Swindon Civic Offices

Overview

Heritage Category:
Listed Building
Grade:
II
List Entry Number:
1467731
Date first listed:
13-Mar-2020
Statutory Address:
Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon, SN1 2JH

Map

Ordnance survey map of Swindon Civic Offices
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Location

Statutory Address:
Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon, SN1 2JH

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District:
Swindon (Unitary Authority)
Parish:
Non Civil Parish
National Grid Reference:
SU1547984612

Summary

Civic offices for the Corporation of Swindon, 1937-1939, by Bertram, Bertram and Rice, AARIBA, with associated pergola.

Reasons for Designation

The Swindon Civic Offices, built in 1937-1939 to designs by Bertram, Bertram and Rice, AARIBA, are listed at Grade II, for the following principal reasons:

Architectural interest: * as a striking and well-realised Moderne design for municipal offices, with good massing and subtle detailing;

* the building demonstrates good quality in all its materials and construction, which is carried through even to the secondary areas;

* particularly impressive are the interiors of the council and committee suite and the mayor’s suite, with extensive panelling and timberwork and good fireplaces and overmantels, all in a streamlined, Moderne style; * the careful planning, with centrally-placed staircase hall, council chamber, and committee rooms, and offices on long ranges around two internal courtyards, allows all the rooms to make the most of natural light;

* the offices are relatively little altered since completion, in particular in the principal spaces.

Historic interest: * as a symbolic expression of Swindon’s civic identity during the inter-war period.

Group value: * the building forms a good municipal group with the former Clarence Street schools, which stand adjacent (both Grade II), the former Euclid Street School on the opposite side of Euclid Street, and Queen’s Park to the south (Register of Parks and Gardens, Grade II).

History

The Civic Offices in Swindon were constructed in 1937-1939, to designs in a Moderne style by Bertram, Bertram and Rice of Oxford, who had won the commission in open competition in 1936. Before this period, the council’s functions had been housed in the Town Hall (listed Grade II), but by 1936 they had outgrown the available accommodation, and a site for a new complex of civic offices, to include council chamber and committee rooms as well as offices, was identified – a children’s playground adjacent to the Clarence Street schools, on Euclid Street. It was stipulated that the suite of council rooms had to be placed centrally in the composition, and that the publicly-accessible functions should be placed close to the entrance: the rates office with attendant facilities to one side, and the Mayor’s and Town Clerk’s accommodation to the other. The remaining departments were grouped together along the rest of the ranges, with offices arranged in suites where necessary.

The completed offices were opened for public use on 5 July 1938, by the Duke of Gloucester. A large, carved stone plaque in the lobby to the council suite records the event.

During the Cold War, every county, district, and city level council was obliged to have a Civil Defence or emergency headquarters, and in Swindon this was reportedly laid out in the basement rooms of the civic offices, perhaps adapting provision made for air raids or civil defence, given that the building was constructed in the lead-up to the Second World War. From 1965, a new office building was constructed to the rear of the Civic Offices, facing Beckhampton Street, to house more of the council’s expanding functions.

The building has been relatively little altered since completion: there has been some minor reordering of offices to the first floor, and a glazed security screen has been installed to divide the vestibule from the council suite. The principal change has been the installation of partitions in the former rates office to create smaller spaces, and the opening up of the former treasurer’s and associated offices, to create a new suite of spaces for the register office function which now occupies this end of the building.

Details

Civic offices for the Corporation of Swindon, 1937-1939, by Bertram, Bertram and Rice, AARIBA, with associated pergola.

MATERIALS: red brick, with Bath and Portland stone ashlar dressings and plinth; cast iron rainwater goods. Floors and roof are of Kleine blocks [hollow, rectangular, fireproof blocks by the Kleine Company]; council chamber and entrance are steel framed. Walnut panelling; terrazzo floors to principal areas. Metal-framed doors and windows by Henry Hope and Sons of Smethwick. Metalwork by HH Martyn and Sons. Steel balustrades to balconies and stairs.

PLAN: the building forms a long rectangle, orientated roughly east-west, set around two internal courtyards; central lobby with main stair to the front and centre, council chamber and committee rooms to the centre and rear, with principal offices to the east of the lobby, and Register Office and associated functions to the west. General offices occupy the remaining ranges, and the first floor. There is a small extension attached to the north-west corner.

EXTERIOR: the building is in a Moderne style, with symmetrical brick elevations, laid in Flemish bond, under flat roofs behind moulded stone parapets, with a high limestone ashlar plinth and raised ground floor. The ground falls away to the east end, with the plinth correspondingly higher. The building, of a total of 29 bays, is mainly of two storeys and basement, with a three-bay single-storey section at either end. The raised ground floor is reached by a flight of eight steps with sweeping curves and flanked by moulded plinths holding planters. Windows are multi-paned and metal framed. Doors are paired, panelled oak with bronze handles. To the main elevation, which is arranged in a 3:9:1:3:1:9:3 bay rhythm, the central five-bay section breaks forward in two stages; the wide entrance doorway, with a moulded limestone surround with a keystone carved with the arms of the Borough, stands under a shaped limestone balcony, with three full-height windows above, each with a limestone surround and moulded lintel. The balcony has a streamlined metal balustrade with stylised bucrania motifs. The oak double doors are panelled. The parapet to this section rises above the level of that of the remainder of the building. The flanking bays in the second stage back have moulded limestone window surrounds to the ground and first-floor windows, those to the first floor with a shaped balcony and balustrade. The remaining windows have stone cills and brick soldier courses for lintels, with a continuous limestone cill bands to the ground floor. Towards the end of the two-storey ranges to either end are secondary entrances, with more modest versions of the main entrance treatment to the doors, and shaped balconies and architraves above. The single-storey, three-bay sections project as pavilions beyond the plane of the returns. The return elevations have similar treatment to their fenestration to that of the main elevation, without the limestone architraves. To the rear of the eastern end, ashlar steps give access to entrances for BOYS and GIRLS (inscribed on the limestone door lintels) to the former juvenile employment office. Due to the falling ground, the eastern return of the main range has basement windows within the limestone plinth. At its northern end a flight of ashlar steps lead to the members’ entrance, panelled double doors within a limestone surround. Attached at the north-west corner by a glazed link is a small, late-C20 single-storey extension of brick with deep fascias and a flat roof (not included in the listing). The rear elevations flanking the council chamber have similar treatment to the returns, excepting the tall stair lights in the re-entrant angles. The chamber forms a rectangular projection from the rear elevation, with a mainly blind rear, though the brick wall and plinth breaks forward slightly to create a wide central panel. A flight of ashlar steps rises to an entrance at the raised ground floor level, giving access to the PUBLIC GALLERY (legend painted on the cill band alongside the steps). Two small, single-light windows retain their Art Deco-style wavy glazing bars.

The building is constructed around two square internal courtyards, with paving, planters and central fountains. The elevations from the offices have windows set under soldier courses, with soldier courses used to create door surrounds for the patio doors giving access to the courtyard. The doors from the offices are metal framed to match the windows. From the committee rooms, the doors are timber, set within a panel of decorative long-and-short brickwork. Set into the south wall of the western courtyard is a carved limestone plaque depicting industry and nature, with a decorative brick surround.

The central section, housing the lobby, is top-lit by five large, gabled lanterns with metal frames. The council chamber has a similar but larger lantern.

INTERIOR: the principal spaces, including the stairs, have black and cream terrazzo flooring, with cork slab for the remaining corridors and wood block to the offices, many now carpeted. The building retains most of its original clocks by Garrard and Co, and many original light fittings to the principal spaces. The walnut doors to the ground floor have bronze door furniture. The remaining offices have a mixture of original doors and some recent fire doors, within flat-moulded architraves. The vestibule gives access into the wide central lobby, with the principal stair which rises to a top-lit galleried landing. The balustrade matches that of the external balconies, as do those to all the secondary stairs. Directly ahead, through a later glazed screen, lie the committee rooms and council chamber; the corridor and ante room off which their doors lead are extensively panelled to picture rail height in solid French flame walnut, with high, ebonised skirting boards and inlaid ebonised bands. The door surrounds are in darker timber, breaking above the height of the panelling. Timber panelled benches with upholstered seats and streamlined curved ends range along the ante room walls. At the rear of the ante room the panelling breaks upwards to create a broad surround to a large carved Portland stone plaque commemorating the opening of the building, the inscription flanked by panels of naturalistic foliate carving. The chamber measures 35ft by 50ft (about 10.5m by 15m), and has matching panelling. The top-lit room has a multi-paned roof light, and the ceiling is panelled. The rows of members’ benches are set on an arc, each row with inset ebonised marquetry, and each desk with a drawer. The seating rakes to the rear. The public gallery above has an inset balcony with rounded ends. The committee rooms have matching panelling and walnut doors, moulded cornice and compartmental ceilings with multi-paned roof lights. The Mayor’s Parlour and Town Clerk’s office (in 2019 the Chief Executive’s office) are panelled to picture rail height in flame walnut, which is also used for integral fireplaces, each with green marble inserts and ebonised inlay, the elaborate chimney pieces with curved corners and mirrored overmantels. These rooms also have matching timber pelmets to the windows. The register office interiors have been reordered in the early C21, with modern finishes, though the structural elements remain. The remaining ground and first-floor offices largely reflect their original layout, with some suites of offices reached by small lobbies giving access to two or three spaces off the main corridors. Some striplighting and suspended ceilings have been introduced. Skirtings and picture rails have largely been retained. The basement is divided with walls of painted brick.

SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: to the west of the building, within the gardens laid out by the Borough surveyor Mr JLB Thompson, lies a detached PERGOLA, contemporary with the civic offices, about 44m long. The paired piers, each about 2.5m high, are square in section, built from brick and tile, with projecting tile courses at intervals up their height. The superstructure is formed from timber posts.

Sources

Books and journals
'New Civic Offices, Euclid Street, Swindon' in The Builder, , Vol. 155, (22 July 1938), 162-6
Websites
'Swindon: Local government and public services', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 9 ( Victoria County History), ed. Elizabeth Crittall (London, 1970), pp. 133-141, accessed 4 November 2019 from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol9/pp133-141
Other
Borough of Swindon: brochure commemorating the opening of the new civic offices by HRH The Duke of Gloucester on Tuesday 5 July 1938
Royal Institute of Architects picture library: Civic Offices, Swindon – suite of photographs by Sydney W Newbery (1894-1985), taken 1938, references RIBA73831-RIBA73839
Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre, Chippenham, reference: G24/718/37: general site layout plan, 1950

Legal

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.

The listed building(s) is/are shown coloured blue on the attached map. Pursuant to s1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) structures attached to or within the curtilage of the listed building but not coloured blue on the map, are not to be treated as part of the listed building for the purposes of the Act. However, any works to these structures which have the potential to affect the character of the listed building as a building of special architectural or historic interest may still require Listed Building Consent (LBC) and this is a matter for the Local Planning Authority (LPA) to determine.

End of official listing

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