Swastika building question put to Essex County Council

the swastika patterns on Essex County Council's headquarters building in Chelmsford This section of Essex County Council's headquarters was finished in 1939, the year Britain and Nazi Germany went to war

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Swastikas carved into a county council building have been branded "potentially offensive and upsetting" by someone demanding to know why they are there.

The carvings on Chelmsford's County Hall, built between 1928 and 1939, were made shortly before World War Two.

But a member of the public has lodged a Freedom of Information request asking why it "was still commissioned given the symbol's negative connotations".

Essex County Council said it would not comment before answering the request.

It is not known whether the council has ever been asked to remove the symbols or whether the authority had ever discussed their presence on the building.

The swastika in history

Hindu swastika

The swastika is a cross with its arms bent at right angles to either the right or left. In geometric terms, it is known as an irregular icosagon or 20-sided polygon.

The word is derived from the Sanskrit "svastika" and means "good to be". In Indo-European culture it was a mark made on people or objects to give them good luck.

It has been around for thousands of years, particularly as a Hindu symbol in the holy texts, to mean luck, Brahma or samsara (rebirth).

It was also a symbol used by the scouts in Britain, although it was taken off Robert Baden-Powell's 1922 Medal of Merit after complaints in the 1930s.

The person requesting the information, who has not been named, said the timing of the swastika symbols "struck me as strange seeing as the Nazi party formed in 1933 and by March 1938 were beginning an invasion into Austria.

"It's potentially offensive and upsetting to those that lost loved ones in the war or those that fought for their country."

But Dr Mark Curteis, curator of social history and art at Chelmsford City Council, said the swastikas on County Hall were "lifted and adapted from previous designs", including those from ancient Greece, where swastikas were used.

"The swastika is still a symbol of peace."

'Imposing quality'

John Hammond, of Chelmsford Civic Society, said he was "mystified" the swastika issue had now been raised.

"If they were going to be removed it would have happened immediately after the war, or during," he said.

"But it is also encouraging to think people are looking at the detail on buildings.

"There's so much out there when you look above the shop window."

According to its English Heritage listing, the HQ block bearing the swastikas was built by J Stuart of Portland stone between 1929 and 1939.

English Heritage describes it as having an "imposing external architectural quality".

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