The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
Formally known as the Council House and Municipal Offices, his 14-storey building in Armada Way is more usually known as the Civic Centre. When it was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on July 26th 1962 it brought together for the first time all the various municipal departments that had been scattered in different offices throughout the City.
The Civic Centre, Plymouth with the towers of the
Guildhall and Saint Andrew's Church in the background.
In past centuries the affairs of the Corporation were run from the various GUILDHALLS that stood at the time. This changed in 1874 when the present Guildhall was built because on the opposite side of Guildhall Square was erected the Council Chamber and Municipal Offices. This block was badly damaged during the Blitz, on March 21st 1941, and was finally demolished in 1947 to make was for the eastern end of Royal Parade.
For many years during and after the Second World War the various departments of the Council were housed all over the City. The Lord Mayor's Parlour was sent up in Pounds House at Peverell but later moved to Portland Square, which was more central. The City Architect originally had a room in the Technical College opposite the Central Library but finally ended up in Weston Lodge; the Stores Department was burnt out of the old Guildhall in Whimple Street and moved to Mill Street and finally Athenaeum Place; and the Medical Officer of Health came to rest in Seven Trees House. This was very unsatisfactory and was a problem that needed to be addressed.
But rebuilding Plymouth after the Blitz was a massive job and priorities had to be set. Houses for the people came first, then the rebuilding of the commercial centre. Finally came the housing of the civic departments. Consequently, the rebuilding was almost complete by the time the Civic Centre was erected.
As early as June 1950 work had begun. Then a site was allocated and a study was carried out to find the amount of office space that would be required. In 1954 it was decided to accept the proposals of the City Architect, Mr Hector J W Stirling ARIBA, for a building comprising a Council House, Town Clerk's office and accommodation for the various departments. On the other side of Armada Way, which here formed the Great Square, would be the Law Courts and Treasury. Three compulsory purchase orders were made to bring together the land for the development, part of which required finding alternative accommodation for the shops and offices in Westwell Gardens and Princess Square.
In February 1957 the contract for the excavations and foundations was let and in June that year the architects were appointed, Messrs Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge. Mr Alan Ballantyne was the partner in charge of the project.
Excavations began in January 1958 and were carried out by Messrs Richard Costain Ltd. The contract for work on the foundations and substructure was awarded to Messrs Staverton Builders Ltd and work started in August 1958. At this point the project was hit by financial problems as the Government imposed a credit squeeze. There were doubts that the building would be completed and the architects were asked to seek tenders for the completion of the Council House only. Work on the Council House was started by Messrs Humphreys Ltd on November 2nd 1959. Luckily, matters improved and the whole building was able to be completed.
In 1960 HRH the Duke of Edinburgh unveiled a tablet on the wall of the Council House to commemorate his installation as the Lord High Steward of Plymouth.
On March 21st 1962 -- the twenty-first anniversary of the destruction of the old Municipal Offices -- the new fully furnished Council House and Municipal Offices were officially handed over to the Corporation. The Lord Mayor, Alderman Arthur Goldberg, moved into the Lord Mayor's Parlour on April 9th 1962 and the Town Clerk's office opened for business.
During the preview of the building given to the local press on Monday July 16th 1962 it was announced that the building had cost £1,600,000, of which £100,000 represented the cost of purchasing the site. Towards that cost £400,000 had been raised by war damage compensation for the old Municipal Offices and the sale of some surplus land. 
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Civic Centre on Thursday July 26th 1962.
Inside the Council House, on the west wall of the lobby, is an engraved tablet commemorating the history of the reconstruction of the City. It reads:-~The first act in the rebuilding of Plymouth was the decision of the City Council made on 1st September 1941 - within six months of the destruction of the centre of the city - that a Redevelopment Plan should be prepared. The Plan - A Plan for Plymouth - by James Paton Watson, CBE, the City Engineer, and Sir Patrick Abercrombie, the Town Planning Consultant, was completed by September 1943, and the basic principles of the Plan were approved by the Council in August 1944.
William Waldorf, 2nd Viscount Astor, was Lord Mayor of Plymouth throughout this period and with foresight and vision guided the Council and the city.
The work of reconstruction commenced in March 1947, and was officially inaugurated by HM King George VI on 29th October 1947. HM Queen Elizabeth II visited the city on 26th July 1962, when she viewed the rebuilt city and officially opened this building.
The reconstruction has been the work of many. This tablet bears the names of a few in the civic life of Plymouth who have played a part.
Alderman Sir James Clifford Tozer and Alderman Henry George Mason, CBE, was each in turn Chairman of the Reconstruction Committee between 1944-1960. Alderman Hubert Moses Medland, sometime Member of Parliament for the Drake Division of the city, was Vice-Chairman of the committee for two periods. Sir Colin Campbell as Town Clerk until 1953 and thereafter Stuart Lloyd Jones led the team of officers.~
One of the notable features of the building when it was opened was the Rooftop Restaurant on floor 14. This was, in fact, added at the last minute when the construction was almost finished. It sat 80 people and gave previously unseen views across the rooftops of Plymouth. However, access to it was by stairs from the floor below and it slowly dawned on the Council that this was a fire hazard. As a consequence, the rooftop and its restaurant were closed to the public after the end of the 1975 summer season.
When opened the Council's Health and Welfare Department occupied floors 2 and 3; Education was on floors 4 and 5; Water was on floor 6; and Estates was on floor 7. Floors 8, 9 and 10 were occupied by the Engineer and Surveyor's Department; Stores was on floor 11; and the Architect's Department was on the top floors 12 and 13. The Children's and Housing Departments were in the block facing Royal Parade and the Town Clerk's Department was between the main building and the Council House, over the pool.
The Civic Centre has been granted Grade 2 Listed Building status by English Heritage.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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