Harris Museum

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Harris Museum
Harris Museum ( Preston ) ( Web).jpg
The Harris Museum
Harris Museum is located in Preston city centre
Harris Museum
Harris Museum
Location in Preston city centre
Established1893; 127 years ago (1893)
LocationMarket Square, Preston, England
Coordinates53°45′33″N 2°41′54″W / 53.75911°N 2.69825°W / 53.75911; -2.69825Coordinates: 53°45′33″N 2°41′54″W / 53.75911°N 2.69825°W / 53.75911; -2.69825
TypeArt Gallery and Public Library
WebsiteHarris Museum & Art Gallery website
Listed Building – Grade I
Official nameHarris Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery
Designated12 June 1950
Reference no.1207306

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Preston Free Public Library is a Grade I-listed museum building in Preston, Lancashire, England. Founded by Edmund Harris in 1877, it still operates as a local history and fine art museum.


In the 19th century, it became legal to raise money for libraries by local taxation, and the town of Preston wanted a grand museum and library for its inhabitants. From 1850, local people held fund-raising events; and in 1877 Edmund Robert Harris, a Preston lawyer, left in his will £300,000 to establish a trust and support a public library, museum and art gallery with Preston Corporation.

In 1879, the first Preston lending library was set up in the Town Hall basement, while a public museum was set up on Cross Street, opening 1 May 1880. Success led the council to erect a new building for both. Work started on the museum in 1882 during the Preston Guild, and it officially opened in 1893.[1]


The building was designed by a local architect, James Hibbert, who chose a Neo-Classical style. For the 1880s, this was in some ways contrary to the Gothic Revival style which was popular at the time and features in numerous contemporary buildings in Preston, including the old Town Hall which stood on the western side of the Harris.[2]


The building's exterior reflects Hibbert’s vision of a neo-classicism through "“simplicity, symmetry of plan, truthfulness of expression and refinement of detail”. Unlike other public buildings designed in this style (such as the British Museum in London and the Konzerthaus in Berlin), Hibbert's design does not feature steps leading up from the Flag Market but instead has ground-level entrances om each side of the building.[2]

A pediment dominates the front of the building and features a sculpture based upon Raphael's painting The School of Athens. Interpreting Hibbert's design fell to London sculptor Edwin Roscoe Mullins and features the central figure of the Ancient Athenian general Pericles, surrounded by twelve other men arranged symmetrically to either side. The sculpture is considered Mullins' principal work.[3] Beneath the pediment is the inscription To Literature, Arts and Science. There are further inscriptions along the sides, and on the lantern tower a quotation in Ancient Greek from Pericles' Funeral Oration.[2]

Supporting the pediment are six Ionic fluted columns leading down to a raised portico overlooking the Flag Market.


The building's interior is dominated by a central hall rising over 120 feet from the ground floor to the ceiling of the lantern tower. As well as the ground floor, there are three upper floors with balconies opening up onto the central hall, and collection halls and exhibition spaces on each floor.[2]

The interior design features classical influences from Ancient Greece, Assyria and Egypt, including columns and mosaic floors, and copies of Classical and Renaissance sculpture representing the “whole range and history of the world’s greatest achievements in art”. Only the Greek and Assyrian friezes on the upper floors and the copy of Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise on the ground floor remain of the original sculptures.[2]

The ground floor has been remodelled to include a cafe and gift shop, and is the entrance to the Harris Library. Located in the basement are additional storage spaces and workshops for maintaining the collections.


The Harris collections cover fine art, decorative art, costume, textiles and history including collections on archaeology and local history. The museum has a permanent history gallery called Discover Preston which covers Preston's history but also includes a Discovery Room featuring the wider collections. Highlights of the Discovery Room include a display of the complete skeleton discovered in 1970, of the 13,500-year-old Poulton Elk, a skeleton of an Ice Age elk with two embedded man-made barbed points, the earliest relic of human occupation of Lancashire.[4]

The fine art collection includes over 800 oil paintings featuring work by Richard Ansdell, George Frederick Watts, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Stanley Spencer, Lucian Freud, Ivon Hitchens and Graham Sutherland as well as local artists Anthony Devis and Reginald Aspinwall.[5] The decorative art collection includes collections of British ceramics and glass, highlights of which include the largest scent bottle collection in the country[citation needed] and are displayed in the Ceramics and Glass Gallery. In addition there is a contemporary art programme of national and international artists, touring shows and in-house exhibitions.

A Foucault pendulum hangs in the central foyer, through all the floors, over a butterfly-shaped plate marked with the hours of the day. As a result of the rotation of the Earth, this functions as a decorative and reasonably-accurate clock. The building is also decorated with a number of plaster casts of classical friezes throughout the central atrium and a 19th-century copy of the Baptistery doors from Florence is located on the ground floor. These were part of the original design scheme by the architect James Hibbert.


The building also houses Preston City's Public Library,[6] which is run by Lancashire County Council. The first librarian of the Harris Free Public Library was a William Bramwell who retired in 1916 aged eighty-one.The Harris library holds important book collections including the Shepherd Collection donated to Preston by Dr Richard Shepherd in 1761, with additions funded by the Shepherd bequest,[7] local studies material, nineteenth-century journals, rare books and art books. Also the Spencer collection of illustrated children's books and chapbooks.[8] At the time of the opening of the Harris, William Bramwell was also the librarian of the Dr Shepherd Library which found a home at the Harris having been located in various buildings and institutions across the town.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Harris Museum History". Visit Preston. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Architecture of the Harris Building". The Harris. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
  3. ^ "Edwin Roscoe Mullins (1848-1907)". Bob Speel. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  4. ^ Harris Museum: The Poulton Elk.
  5. ^ Reginald Aspinwall's Paintings, BBC Your Paintings, accessed April 2013
  6. ^ "Welcome to the Library and Information Service web siteBack - Preston Harris Home Page". Lancashire County Council. Archived from the original on 5 December 2007. Retrieved 26 February 2008.
  7. ^ "Lancashire Lantern: Lancashire Life And Times E-Resource Network". Archived from the original on 2 October 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  8. ^ A Catalogue of the Spencer Collection of Early Children's Books and Chapbooks, Presented to the Harris Public Library, Preston, By Mr. J. H. Spencer, 1967
  9. ^ Convey, John (1993).The Harris Free Public Library and Museum, Preston 1893-1993, p.37, Lancashire County Books, Preston. ISBN 9781871236309

External links[edit]