Colour photograph showing shoppers inside Queensgate shopping centre. The two levels of British Home Stores are in the background. On the right, shoppers are riding down an escalator into a large central square.
Interior view of Queensgate Shopping Centre showing the Central Square and British Home Stores (1982) © Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection JLP01/10/10767
Interior view of Queensgate Shopping Centre showing the Central Square and British Home Stores (1982) © Historic England Archive. John Laing Photographic Collection JLP01/10/10767

The Rise of the Shopping Centre: 5 Shopping Centres Built by John Laing

John Laing plc profoundly shaped post-war Britain. Although most famous for projects such as Coventry Cathedral and the M1 motorway, Laing also built shopping centres across the country.

Find out more about the John Laing Photographic Collection

Following the opening of Birmingham’s Bull Ring in 1964, an abundance of new shopping centres started to emerge in towns and cities all over Britain.

The popularity of shopping centres boomed from the 1970s. Not only did they conveniently bring together multiple shops, they also provided somewhere for people to eat and socialise. Previously, shoppers had been limited to individual shop units along the high street. Before the rise of online shopping, development of large centres had transformed shopping into an exciting leisure experience.

Bull Ring, Birmingham

The Bull Ring was the first indoor city-centre shopping centre in the UK. At the time, it was one of the largest enclosed shopping centres outside America.

It was celebrated as a revolutionary example of urban planning and the pioneer for a new era of shopping design in Britain. The scheme combined traditional open air market stalls with a modern indoor shopping centre.

It is undoubtedly the world's most advanced shopping centre and I think it is going to change the shopping habits of the whole Midlands.

William “Kirby” Laing, Team Spirit, July 1964

Remarkably for such a complex and expensive development, the Bull Ring was built by the Laing company in less than three years. It was opened on 29 May 1964 by the Duke of Edinburgh, in a ceremony that attracted considerable crowds and publicity.

The Bull Ring offered the ultimate shopping experience. The scheme boasted 140 shop units, market stalls, cafes, restaurants, a ballroom, a hairdressers and regular shows in the Centre Court. At the time of opening, there was even a resident blue and gold macaw called Polly on loan from Dudley Zoo.

A state-of-the-art air conditioning system was said to provide an atmosphere of late spring all year round, and music was played to add to the ambience of the shopping centre.

The 44-foot wide electric screen on the outside of the office block was thought to be the first of its kind in the country. It was used to display news, sports results, weather forecasts and advertisements.

Although hailed as a revolutionary development, as time went on, many people started to dislike the grey Brutalist design. By the 1980s, plans for redevelopments began. In 2000, demolition work started and the new Bullring was built at the site.

Bull Ring photo gallery

Wood Green Shopping City, London

Wood Green Shopping City, now The Mall Wood Green, is a giant complex with a unique design. Most of the complex was built by Laing between 1976 and 1981.

The story of the Shopping City dates back to the mid-1960s, when various locations in London were chosen as strategic growth areas by the government. The reorganisation of boroughs put Wood Green at the heart of the new borough of Haringey.

Proposals were made for improved shopping facilities, roads, and additional housing. This culminated in the construction of the Shopping City. An innovative mixed development, it included housing, offices, parking for 1,500 cars and retail space. The new shopping centre was linked by pedestrian bridge to the Phase I development, located across High Road (A105).

One of the most unusual design elements was the housing complex perched on top of the shopping centre. This ‘city in the sky’ consists of 201 flats and maisonettes in three and four-storey terraces, built around a series of landscaped courtyards and streets.

Described as ‘the golden heart of shopping’, it hoped to provide the people of North London with ‘West End’ shopping facilities.

The development was not without problems however, and it suffered from many shop closures during the recession of the early 1990s. In 2002, it was bought by The Mall Company and a multi-million pound redevelopment programme was launched.

Wood Green photo gallery

Eastgate shopping centre, Basildon, Essex

Eastgate shopping centre is located on a 6.7-acre site at the heart of Basildon Town Centre. The development was built in two phases, with John Laing plc starting work on Phase II in April 1982.

Basildon was among the first new towns to be created in England after the Second World War. As the population increased over the years, a decision was made to expand the town’s shopping facilities. The resulting Eastgate development was to make Basildon a major regional centre for shopping.

Phase II of the development, undertaken by John Laing plc, included two office blocks, a helical car park and an extensive shopping centre. Many well-loved retailers occupied parts of the scheme. There was a large C&A clothing store, an Allders department store, a 126-metre long shopping mall and 70 shop units.

The new centre provided a huge 59,200 square metres of shopping and commercial floor space.

At the time, it was the biggest project undertaken in the history of Laing’s south eastern region. When linked to the existing shopping centre, the development also became the largest enclosed shopping complex in the country.

Eastgate photo gallery

Queensgate shopping centre, Peterborough

Queensgate shopping centre was built as part of a huge expansion programme by Peterborough Development Corporation. The aim was to attract more people to the area, mainly from London.

Laing won the contract for the development in 1975, however various planning and design changes delayed the start of construction until April 1978. Many old buildings were demolished on the 17-acre site, including a derelict factory which had been the original premises of Peterborough’s engineering firm Perkins. On the boundary, an old public house and a group of almshouses were preserved.

Queensgate had excellent transport links to entice shoppers from further afield. Only a short walk from the train station, it was also linked to a new system of roads and incorporated multi-storey car parking and a brand new bus station.

The shopping centre served a catchment area with an estimated population of three-quarters of a million, and was hoped to provide employment for 2,000 people.

There were major stores for John Lewis, Boots, British Home Stores, C&A, Littlewoods and Waitrose, as well as 92 smaller shop units.

The complex was opened by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on 9 March 1982. The following year, it won the prestigious Award of the International Council of Shopping Centres at a ceremony in Monte Carlo.

Queensgate photo gallery

The Lanes Shopping Centre, Carlisle

Carlisle’s historic shopping area, known as ‘the Lanes’, was redeveloped by Laing from 1982 to 1984. The contract was significant for the company, who had its roots in Carlisle and had been closely tied to the city ever since.

The Lanes, an area between Scotch Street and Lowther Street, developed significantly during Elizabethan times. It soon became the most densely built-up part of the city and housed an array of traders; from butchers and bakers to tanners and fishmongers. By 1850, up to 10,000 people lived in the Lanes. Unsurprisingly, conditions were poor and disease was rife.

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, some of the buildings were demolished, or fell down, and were replaced. Plans for redeveloping the area were discussed for many years.

In October 1982, the contract was awarded to the Laing company. The redevelopment included four major stores, 50 small shop units, a county library, 27 housing units, offices and car parking.

The heart of the city that gave birth to the Laing Group has been torn out, and is now being refashioned to provide modern shopping facilities enclosed in an outer fabric of former architectural styles.

Team Spirit, November 1983

The Lanes looked distinctly different from the other shopping centres Laing built around that time. It was carefully designed to fit with the surrounding architecture and preserve the character of years gone by. Intricate facing brickwork, stucco or stonework was used for external elevations, with feature masonry arches over the main openings.

During construction at the historic site, many wells which had once served the densely populated Lanes were discovered.

The Lanes Shopping Centre was officially opened on 19 November 1984 by the Duke of Gloucester, who unveiled a commemorative plaque and buried a time capsule at the site.

Lanes Shopping Centre photo gallery

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