History of Harris Museum
A free public library and museum for the people of Preston became a reality in 1877 thanks to lawyer Edmund Robert Harris.
A growing Free Library movement had led to increasing interest in establishing museums and art galleries across Britain, with members of the Preston community soon holding fundraising events. Its champions included Edmund Harris’ father, the Reverend Robert Harris who was the vicar of St George's Parish Church, headmaster of Preston Grammar School, and also the librarian of the Dr Richard Shepherd Library.
Edmund Harris’s father died in 1862 leaving instructions in his will and £300,000 to Preston Corporation. In memory of his father, Edmund created a trust supporting development of several new public institutions in Preston.
By 1878, the town council had adopted the Public Libraries Act and purchased the library and collections of the Literary and Philosophical Institution, established 68 years before on Cross Street. The following January (1879), Preston’s first public lending library opened in the Town Hall basement, together with a public museum and reference library in Cross Street.
The success of these ventures encouraged moves to establish a purpose built library and museum in central Preston, using funds from the Harris bequest, while Preston Corporation found land for development. This required parliamentary permission, and the Preston Improvement Act of 1880 allowed the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses to provide a site. Work started in 1882 and the Harris Library, Museum & Art Gallery was officially completed in 1893.
Edmund had inherited the family's entire wealth after the death of his father and brother, and had no heirs when he died aged 73 in 1877. He was principal benefactor not only of the Harris Museum, but also the Harris Institute or Art School, Harris Technical School and the Harris Orphanage.
Although the Harris Museum is the only institution created by the Harris bequest that still exists in its original form, the Harris Institute and Harris Technical School live on through the University of Central Lancashire, which still includes the Harris Technical School building on Corporation Street.
The Harris Institute on Avenham Lane and Harris Orphanage buildings on Garstang Road are now in private ownership, but the Harris Free Public Library and Museum Endowment Trust still exist today supporting the work of the Harris Museum and the library.