Charles Herbert Aslin
Charles Herbert Aslin (1893 – 1959) F.R.I.B.A. became, the Borough Architect for Derby in 1929 and oversaw major changes in the layout of the town and known as the Central Improvement Plan (CIP). He was also responsible for the design of a great many buildings of importance both within the CIP and elsewhere in the town. Unfortunately many of his buildings have been lost but thankfully some do survive and this section of the website will look at the legacy of CH Aslin’s time in Derby. A brief summary of the development plan will be followed by photos of his surviving buildings and a brief description of those buildings which have been lost.
On leaving Derby in 1945 Aslin became the County Architect for Hertfordshire and was at the forefront in the revolutionary development of prefabricated schools, something for which he is feted worldwide. His final achievement was to be elected President of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1954
As with most towns in the UK Derby had grown up haphazardly over the preceding centuries and by the early years of the 20th century plans were being drawn up to create a more rational and coherent structure to parts of the town, particularly along the Western bank of the River Derwent. Various plans were put forward after 1919 but all were to fall through, often due to a lack of money. However in 1929 a plan was presented by CH Aslin which was approved, although it was to be much revised before work began in 1931. The scheme involved the purchase and clearance of 12 acres of riverbank, redirecting a number of roads and creating a much improved crossing over the river. The photo below shows the beginning of new line of the roads form the Morledge, along Corporation Street and onto Full Street.
Maxwell Craven in his Illustrated History of Derby states that there were four principle aims to the Central Improvement Plan. The first of these was to bring together the many departments of the council which at that time were spread across the town. The second aim was to improve Market facilities. At that time the markets covered part of the Morledge as well as the market square and frequently created traffic problems, particularly as the market square was still open to traffic at that time. As a result a large purpose built out door market was to be created. The third part of the plan involved improvements to traffic flow, particularly diverting traffic from the heavily congested streets in the centre of the town. The final element was the already mentioned river crossing which became Exeter Bridge.
Although financial problems in the 30's and the 2nd world war meant that the whole scheme was never fully realised a great deal of it did go ahead. All along the river Aslin constructed his buildings from the bus station through the outdoor market, council house, Exeter Bridge, police station and magistrates’ court. Across the river he also built Exeter House, the regions first purpose built council flats. Elsewhere in the town he built the Queen Street Swimming baths, which still survive although much altered, as well as a bandstand at the Arboretum and Homelands School, both of which have been lost.
Magistrates Court and Police Station
Part of Aslin's original plans, this beautiful building was built to hold the town’s magistrates court as well as a large, ugly, police building added onto the rear of the site. Some time ago the buildings were vacated for more modern premises and sadly stood empty for a number of years. This led to the usual vandalism and neglect and for a long time the future of the building was in doubt. This can be seen in the photos at the bottom of this section.
The pictures directly below, however, show the site as it is today. The ugly police extension was demolished and has been replaced by a modern hotel and apartments. Aslin’s building has been fantastically restored and is now home to the Local Studies library, a café and a number of other offices. The beautiful detailing on the exterior has been cleaned and restored and the building looks equally amazing inside.
An interesting addition to the site is the large inscription on the river frontage informing passers-by that the site was once home to Exeter House. It was in this site that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed when in Derby whilst on his ill-fated attempt to reclaim the English throne for his family
The site before restoration (below)
This elegant crossing of the River Derwent almost looked completely different. Originally designed by the borough surveyor C A Clews, work had already commenced when Aslin took over. At this stage the arch was already in place, made of pre-cast concrete this still forms the basis of the bridge and be clearly seen in the photos below.
Aslin wanted a much more elegant and imposing structure for what he perceived as an important and very visible crossing point. To this end he created a beautiful structure of millstone grit and featuring pillars with bronze plaques of famous Derby worthies from history.
To further enhance the bridge and the rest of the scheme Aslin also created an elegant walkway along the river resplendent with architectural details which linked in wonderfully with the bridge.
The Council House
The council house at the beginning of a £40 million rebuild which will completely transform the interior into a modern work space for council employees. At the same time the exterior will be cleaned, new entrances inserted and a balconied cafe area will be constructed overlooking the river
The exterior nearing completion
The finshed exterior
The new public entrance
The view of the river front
Many of the original features have, thankfully, be retained
The new hydro electric plant to provide power for the Council House
Occupying a beautiful site on the bank of the River Derwent Exeter House was the first purpose built council flats in the region. The site had previously been occupied by the Derwent Foundry but this was closed and the site cleared as part of the Central Improvement Plan. In its place was created new housing for those displaced in the slum clearances of the nearby West End.
Designed by Aslin in a restrained Art Deco style the building was constructed in 1929. His design meant that all the flats had Western, Eastern or Southern aspects with the access decks and stair towers all leading off a courtyard which faced the darker, North side. Aslin incorporated a number of beautiful artistic flourishes including mosaic patterns in blue tiles at intervals along the exterior. Now surrounded by mature willow trees the building looks wonderful
Nothing now survives of Aslin's bus station. Instead it has been replaced by a huge development of restaurants and modern bus terminal. More practical and functional but certainly not as elegant.
Queen Street Swimming Baths