Should Shrewsbury’s Shirehall be saved? Martina Chamberlain Chair of Shrewsbury Civic Society's Planning Committee and lead for its Shirehall Action Group sets out the case in favour of preserving this striking building.
Shrewsbury Civic Society is concerned that there may be an attempt to demolish the Shirehall. A scheme to radically upgrade and alter the building was proposed in December 2018. However, in September 2020, the council indicated that it would rather sell the building and move to the town centre.
In October 2020, following an application for a certificate of immunity from listing requested by Shropshire Council, English Heritage decided not to list the Shirehall as it narrowly missed meeting its criteria for listing post-1945 buildings. In May 2021 the Twentieth Century Society placed the site on its Top 10 Buildings at Risk List.
Shrewsbury Civic Society is not campaigning for Shropshire Council to remain at the Shirehall, a political decision that rests with elected councillors. Instead, the Civic Society seeks a clear statement from Shropshire Council that it will not try to demolish the building or sell it to a buyer or subsequent buyer without ensuring that there are legal covenants in place, preventing such a demolition.
The Shirehall was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 17 March 1967, an important moment in the county’s history.
The Modernist principle that the function of a building should be expressed by its form is reflected in the design of the Shirehall by County Architect Ralph Crowe. This was partly influenced by the new, widely admired, Plymouth Civic Centre. It too had a council suite connected by a bridge to a much taller administrative block, landscaped courtyards and an ornamental pool as Shropshire’s Shirehall once had. The main block has simple continuous bands of glazing with slightly sloping concrete panels above and below. The building's horizontal lines contrast deliberately with the stark verticality of the Column to create a memorable combined architectural landmark.
Crowe’s design is also highly symbolic. The unusual ovoid-shaped Council Chamber, the focus of local democracy, is placed in front of, and superior to, the executive building housing the unelected bureaucracy. Le Corbusier, one of the greatest architects of the 20th century can be seen as influence here; the sculptural pilotis or columns beneath the Council Chamber echo forms used at his Unite d'Habitation, Marseille. The forecourt below the Council Chamber is a remarkable space.
The Shirehall represents more than any other building Shropshire’s progressive contribution to the built environment in the 1960’s. It reflects the boldness of the age, the freedom of expression and the desire to be imaginative. The Shirehall’s modern style of architecture may not yet be appreciated by everyone, but as the years unfold and the unfashionable becomes fashionable, as has always happened with previous styles of architecture, the Shirehall will be seen as the iconic Shropshire building that it is. Don’t just take our word for it; here’s what others have had to say;
“The major monument to post-war Modernism in the county”. John Newman. Pevsner’s Buildings of England (2006)
“The Shirehall is a notable building with a splendid council chamber and one of the most distinguished modern council headquarters buildings in the country”.
Andrew Arrol (2022)
“There is nothing else quite like it in the county…this is an excellent civic building, well-made and individual” Owen Hatherley, Modern Buildings in Britain: A Gazetteer (2022)
The Civic Society is currently trying to raise awareness of the architectural quality of the Shirehall and to show that it is an excellent example of modernist architecture worthy of retention. We have printed a campaign leaflet for public distribution, are organising lectures and exhibitions and raising the matter with councillors and Council officials.
For more information, or to offer your help, please contact the Civic Society at firstname.lastname@example.org
Coco Whittaker of the Twentieth Century Society (C20) will give a talk on Shirehall and other post war civic buildings at Bear Steps Hall this Wednesday, June 14th at 6.30pm. C20 is a charity which campaigns on behalf of outstanding buildings and Coco is the case worker for Shirehall. She’ll discuss the attributes of this building, having carried out an in-depth analysis on behalf of the Shrewsbury Civic Society. Tickets £5 from www.eventbrite.co.uk