Whenever I pass empty buildings I always stop and take a look at their form, their architecture. What stories these buildings can tell us, the years these places have lived through. Of course with the UK economy being what it is, there are many more empty buildings than there perhaps have been in several decades. Some have simply closed because the people using them can no longer afford to, some because local councils have decided, in their infinite wisdom, that to close them is cheaper than maintaining them.
Despite their lack function, and in some cases obvious neglect, there’s no getting away from the tales these places have to tell, if you spend time getting to know them. I’ve always been facinated by these empty, but still beautiful, houses and public buildings that somebody so obviously went to a lot of trouble to design and build.One such house that has always featured in my facinations is just a short walk from my house.
This place has seen so many things since it was built in the mid 18th century. The family gatherings, parties and everyday lives of the Winstanley’s who owned it. The elbow grease of their servants and the growing and thriving of their children. Even after the last Winstanley gave up possession of the hall in 1926, its stories didn’t end there.
In 1932 it became a school and the halls and stately rooms echoed to sounds of the joy of learning which continued right into the mid 1990’s. Between those times, it saw the troops stationed just a stones throw away, within the grounds of the park in which it sits, during World War 2. Overseeing the nissen huts that were erected to house troops and families alike once the war had finished.
Just a few decades later in 1971, the hall was to be the back drop of one of the most talked about murders in the whole of the South of Leicester. Little Diana Morris was discovered stabbed to death, her tiny body stuffed into a tea chest and abandoned in the small stream that borders the rear of Braunstone Hall’s walled garden. Families who have lived in the area for generations still remember the dramatic way in which, seemingly, the whole of Braunstone descended on the culprits home, seeking revenge. And all the while the magnificent hall looked on.
Fast forward to 1996 and the last pupil to play under the watchful eye of the hall and it’s gardens says a tearful goodbye as the Junior school is closed. Windows are shuttered, the frontdoor boarded over and the netball court left to overgrow. The local council declaring that lack of funding meant that part of our cities history was being laid to waste by vandals and the ravages of time.
Nearly twenty years later the hall has been taken over by a businessman, not for the good of the community, but for commercial purposes. While not ideal, there is at least the relief that we should feel, that now the beauty that has so many stories stored within it will once again be brought to life. Indeed, the new owner has promised not only to refurbish Braunstone Hall to it’s former glory but to also install a permanent exhibition of memorabilia from the Winstanely family. So, for this gentle architectural giant that has overseen our history for so long, there is a happy ending; one where new stories and histories will be created and remembered.
We can only hope that other historical dwellings that are currently without use are saved from neglect as this one has been. These places are our legacy, our link to the past, like a beloved Grandparent who regales us with tales from long ago. They deserve our respect. They deserved to be cherished and brought back to life, bringing their stories with them for future generations to learn, enjoy and live by.