn was known as the ‘Main Building’. However, when the Fletcher Building was constructed in 1966 Art and Design classes were moved there, leaving Hawthorn for Science and Technology. Therefore it was decided to name the building after the first headmaster of the Technical School, John H Hawthorn, who taught at the School from 1897 to 1923.


The Clephan Building was first constructed as a hosiery factory for I&R Morley Ltd, a leading Leicester manufacturer. The first section was built in 1885 along Oxford Street, with extensions added in 1888 and 1901. The final extension in 1914 was along Bonners Lane. Inside the building thick cast iron columns and large timber beams created large open spaces for machinery.

Clephan building, c. 1970. The chimney was demolished in 1993
I & R Morley Hosiery Manufacturers booklet cover.
List of I & R Morley Manufacturers factories.
Photo of cast iron columns that stand in various areas of the Clephan Building.

The factory closed in 1967 and the building was transferred to the Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology for the Schools of Architecture and Building. The entrance canopy was added in 1993.

Student advice office in Clephan, 1980s
Students studying in the Clephan Building, 1980s.

The building name commemorates a prominent and generous Leicester family. Edwin Clephan was a member of the Leicester School of Art Committee from 1882 till 1905. Edwin’s daughter Annie also sat on the Committee and on her death left £500 to establish a scholarship. Annie’s sister Helen was married to Alfred Henry Paget, an architect who was also a member of the Technical and Art Schools Committee. Helen too left £500 to the institution for a prize fund in memory of her father.

Photo portrait of Annie Clephan who was a benefactor of the College establishing a scholarship of £500.

James Went / Hugh Aston

The James Went building was completed in July 1969. The eleven-storey structure made from steel frames and precast concrete was designed by the City Architect specifically to house the School of Business and Management and the School of Mathematics, Computing and Statistics. It therefore included laboratories and special air-conditioned rooms for computing equipment. The windows of the tower block were designed to recall the punch code cards used to operate computers at this time.

Example of a punch code card which was used to load software into an old mainframe computer. Courtesy of Pete Birkinshaw.

Canon James Went was Headmaster of the Wyggeston Boys School and founded technical and science classes at the School in 1888. These classes were merged with the School of Art classes to found the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School in 1897.

Photo of James Went Building, after 1969.
Photo of the demolition of James Went. Courtesy of David Reeder

In 2004 James Went was demolished as it had become expensive to maintain and could not be easily converted to meet modern disability access standards. It was replaced by the Hugh Aston Building, completed in 2009.

Designed by Jack Gant of CPMG Architects, Hugh Aston has a reinforced concrete frame with a patinised copper cladding. The building houses the Faculty of Business and Law, and includes lecture theatres, a mock law court, the Law Library, a café and the University Bookshop. As part of the construction the ring road was redirected and a new square was created around the medieval Magazine Gateway.

Hugh Aston concept design by Jack Gant, CPMG Architects, before 2009
Magazine Square, DMU, ©Redpix

Hugh Aston (c.1485-1558) was the organist and choirmaster of the Church of the Annunciation, which was situated where the Hawthorn Building is today. As well as a composer and musician, he also held several civic roles in Leicester including Coroner, Mayor and Auditor of Accounts.


Opened in 1977, Kimberlin Library was constructed over four floors connected to a single storey Exhibition Hall. The concept was to create an open plan and flexible building. The exterior and parts of the interior are faced in red engineering brick, while the internal timber is Colombian Pine. The main entrance was on the first floor, which also included the counter and enquiry desks, periodicals and a lecture room. Books, study spaces and offices occupied the rest of the structure.

Concept design for the Kimberlin Library, before 1977.
Kimberlin Library, Level 2 floor plan, 1977

In 1997 the Library was extended with a new wing added over the site of the Kimberlin Exhibition Hall, designed by Eva Jiricna Architects. A new entrance was added with disabled access and a fabric canopy. In 2007 the older portion of the Library was refurbished and modified, while the reception area was updated in 2015.

Kimberlin Library, main entrance, circa 2012

The Library was named for Archibald Kimberlin, OBE, who was a member of the Governing Body of Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology from 1947 till 1976. As well as his business interests in the clothing industry, Kimberlin initiated some of the first management education schemes in the UK which led to the formation of the School of Management at Leicester Polytechnic. He also served as an Alderman and in 1964-65 became the first Catholic Lord Mayor of Leicester since the Reformation.

Photo portrait ofnamed for Archibald Kimberlin, OBE,


The Portland Shoe Company was founded in 1872 and their Leicester factory was constructed in 1889. The building, designed by Thomas Roberts, was originally much grander with a parapet. However, in 1908 the building suffered a fire which left it completely gutted. The present building therefore dates to 1909, with extensions in 1914 and 1921.

The original building as designed by Thomas Roberts, before 1909. Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland
Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland

The frontage along Newarke Close includes brick piers projecting above the stone cornice, a feature which ties together the different sections of building. Another outstanding feature of Portland is the ornamental entranceway with Ionic columns topped by crouching female figures. Portland Shoe Company went out of business in 1989 and DMU purchased the building in 1991.

Ornamental entranceway with Ionic column capitals topped by crouching female figures, after 1909.
Staff working at sewing machines in Portland Shoe Factory. Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland
Portland Shoe factory sample room. Staff working at sewing machines in Portland Shoe Factory. Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland
Staff working at sewing machines in Portland Shoe Factory. Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and RutlandWomen
Staff working in a workshop at Portland Shoe factory. Staff working at sewing machines in Portland Shoe Factory. Image courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutland

Philip Tasker

The Georgian segment of the Philip Tasker Building was constructed in the eighteenth century, possibly for a doctor. The building is red brick with ashlar stone dressings and a rainwater head dating to 1772.

Drawing by George Nott, circa 1930.

The interior retains some original details including fireplaces, dentilated coving, moulded skirting and a dado rail. These rooms were carefully renovated by DMU in 2013 for use as function and reception rooms.

Architectural details, Philip Tasker Building, the Georgian Rooms.
Philip Tasker Building, rainwater drainage-head dating to 1772.

From October 1885 the building was used as the St Mary Magdalene Refuge for Fallen Women. Some additions and extensions were made to support this charitable function. In 1931 the building was converted and extended for the Gateway School for Boys by architect George Nott, then Head of the Department of Architecture at the Leicester College of Art. In 2009 DMU took occupancy of the building.

In March 2015 the building was named after Philip Tasker, scientist and Vice Chancellor of DMU from 1999 till 2010.

Professor Philip Tasker, Vice Chancellor of DMU from 1999 - 2010.

John Whitehead

The John Whitehead Building was constructed in 1909 as a three-storey factory, designed by Henry Neal. It was occupied by blouse manufacturer William Baker. In 1914 Tait and Herbert Architects designed a larger, four-storey extension of brick, steel and timber. Albert Herbert was an alumni of the Leicester School of Art.

Portrait of Albert Herbert. Courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland
John Whitehead Building, 2012

The building was bought by DMU in 2007 and converted into offices. It was named after John Whitehead, the former Polytechnic Chairman of Governors who had died in 2008. As well as his work for the University, Whitehead was a High Sheriff of Leicester and a Justice of the Peace.

John Whitehead presented with Polytechnic mace at a Graduation Ceremony

The Venue

The Venue@DMU is a stunning high-end events centre, which opened in September 2015.

The Venue and The QEII Diamond Jubilee Leisure Centre, toward the River Soar.
Concept design for The Venue

Previously known as the John Sandford Sports Centre, the building originally opened on 22nd September 1909 as The Boulevard Rink Company Limited. The Boulevard was built to accommodate the newest sporting craze to hit Edwardian Britain, roller skating or rinking as it was commonly known, and was one of the largest rinks in the country.

Tickets for events at the Boulevard Rink. Courtesy of the Record Office of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland

During WWI, the building was a space for drill sessions and training of new recruits, who were stationed in the barracks within the Newarke (where DMU’s Hugh Aston stands today).

Throughout WWII, it was converted into the Number 21 Factory where wings for Spitfire’s were produced; it’s wide, arched roof providing the perfect manufacturing location for the iconic aircraft.

 Interior of the Spitfire factory, 1940s. Private Collection

Following the war, the building was taken over by Leicester Colleges of Art & Technology, predecessor to DMU, to provide sports facilities to students and the community.

Student doing aerobics at the John Sandford Sports Centre, 1986

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