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Harris Museum and Art Gallery

Psyche entering Cupid's Garden, John William Waterhouse

The Harris Museum, Art Gallery & Preston Free Public Library is a Grade I listed museum building in Preston and has the largest gallery space in Lancashire, England.

In the 19th century, after it became legal to raise money for libraries by local taxation, a Public Library boom hit the United Kingdom. The town of Preston wanted a grand museum and library for its inhabitants. Since 1850, locals had held fund-raising events to get enough money to build a museum and public library. In 1877, a Preston lawyer called Edmund Robert Harris finally made the dream of Preston into a reality. He left instructions in his will that a sum of £300,000 be used to establish a trust that would provide funds to support the creation of several institutions in Preston including a library, museum and art gallery. The trust would work 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 1st May 1880. The popularity of this made the council decide to make a purpose built building to house the Public Library and Museum. Building work officially started on the museum in 1882 during the Preston Guild and it officially opened in 1893.

The Harris collections cover fine art, decorative art, costume, textiles and history including important 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 impressively 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.[1]

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 like Reginald Aspinall (1858–1921).[2] The decorative art collection includes important collections of British ceramics and glass, highlights of which include the largest scent bottle collection in the country, and are displayed in the Ceramics and Glass Gallery. In addition there is a varied 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.

This monumental building also houses Preston City's Public Library,[3] which is run by Lancashire County Council. 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,[4] local studies material, nineteenth-century journals, rare books and art books. Also the Spencer collection of illustrated children's books and chapbooks.[5]


Harris Museum: The Preston Elk.
Reginald Aspinall's Paintings, BBC Your Paintings, accessed April 2013
"Welcome to the Library and Information Service web siteBack - Preston Harris Home Page". Lancashire County Council. Retrieved 2008-02-26.
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

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