The Howitt Building (former Raleigh Cycle Company main offices)
Heritage Category: Listed Building
List Entry Number: 1454941
Date first listed: 20-Aug-2018
Statutory Address: Lenton Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 2BG
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Statutory Address: Lenton Boulevard, Nottingham, NG7 2BG
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: City of Nottingham (Unitary Authority)
Parish: Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference: SK5547939871, SK5547939872, SK5548839872
An inter-war office building, designed for the Raleigh Cycle Company by the distinguished Nottingham architect T Cecil Howitt and now in use as a business centre, community and cultural centre and entertainments venue.
Reasons for Designation
The Howitt Building on Lenton Boulevard in Nottingham, formerly the offices of the Raleigh Cycle Company completed in 1931 to the designs of T Cecil Howitt, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* as a carefully-executed and well-preserved example of an inter-war office building, with high quality external and internal detailing;
* as an example of the work of the distinguished C20 Nottingham architect T Cecil Howitt, a number of whose major works are listed, including the Nottingham Council House and the Newton Building at Nottingham Trent University, both listed at Grade ll*.
* as the flagship main offices for the Raleigh Cycle Company, built at the height of its commercial success as the world's leading manufacturer of bicycles in the early-mid C20;
* for its importance from the late C20 onwards to Nottingham's African Caribbean community, originally in respect of a landmark challenge to the company's then selective employment policy, and now, as a cultural and social support centre, and by whom the former Raleigh company concert hall has been transformed into a successful performance venue.
The Howitt Building on Lenton Boulevard in Nottingham was completed in 1931. Although the designs for the building were originally prepared in the name of Derby architects Arthur Eaton and Son in 1929-1930, the building was designed by the notable Nottingham architect TC Howitt (1889 - 1968), for which he was awarded the RIBA bronze medal in 1933. Howitt had been in the employ of the City Council, but by 1931 he had gone into private practice and had already completed the Nottingham Council House (Listed Grade II*).
The building was designed as the head office of Raleigh Cycles, which by 1919 had become the biggest manufacturer of bicycles in the world. The company was originally founded by Woodhead and Angois in 1885, but grew rapidly following its purchase by Frank Boden who re-named the company the Raleigh Cycle Company in 1888. The company occupied a massive 60 acre manufacturing site by the early 1950's, and manufactured over a million bicycles in 1951. The offices, described in the company's commemorative booklet as 'probably unexcelled in architecture, business equipment and hygienic planning' also included an upper floor equipped with a ballroom (referred to as the 'Concert Hall' in the booklet) with a sprung floor, a stage, dressing rooms for productions, and a projection room which enabled the use of the room as a cinema. The upper floor also housed a dining room and a reading room.
The company's fortunes waned in the second half of the C20, and the offices were eventually sold to Nottingham City Council in the late 1980's and now houses the Nottingham Business Centres, which provide office space for local businesses.
The building also has an important place in the history of the African Caribbean community in Nottingham, notably for the successful challenge to the then racially-discriminatory employment policies of a number of Nottingham's largest employers, including the Raleigh company. Oswold George Powe, a leading member of Nottingham's African Caribbean community and an activist for racial equality, campaigned for change to the Raleigh company's discriminatory employment policy. Having failed in negotiations with the company, Powe sought the assistance of Jamaica's first premier, Norman Manley, who promptly placed an embargo upon bicycle imports from England. This action helped change the company's employment policy and led to Raleigh becoming the largest employer of African Caribbean workers in Nottingham.
The former office building now accommodates support facilities for Nottingham's African Caribbean community at the Marcus Garvey Centre, named after the celebrated Black Nationalism activist, journalist and poet who became Jamaica's first national hero. Additionally, the building's spacious attic concert hall, now the Marcus Garvey Ballroom or 'the Garvey', was re-opened in 1981 by the 'West Indian Cavaliers' as a music venue, a successful change of use which survives to the present day.
The former head office building of Raleigh Cycles, completed in 1931 to the designs of the celebrated architect TC Howitt (1889-1968), later purchased by Nottingham City Council and now a business centre, African Caribbean centre, and music venue.
MATERIALS A red-brick structure, with ashlar limestone dressings and detailing, and a plain-tile roof covering.
PLAN The building has a linear, symmetrical plan with central entrance portico and flanking office ranges.
EXTERIOR The three-bay portico is flanked by storied ranges, the bays of which are defined by full-brick pilasters rising from a deep ashlar plinth. Between the pilasters are tall, ground-floor windows, separated from the smaller upper-floor windows by decorative metal, relief panels depicting putti engaged in various stages of bicycle manufacture. These are the work of the Nottingham sculptor Charles Doman FRBS (1884-1944), a pupil of Joseph Else, and later principal of the Nottingham School of Art. The putti were modelled on Howitt's young son Ian and are known locally as 'the little Ians' (Howitt's son was later killed in the Second World War). The building's metal window frames are of plain six and four-pane form, the ground-floor openings also barred. A deep, plainly-detailed ashlar entablature completes the facade and conceals the foot of the roof slope and gutter. The entrance portico has wide end piers, between which are two square columns with chamfered corners and plainly moulded capitals that support the entablature and a plain parapet. The frontage ranges terminate at wide ashlar corner piers through which the entablature is carried and returned the full length of the end elevations. These, and the rear elevation are functionally detailed in red brick, and incorporate minor extensions and service doorways. At the centre of the rear elevation, the upper floor has a tall window opening, its frame with margin lights, lighting the building's full height entrance foyer and staircase. INTERIOR The interior of the building has undergone some alterations in the disposition and size of the various office areas which occupy the two-storey ranges that flank the main entrance area. These areas were planned as, and remain, largely functional spaces, now with later partitioning, inserted ceilings and modern office furnishings. The main entrance hall, the board room and the upper-floor ballroom are the principal areas of interest which, in terms of the quality of design and materials, continue to represent the importance of the building as flagship premises of what had become the world's leading manufacturer of bicycles in the inter-war and post-war periods. The full-height entrance hall, designed in a restrained Art Deco style has a coffered ceiling supported by giant square columns with chamfered corners and decorative bands to the column heads. These flank the open central area of the hall and embrace and support the various sections of the main stair. The open hall area forms the approach to a double-return staircase, the central landing of which stands below a tall margin-light window with coloured glass to the margin glazing and the Raleigh company motif to its centre. Two pairs of side flights of stairs lead to flanking balconies which give access to the upper floor levels either side of the entrance hall. The side flights have metal stick balusters, the heads of which are linked by decorative, openwork metal bands set below wooden handrails.
The Board Room, located on the ground floor of the north range, is one of two rooms which retain fully-panelled interiors. The Board Room includes panelled double doors with original door furniture together with a marble chimneypiece with overmantle. The panelling and door panels throughout are of large veneered rectangular fielded panel form fashioned from Ancona walnut. The double doorway has moulded architraves with decorative marquetry inlay and a moulded cornice. Above the panelling and doorway is a deep cornice with bead and reel decoration. The adjacent room to the north has similarly-detailed panelling and joinery.
The former ballroom, now the Marcus Garvey ballroom, has a segmental ceiling and a stage at its southern end, set below a segmental proscenium arch with reeded decoration. Flanking the stage are double doors giving access to plainly-detailed stairs to the ground floor and to the rear of the stage. Above the doorways within the ballroom are relief panels, which repeat the images of putti manufacturing bicycles found on the building frontage. A doorway to the centre of the northern end wall of the ballroom is similarly adorned.
Books and journals
Harwood, E, Pevsner Architectural Guides: Nottingham, (2008)
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing