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Sports Centre, University of Hull

A Grade II Listed Building in University, City of Kingston upon Hull

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Latitude: 53.774 / 53°46'26"N

Longitude: -0.3692 / 0°22'9"W

OS Eastings: 507573

OS Northings: 432081

OS Grid: TA075320

Mapcode National: GBR GFB.LJ

Mapcode Global: WHGFK.9DFN

Entry Name: Sports Centre, University of Hull

Listing Date: 15 December 2016

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1439347

Location: Kingston upon Hull, HU6

County: City of Kingston upon Hull

Local Authority Ward: University

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: Kingston upon Hull

Traditional County: Yorkshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): East Riding of Yorkshire

Church of England Parish: Hull, Newland St John

Church of England Diocese: York

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University sports centre, 1963-65 to a design by Peter Womersley; architect in charge Paul Jones; structural engineers Ove Arup and Partners; c1967 fitting of ground-floor changing rooms and extension of squash courts.

The 1950 sports pavilion by Forsyth and Partners, with C21 extensions on N side, 1991 link block by Napper Collerton Partnership, attached 2004 sports science block by Gammond Evans Crichton Ltd, and the later lift-shaft built against the N side of the covered bridge linking the sports centre and squash courts and the associated partial second-floor of the bridge are not of special interest and are excluded from the listing.


University sports centre, 1963-65 to design by Peter Womersley; architect in charge Paul Jones; structural engineers Ove Arup and Partners; c1967 fitting of ground-floor changing rooms and extension of squash courts.

The 1950 sports pavilion by Forsyth and Partners, with C21 extensions on N side, 1991 link block by Napper Collerton Partnership, attached 2004 sports science block by Gammond Evans Crichton Ltd, and the later lift-shaft built against the N side of the covered bridge linking the sports centre and squash courts and the associated partial second-floor of the bridge are not of special interest and are excluded from the listing.

MATERIALS: reinforced concrete, plate glass, orange brick.

PLAN: the sports centre has a square plan with a central spine (actually just off centre to enable a larger sports hall) running E-W with a full-height sports hall on the S side and two gymnasia rising through the first and second floors on the N side, with changing rooms below on the ground floor, store rooms at the NW end on the first floor with staff offices over at second-floor level. Beneath the central spine is an equipment store basement. On the ground floor is an entrance (the original student entrance) at the E end of the spine with an entrance into the now enclosed ground floor of the squash court bridge (originally the external staff entrance) at the W end. The built-up spine contains a flight of enclosed stairs at either end, a ground-floor storage area for the sports hall, a first-floor spectator gallery and entrances to the gymnasia and also leads to the first-floor covered bridge to the squash courts, and a second-floor spectator gallery with an entrance to the staff offices in the NW corner. On the W side is a block of six squash courts arranged three to each side of a central gallery.

EXTERIOR: the sports centre has gently cambered walls rising to support a deep, projecting, flat roof. The walls comprise long, narrow windows set between slender, tapering concrete mullions set 3ft 3in (1m) apart. The mullions are parabolic in section to withstand wind pressures. The glazing is set directly into grooves in the concrete mullions, except for small, central-pivoting windows in galvanised iron frames mostly set beneath concrete transoms and above pre-cast concrete cladding panels with vertical grooves to encourage water-runoff; the panels are used at the floor levels of the interior space, so ground-floor level for the sports hall, first-floor level for the gymnasia, and first-floor and second-floor levels in the NW corner where there are store rooms and offices. The ground-floor level on the N side has similar pre-cast concrete panels with a narrow, horizontal band of windows lighting the changing rooms (initially this wall was left open between beams so it could be used for car parking). There are no corner mullions and the glazing here is broader and mitred to turn through 90° to form transparent corner angles. The base of the building curves into integral, semi-circular concrete gullies; there are stone cobbles beneath the corners. The S elevation has three doorways opening off the sports hall with half-glazed, metal doors and concrete steps forming little bridges over the gulley. On the E elevation the original cantilevered canopy of the entrance has been enclosed with glazed screens* and doors*, which are not of special interest, linking it to the 1991, brick building on the E side. The projecting roof is built from a grid of pre-stressed open web concrete beams supported by the concrete mullions, visible in the soffits. The deep roof is faced with rectangular concrete panels.

Projecting from the W elevation is an enclosed, first-floor bridge linking the squash courts to the main building. It is glazed with closely-spaced, slender, concrete mullions. The originally-open ground floor is now enclosed with glazed screens* and doors*, which are not of special interest.

The squash courts have concrete roofs to the outer courts which follow the ‘play line’ inside the court and deeply overhang at the front. Beneath these overhangs the walls are formed by similar pre-cast concrete panels with vertical grooves curving into gullies. The walls beneath the concrete ‘play line’ and the central squash courts are of brick.

INTERIOR: the interior of the sports centre has exposed concrete and brick walls. It remains largely as built with the exception of the N side of the ground floor, which was fitted out c1967 as changing rooms having previously been left as a covered car park.

The full-height sports hall has a sprung timber floor and a ceiling with a grid of 3ft (0.9m) square acoustic panels with concealed trackways for netting, superseded by modern suspended netting tracks* and strip lights*, which are not of special interest. The three external walls are panelled at ground-floor level using delicately board-marked precast concrete panels. Convector heaters are sunk flush into the panels where possible. The fourth side is formed by the central spine. At each end is a doorway set at right-angles to open beneath the first-floor gallery. The doors and entrance lobbies are timber and glazed. In-between, beneath the gallery, are two large equipment stores with brick walls and wide openings with roller shutters. The first floor has an open gallery with a balcony of precast, board-marked, concrete panels. Set back at each end is an enclosed, rectangular, concrete stair well. At the E end the gallery is enclosed by a glazed, timber screen (originally used as a tea bar). The second floor has a glazed gallery with closely-spaced, slender, concrete mullions and a wider concrete safety rail. The stair wells at this level combine concrete with irregular, in-set windows, surmounted by glazed timber frames with glazed doors to the long sides with vertical, timber panelling to the shorter, concrete sides (an historic photograph in ‘The Architects’ Journal’ shows that the in-set windows were originally unglazed openings and the concrete stair wells were open-topped, the surmounting glazed timber frames being a later addition).

The gymnasia have sprung timber floors and a similar grid ceiling as the sports hall with concealed trackways. The space is overlooked by the second-floor glazed gallery in the central spine. A net* on a modern, suspended netting track*, which are not of special interest, subdivides the space (replacing the original full-height, timber sliding doors). The E end retains an equipment store with timber, sliding doors in the central spine, with a glazed door from the first-floor gallery to its left. The E wall has a row of folding, timber doors concealing mirrors. Part of the N wall has timber panels beneath the windows and a barre. The W end has a glazed timber screen to the first-floor of the central spine. The W wall has a single-storey equipment store with brick walls beneath a concrete ceiling. To the left is a glazed screen and door from the central spine, to the centre and right are two wide store openings, that to the centre now blocked, that at the right-hand end with timber double-doors. The second-floor level above the concrete ceiling has slender, concrete mullions with timber panels and narrow bands of concrete between.

The concrete roof beams are visible around the external walls of the block of second-floor staff rooms, with similar acoustic ceiling tiles used elsewhere, with a modern, suspended ceiling* to the central corridor, which is not of special interest. The rooms have solid doors and the inner changing rooms have clerestory windows into the corridor.

The changing rooms on the N side of the ground floor (beneath the gymnasia) have fixed metal and timber benches*, and refitted shower and WC areas*, which are not of special interest.

The squash courts have a central, first-floor viewing gallery looking into the courts, which are open above balustrades; on the ground floor the inner walls of the courts are fully glazed. The SW court is presently bricked up*, which is not of special interest (due to be reinstated as a court). The straight flight of stairs* is a modern replacement of the original spiral staircase, which is not of special interest.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act'), it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural of historic interest.


In 1958 the University of Hull appointed Leslie Martin as consultant architect to produce a development plan for the University. It was keen to encourage ‘young architects of promise’ especially for its smaller projects. On Martin’s advice the Vice-Chancellor approached Peter Womersley for drawings and photographs of his work, and then offered him an interview. A new sports centre was needed as the site of the temporary gymnasium was earmarked for an extension of the science building. Womersley’s design impressed Martin and he was formally appointed in January 1961. The sports centre was intended to be built in stages with the first stage going out to tender in October 1962. The higher-than-expected tenders received led to some revision to cut costs; the changing rooms on the N side of the ground floor were initially not fitted and the space was instead used as a covered car park; the table tennis area envisaged at the NW end of the second floor was instead used for administrative and staff offices and staff changing facilities; only two of the six squash courts linked to the W side of the main building were built.

Work began in 1963, the building was topped out in October 1964 and completed in 1965. The architect in charge was Paul Jones; the structural engineers were Ove Arup and Partners. The main material used was reinforced concrete, with a spine basement store, which stabilised the building and acted as its foundations, as unlike most other buildings on campus it was not piled. The ‘Architects Journal’ thought the composition ‘simple, elegant and appropriate’, while ‘Building’ commented that ‘the building appears to grow, tree-like, out of the ground’. As built, the building contained a multi-purpose sports hall 30ft high, 60ft wide and 120ft long (9.1m high, 18.3m wide, 36.6m long) on the S side with a system of floor-to-ceiling netting to separate different activities, with two interconnecting gymnasia on the N side, which could be used together as a smaller sports hall by opening a sliding dividing door or separately with dancing in the E gym and weight-lifting, judo, and gymnastic equipment in the W gym. Separating the N and S sides of the building was a central, spine. This had a first-floor spectator gallery overlooking the sports hall and access to the first-floor gyms. It acted as a social centre with a tea bar and also provided temporary facilities for fencing. At second-floor level there was a further spectator gallery which housed a students’ common room, lecture room, and seminar room. The provision of spectator areas was seen as a way of breaking down inhibitions which students may have had about unfamiliar sports. The two squash courts were linked to the central spine of the sports centre by a first-floor, covered bridge.

To the E of the Womersley sports centre was a traditional brick and tile 1950 pavilion by architects’ practice Forsyth and Partners. The intention was to replace this with a second-stage building containing a swimming pool, lecture room, and staff rooms. This too was to be attached to the sports centre by a first-floor covered bridge to form a linear range of sports buildings running E-W. This was not, however, built and the pavilion remained.

In c1967 the covered car park on the N side of the ground floor was converted to large changing rooms as had originally been envisaged. Probably at the same time, four further squash courts were added to the W side of the original pair of squash courts. More recently, the area beneath the covered bridge has been enclosed and a lift-shaft has been built abutting the N side. In the recent C21 the original spiral staircase located between the two original squash courts has been replaced by a wider, straight flight of steps.

The sports centre is linked to the 1950 pavilion by a traditionally detailed, brick and glass range built in 1991 by the Napper Collerton Partnership. Perhaps at the same time, the 1950 building was extended on the N side. On the S side of the sports centre is a functional sports science block built in 2004 by Gammond Evans Crichton Ltd. It is attached to the enclosed ground-floor infill of the covered bridge linking the sports centre with the squash courts.

Charles ‘Peter’ Womersley (1923-1993) was born in Newark and raised in the West Riding of Yorkshire. He was later based in the Scottish Borders and many of his buildings were built in Scotland. He trained at the Architectural Association in London, following which time he helped design a sheik’s palace in Kuwait before establishing his own practice in the 1950s. Womersley’s first client in 1952 was his brother John, for whom he designed the now-famous house of Farnley Hey (completed 1954, Grade II) at Farnley Tyas near Huddersfield, which was awarded a RIBA bronze medal. Thereafter followed a number of commissions for private houses, as well as a small number of other buildings, mainly in England and Scotland, which included the sports centre at the University of Hull and the Gala Fairydean football stadium at Galashiels. A number of Womersley’s buildings are listed, including: High Sunderland, a house and studio built for the textile designer Bernat Klein, Selkirk (1957 and 1972 respectively, both Grade A); Valley Spring, a house in Bath, Somerset (1968, Grade II); Gala Fairydean Football Stadium, Galashiels (1963-5, Grade A); and Womersley’s own home in Melrose known as The Rigg (1957, Grade B). Womersley’s work was heavily influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright and he is widely regarded as a highly significant C20 architect.

Reasons for Listing

The sports centre at the University of Hull, 1963-65 by Peter Womersley, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:
* Architectural interest: a modern building of monumental form with an elegant and simple design of long, narrow windows set between slender, gently-cambered concrete mullions, with fully-glazed corners, integral concrete gullies, and a deep, overhanging roof;
* Architect: designed by the highly regarded, later C20 architect, Peter Womersley, who has a number of listed buildings to his name including Farnley Hey, West Yorkshire (Grade II) and Gala Fairydean football stadium, Galashiels, Scotland (Grade A), the latter built at the same date as the sports centre;
* Historic interest: built at the vanguard of sports centre construction, this university sports centre is an exemplary example, combining a number of sports in a flexible space housed in an architecturally impressive building;
* Design: the complex plan form of the building works both as a multiple sports facility and an educational resource, with the built-up central spine encouraging the engagement of students with their surroundings through spectatorship of the sports taking place in the flexible, well-lit spaces to each side and also the provision of social and teaching facilities on the spine, with a similar attention to spectatorship also shown in the squash courts' building;
* Interior: built for use by large numbers of students, the interior uses exposed shuttered concrete and exposed brick as the primary materials, whose hard-wearing qualities are complemented by attention to detail such as the exquisitely board-marked concrete panelling in the sports hall and sculptural forms of the spine stair wells.

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