The History of UCLan Part 3: The Harris Institute

We are back with another part about the history of UCLan. Its forerunner, the Preston Institute for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, had seen big changes after it was founded in 1828. It became the Harris Institute in 1882, after the fund of a wealthy solicitor helped the Preston Institute financially.

The curriculum broadened, offering plumbing, brickwork, nursing, German, theoretical mathematics, agriculture, commercial geography and telegraphy, chemistry, textile courses and freehand drawing. This caused demands for yet more space, as had happened earlier, and which caused the construction of the Avenham Institute. The Harris Trustees made further funds available for these new premises, and Preston Borough Council promised to provide a site for them, though it took five years until a site was allocated. This was at Corporation Street rather than the hoped for site adjacent to the Harris Free Public Library. A joint design proposal from Henry Cheers and Aspinal and Smith was accepted for the new building, though it caused a slight controversy, as the costs were higher than the competition brief implied. Despite this, a foundation stone was laid in 1895, and the new Jubilee Technical School, later known as the Harris Institute and nowadays as the Harris Building, was opened in 1897, just in time for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Technical School, c.1900

The Harris Institute was a large and successful operation, and there were constant attempts to improve. The first World War affected the Institute, as students and staff either signed up or were conscripted into the forces. This had a dramatic effect, and caused a larger recruitment of women, who were to be trained to replace men who could then be released for the armed forces. The town’s mayor, Alderman Cartmel, criticised it as “deeply deplorable” that women should have to “take up their brothers’ places”. Additional classes and lectures for teaching English to Belgian refugees and ‘Economy in Food’ were introduced, reflecting the impact of war on the Harris Institute.

Student enrolment certificate, September 1927

1928 was the centenary of the forming of the Institute for the Diffusion of Knowledge, and there were some successes. There were some 1900 students, and whilst it was mostly a local college for evening class students there were plenty of students for daytime courses. The 1930s saw major refurbishments of the Technical School building and re-equipping of workshops and laboratories, and new “bright and well-ventilated classrooms” became available.

A. Winter, Harris Institute Technical School after refurbishment, 1931
A. Winter, Harris Institute Technical School, Corridor C, c.1931

The work of the college was disrupted in 1939 again, not only because student numbers dropped. The Institute made provisions for 90% of the students to shelter in the basement in the case of air raids. Other students were supposed to go home. Shelters were built for students and the public alike.

After the war, a General Inspection by HMI noted that the college was “dignified and substantially built” and “exceptionally well kept” with a “high standard of neatness and order”. But there were problems too, as there were gaps in provision and a shortage of accommodation. The biggest problem was the absence of a suitable library. The existing one consisted of a room with ceiling high shelves and large tables in the centre of the room, which were placed inconveniently. There was a also no indexing system in place. In addition, most students did not know about the existence of a library. It was recommended that these concerns should be addressed.

There were more changes to come, when the Harris Institute became the Harris College in 1956. To be continued…

Picture credits 

Student enrolment certificate, September 1927, image via

Technical School, c.1900, image via

A. Winter, Harris Institute Technical School after refurbishment, 1931,image via

A. Winter, Harris Institute Technical School, Corridor C, c.1931, image via


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