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The former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union and National Union Headquarters

A Grade II Listed Building in Leicester, City of Leicester

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Latitude: 52.6374 / 52°38'14"N

Longitude: -1.1282 / 1°7'41"W

OS Eastings: 459095

OS Northings: 304760

OS Grid: SK590047

Mapcode National: GBR FHJ.WG

Mapcode Global: WHDJB.MYZZ

Entry Name: The former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union and National Union Headquarters

Listing Date: 13 February 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1424243

Location: Leicester, LE1

County: City of Leicester

Electoral Ward/Division: Castle

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Leicester

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire

Church of England Parish: The Resurrection

Church of England Diocese: Leicester

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Boot and Shoe Operatives Union and National Union Headquarters built 1902 to the designs of Harrison & Hattrell of Leicester. The building contractors were Leicester Builders Ltd., Western Road.


Former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union and National Union Headquarters built 1902 to the designs of Harrison & Hattrell of Leicester. The building contractors were Leicester Builders Ltd., Western Road.

MATERIALS, PLAN and EXTERIOR: the front elevation, on St James Street, is built of white Hollington Stone with brick infill and a polished Aberdeen granite plinth. The imposing classical façade is composed of three bays. The ground floor is framed and subdivided by rusticated pilasters with a central, round-arched main entrance framed by a banded moulding with scroll detailing around a pair of intricately panelled doors. Giant Corinthian columns, part fluted, frame the mullion and transom windows of the upper two floors. The side windows are broader and in the form of shallow oriels with decorative Art Nouveau style railings to the first floor central window balcony. The central windows on the upper floors are also united by a band moulding forming a round arch on the top floor. A small plaque within the arch gives the date 1902. The original timber framed windows are retained in all but the top left oriel window which has been replaced with uPVC.

INTERIOR: the main St James Street entrance leads through a wide vestibule and a pair of arched, semi-glazed timber panelled doors with a crescent shaped fan light above. The entrance hall is a handsome and inviting space with three arches supported by columns of polished Devonshire marble with Roman Ionic capitals, dividing the hall. To the left is the stair and to the right is the main entrance to the assembly hall. Decorative detailing of the hall and stair ceiling comprises foliate and floral plasterwork which is complimented and emphasised by the elaborate wrought-iron balustrade and newel posts by Gimson and Co. which adorn the concrete and steel stair. The entrance hall retains its decorative, coloured tessellated floor, ornate radiators, skirting, moulded cornice, doors and door surrounds throughout. Left of the stair a large semi-glazed and timber panelled door with a moulded and scrolled arched surround, side windows and a rectangular fan light, lead into the former offices for the President and Vice President of the No. 1 Branch. To the right of the hall are the offices of the No. 2 Branch. The first floor suite of offices was for the secretary of the No. 1 Branch while the National Union occupied the second floor. Both the second and third floor are relatively plain in terms of decorative detailing although all original skirting, cornices, brass window and door furniture and decorative radiators survive with the exception of the window in the main office of the third floor which has been replaced by uPVC. A feature of the main office on both the first and second floor is a strong room both with their Gardiner Sons and co. iron reinforced doors still in situ. The upper floor has been subdivided in late C20 to create a kitchen and living accommodation.

To the rear of the entrance hall are the semi-glazed and timber panelled doors leading to the assembly hall, described at the time of building as the most beautiful and artistic portion of the building. It is just over 21m in length and 10m wide, is well ventilated and lit by a long, well proportioned lantern light in the roof. An elaborate cornice of foliate plasterwork runs around the hall and the maple parquet flooring survives throughout. A platform or stage is positioned at the western end although a wrought iron balustrade and teak rail which originally ran along the front of the platform no longer survives. A gallery which was capable of seating 70 people at the Earl Street end of the assembly hall has also been removed, probably at the time the Earl Street elevation was reconfigured and extended.

To the rear of the assembly hall the post 1930’s office range runs at right angles to the earlier building with elevations to Earl Street and Eldon Street. The three floors each have a main corridor running roughly north to south with offices, WCs and kitchens leading off the main corridors. The architectural detailing of this range is functional and of limited architectural and historic interest. It is therefore excluded from the listing as shown on the List entry map.


The head office of the National Union moved to Leicester in 1876. At that time the funds of the union stood at c £700 but by 1902 they were at £76,000 with nearly 28,000 members, evidence that Trade Unionism had developed from very small beginnings into a social factor of great magnitude.

The No.1 branch of the Boot and Shoes Operatives Union (Leicester) built their headquarters in St James Street in 1902. The building is considered to mark an epoch in the history of the Trade Union Movement, both locally and nationally. It comprised spacious, well-lit and splendidly fitted offices, meeting rooms and a large assembly hall holding c700 people that not only housed the No.1 and No.2 branches of the union, but the offices of the National Union too. Gathering these together was seen as strengthening the forces of local labour and developing a stronger unity of purpose.

The building was built for the No.1 Branch (Leicester) of the National Union of Boot and Shoes Operatives at a cost of nearly £6,000 from plans prepared by architects Harrison and Hattrell, of Leicester. The contractors were the Leicester Builders Ltd., Western Road, Leicester and Mr Jno. Cranston acted as Clerk of Works. An account of the building in an article in Pioneer, the left-wing, socialist paper of the era (28 June 1902) provides a detailed list of the contractors involved in the construction and fitting of the headquarters. One of the key features of the building was its fire-resisting properties, the floors being formed of Fawcetts patent fireproof flooring. The heating was on a system of low pressure steam with finely decorated cast-iron radiators surviving throughout the original parts of the building. The whole building was lit by electricity, the fittings being supplied and fixed by Gent and Hurley of Leicester. The wrought-iron work was supplied and fixed by Jones and Willis, London although the iron founders were Gimson and co., Vulcan Road, Leicester, Ernest Gimson’s family firm. The plastering was carried out by A and W Crewe and the plumbing by Mr J.H. Jaffe whilst the painting a decorating ‘which are particularly noticeable and adds much to the beauty of the place, was entrusted to Messrs. T, Bonner and Sons of Leicester.’ The whole of the work was undertaken by trade union labour and under the best trade union conditions.

Gimson and Co. were a widely renown local company with many listed buildings to their name; Claymills Pumping Station, Staffordshire (Grade II*) and Hopwas Pumping Station (Grade II) are examples of the foundry’s work but the family business included Ernest Gimson who is considered to be the greatest of the English architect-designers (Pevsner, 1960). Today his reputation is securely established as one of the most influential designers of the English Arts and Crafts Movement in the late C19 and C20.

The building was opened by the Mayor of Leicester in 1902 and was seen as being the establishment of a school of labour-thought in Leicester.

Some time after 1930 the configuration of the Earl Street elevation was changed and, judging from historic Ordnance Survey Maps, involved a large extension to the north and rebuilding of the elevation.

The National Union of Boot and Shoe Operatives merged with several other small unions in 1971 and twenty years later with the National Union of Hosiery & Knitwear Workers. By 2004 there was a merger with the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation to form the Community Union.

With the decline in union membership the hall and offices were vacated and in 1978 taken over by Swaminarayam Mission who in turn vacated the building in the early C21.

Reasons for Listing

The former Boot and Shoe Operatives Union and National Union Headquarters built 1902 to the designs of Harrison & Hattrell is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: as an assured composition with an impressive front elevation expressing strength and stability, and the significant contribution of the wrought ironwork made by the nationally acclaimed but local company of Gimson and Co;
* Interior: the exuberant detailing of the interior exhibited in the variety of good quality materials used to dramatic effect;
* Historic interest: for the contribution it makes to the understanding of the history of the Trade Union movement, both locally and nationally, and as a symbol of Leicester’s significance to the national boot and shoe industry and its strong radical working class traditions;
* Intactness: for the high degree of survival of both the 1902 exterior and interior providing a virtually complete example of a purpose built, early C20 office.

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