Leicester Chronicler

Tempus omnia revelat
Time reveals all


Listening to the historic heartbeat of the City of Leicester and its environs in the English East Midlands

A reflection of past and present thoughts and aspirations


 

 

Halls of Fame

 

The Granby Halls was a group of buildings with little or no architectural merit, and which, in their final years, became a 
major financial burden to the Leicester City Council owing to the increasing cost of renovation and building insurance,
and the demands of a public who were becoming used to more modern and better-equipped public halls . 

Yet the two halls which occupied this prime site in the city for over eighty years remain prominent in the memories of many Leicester people. From boxing matches and roller skating to rock concerts, from basketball to the annual Home Life Exhibition, almost everyone has a fond memory of the Granby Halls

 

Exterior of halls

 

The first Granby Hall was funded by private enterprise and opened in 1915. It was a Training Hall for young people entering war service. It was located adjacent to the present Leicester Tigers ground, and incorporated two underground rifle ranges and a swimming bath. Later, the second hall (originally the Empress Hall, designed as a skating rink) was acquired, and a number of peripheral buildings erected creating over 30,000 square feet of covered space. 

Between the wars, the Granby Halls became a favoured venue for many different forms of public events.  As well as an entertainment venue, they served in turn as a venue for political rallies, for the issuing of ration books, the sorting of Christmas mail, and for touring exhibitions.  Then, in the 1940's, the trustees of the halls transferred their ownership to the Leicester Corporation, and the Granby Halls began a new phase of life as one of the Corporation's public venues.

 

Amateur Radio Show at Granby Halls

 

Few changes were made to the fabric of the halls until the construction of the present one-way system incorporating Welford Road and Aylestone Road, which created an `island' of land taking in the then Southfields College, the Rugby Ground and the halls.  The problem of access and the limited parking facilities nearby caused the Council to announce the closure of the halls. 

However, their popularity and general `usefulness' encouraged the Council to reconsider their plans and to develop the buildings. Several separate refurbishment schemes took place, each updating the Granby Halls' facilities to suit the changing demands of society, but none going so far as a major reassessment of whether the buildings were truly compatible with the changing demands of the community.

Leicester City Council opted finally to convert the halls into a sports and leisure centre, alongside similar facilities at Saffron Lane, Beaumont Leys and Aylestone, with facilities for a wide range of activities including the retention of the beloved skating rink. In 1980 they became the home of the Riders, Leicester's renowned basketball team, which practiced and played at the venue, bringing wider fame to the halls through satellite television until the buildings' final demise in 1999.

 

Poster for final Amateur Radio Show at halls

 

A remarkable variety of events have taken place at the Granby Halls. In the 1930's, they echoed to the sound of Oswald Mosley and his Blackshirt Movement.  In their final years, they served as the location for the counting of votes in both Parliamentary and local elections, and the announcement of the winners and losers.  Sir Harold Wilson spoke to his supporters at the halls, as did Sir Anthony Eden.  The American evangelist Dr Billy Graham preached to the masses here, as did Cardinal John Heenan, the former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. 

Local children who had lost parents in the Great War were cared for in the halls, and provided with food and entertainment.

 

Car park on former halls site

 

From the 50's to the 90's, numerous pop groups and rock bands including the Rolling Stones entertained at the Granby Halls which served as an alternative entertainment venue to the De Montfort Hall.  One of the most memorable and historic appearances was that of the jazz trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong.

There were also various shows and exhibitions, including a motor show in 1972, which claimed to be the biggest such event outside the National Motor Show held then at Earls Court, and for many years in the 1970's and 1980's, the Home Life Exhibition was a regular annual event. 

 

Ticket for rock concert

 

Perhaps their most famous role - certainly in terms of the number of people who were involved in the events - was as home to the annual convention of the Leicester Amateur Radio Society.  From the halls went out innumerable messages from `hams' as they made contact with others across the world.

 

Former entrance to the halls

 

The Granby Halls just failed to see out the Millennium.  In their final years, the buildings took on an increasing air of neglect though they continued to be used by local sporting organisations individuals.  The Leicester City Council,  in their vision for the future provision of recreation and entertainment venues could not see a role for the halls, and in the late 1990's, they were demolished, along with St Margaret's Swimming Baths.  Their replacements are still in the planning stage. The site on which the halls stood is once again an open land, a reminder to older residents of the city of the time when circuses performed on the site.  Today, this prime location is a car park which has been operated by NCP since September 2001.  A planning application was issued in the summer of 2004 to extend the period during which the land may be used for its present purpose.

One physical reminder of the old Granby Halls still remains. It is a small isolated building facing Aylestone Road which was once a part of the main complex. It was not demolished because it houses an electricity sub-station which supplies power to the surrounding area. An example of the rule that a building survives for as long as its purpose remains relevant to its age.

The future of this important site remains undecided. The City Council offered most of the site for sale in September 2002 (excepting a small area adjacent to the rugby ground which has been set aside for the possible expansion of its facilities) at a guide price of 1.3 million.

 

With thanks to the Leicester Amateur Radio Society

 

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Stephen Butt 2004