In 1897 the Leicester School of Art (founded 1870) and the Leicester Technical School (founded 1882) were merged and brought under the control of the Town Council. The new institution was renamed the Leicester Municipal Technical and Art School.
In order to accommodate this new institution a new building was begun in a part of Leicester known as ‘the Newarke’. The School building was constructed as one long wing with a grand central entrance. Today this is the part of the building which faces the Hugh Aston building. The materials used were orange Leicester brick with Portland stone window surrounds. The architects were a local firm, Everard and Pick. Samuel Perkins Pick had learned architecture at the School of Art in 1875, achieving national awards for his building designs. He went on to teach building construction at the School of Art while also working as architectural assistant to John Everard. William Keay, another graduate of the School of Art, later joined the architects and the company became known as Pick, Everard and Keay.
The foundation stone was laid on 30 March 1896 and the building was opened on 5 October 1897. It soon proved too small and extensions were planned. The first extension was the south wing, now the side of the building which faces along Richmond Street, which was opened in 1909. The west wing opposite the Portland building was built between 1927 and 1928. In order to construct this wing an asylum for orphan girls, which had been founded by the vicar of St Mary de Castro in 1800, was demolished.
The final wing was the north wing, facing Trinity House (at this date still a hospital for the poor). In order to construct this wing, a grand old house, known as Shipley Ellis House after the owner, a prominent industrialist, had to be destroyed. The remains of the Collegiate Church of the Annunciation were found in the ruins of the house, along with some skeletons, coffins, and the remains of a Roman floor. After some debate in the local press it was decided to incorporate the arches into the new building. Construction took place between 1935 and 1939. The same architects and builders were used throughout these different phases of construction, which accounts for the similarity of style throughout. However, there are nods to the different tastes which had developed some 38 years after the construction of the first wing. The final wing is more ‘art deco’ in style. The doors of the north wing are decorated with copper panels designed by Percy Brown, Lecturer in Sculpture, and showing the tools of art, crafts, science and technology.
In the 1939 prospectus much is made of the new building, but already by 1947 it was too small to hold all the classes. At this point new buildings were sought and the building became known as the Central Block. In 1959 this was changed to Main Building.
The expansion of the campus in the 1960s led to the renaming of the Main Building and from 1969 it was called the Hawthorn Building after the first headmaster of the Technical School, John H Hawthorn, who taught at the School from 1897 to 1923. Arts and Design classes moved out of Hawthorn and into Fletcher, leaving Hawthorn for Sciences.