Video: The man who built modern Leicester
To Leicester residents of a certain age, the name of Konrad Smigielski is something of a bogeyman. He was the City Council’s Planning Officer in the 1960s when major changes were made to the city centre: flyovers and underpasses, an inner ring road, redevelopment of the marketplace and so on.
Professor Simon Gunn from our Centre for Urban History and Colin Hyde from the University of Leicester-hosted East Midlands Oral History Archive (EMOHA) have been researching Smigielski and found that he also had his good points. He was responsible for the preservation and sympathetic development of New Walk, the Victorian promenade which links the University to the city centre. And many of the changes blamed on Smigielski were not the man’s direct work but merely happened ‘on his watch’.
Smigielski's legacy - the video
Colin Hyde has made this fascinating new five-minute video ‘Promenades and Ringroads - Konrad Smigielski and 1960s Leicester’ in which he explores the legacy of the man who did more than anyone else to change the face of postwar Leicester and finds that some of Smigielski’s rejected ideas are now being embraced.
Simon's chapter on 'Between modernism and conservation: Konrad Smigielski and the planning of postwar Leicester' will be published later this year by Carnegie Press in A History of Modern Leicester, edited by Richard Rodger.
You can see Konrad Smigielski himself in this 1968 news footage courtesy of MACE, the Media Archive for Central England (which moved from the University of Leicester up to Lincoln last year). Smigielski speaks about his vision for Leicester at 0.49 and again at 8.38. The footage also features the University of Leicester’s Professor Jack Simmons who taught in our School of Historical Studies from 1947 to 1975 (he’s at 4.18, then 7.54, then 10.33). The rest of the eleven-minute clip is some silent footage of Leicester traffic and some very amusing vox pops with stall-holders and customers in the market.
Anmother resource is a half-hour BBC Radio Leicester programme about Smigielski broadcast in 1972. You can listen to this on the University's My Leicestershire History website.
Although Smigielski’s 1960s modernisations destroyed much of Medieval Leicester, you can get a good idea of what the city looked like from the specially commissioned paintings in the University of Leicester book Visions of Ancient Leicester, published last year and available from the University bookshop.
The Konrad Smigielski no-one knows
As for Smigielski himself, he was no Philistine. When not planning ring roads he liked to paint, serving as President of the Leicester Society of Artists 1967-68. As you can see from this example, his artistic style favoured a somewhat Dali-esque surrealism.
And in 1993 he wrote The Raphael Mystery, a semi-fictional account of ‘adventure, intrigue, action’ in the Renaissance art world. But to many of the population of Leicester he remains known not for his writing or for his paintings but for putting a dual carriageway through the old Medieval quarter.