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Harris Museum in danger of mutilation

The Harris Museum, one of Preston’s most important buildings, could end up with a huge hole smashed into its base as part of controversial new refurbishment plans.

Harris Museum, Preston By © Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36758673

Preston City Council have submitted a bid for Heritage Lottery Funding for £10 million, the largest amount in Preston history, to fund the revamp which includes installing a new entrance onto Market Square.

The new entrance would involve creating a massive portal through the base, or ‘rostra’, on which the museum stands. This would dramatically alter the façade of the building and the Victorian Society believes is unjustifiably destructive to the building’s architectural significance.

In their objection letter to the Chair of the North West Committee of the HLF, Aidan Turner-Bishop, Secretary for the Save Our Harris Group, said, “It’s frankly shocking, even baffling, that those supposedly charged with supporting our city’s arts and culture could even consider such a drastic intervention in one of our most important works of art”.

Preston City Council are attempting to justify the dramatic plans as providing better level access to the museum. However, this understandable goal could easily be achieved without causing such irrevocable harm to the building, for example via the eastern façade on Lancaster Road or the north and south elevations.

The Victorian Society’s concerns are shared by members of the local community and Private Eye’s Piloti columnist who said, “…the worst aspect [of the alterations] is the proposed butchery of the exterior of this glorious building. Purcell Architects (who ought to know better) propose cutting a hole in the severe, blank podium to create a no doubt ‘welcoming’ new entrance.”

An online poll taken by Blog Preston shows 48% of local residents think the Harris should be left alone, with 33% supporting the plans and 17% unsure until further details are released.

The Victorian Society urges the council to commission a comprehensive assessment of the building’s significance now, and to rethink this damaging proposal. 

Monday 16 January

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