This Grade I listed building opened in 1893 and houses a treasure trove of art and intriguing objects. It’s the largest gallery space in Lancashire and is best known for its local history display, and collections of ceramics, glass, fashion, and textiles.
Many of exhibitions at Harris Museum and Art Gallery change every few months. Those referred to in this article relate to our last visit in September 2015.
Entering the building we made our way to the first floor. Discover Preston is here and is the museum’s local history gallery. It’s divided into four zones; Preston at the Crossroads, the Discovery Room, the Social and Commercial Hub, and What Makes Preston Special?
One of the most interesting exhibits we saw was the Poulton Elk. This 13,000 year old elk skeleton was found by chance in 1970 when an old bungalow in Poulton-le-Fylde was being demolished. Fragments of weapons also found at the site are the earliest evidence of human settlement in North West England.
Other exhibits in the Discover Preston gallery explored a diverse range of topics including the history of Preston Docklands, the collapse of Preston Old Bank, rayon production at Courthalds’ Red Scar Works factory, Preston Market, Horrockses Mill, Preston Caribbean Carnival, and the Jacobites in Preston.
The Ceramics and Glass Gallery is on the first floor balcony. Exhibits explored the ways ceramics have been made and how ceramic production in the UK developed from the seventeenth century onwards. Individual displays showcased Staffordshire figures, Wedgwood, and English porcelain. The glass section boasts the largest collection of perfume bottles in the UK.
The second floor houses three galleries; Special Exhibitions, Costume, and Art.
At the time of our visit the Special Exhibitions gallery was hosting A Green and Pleasant Land? The exhibition showcased art inspired by Preston’s landscapes and included works by Anthony Devis, Thomas Wade, and Norman Stevens. The theme extended onto the stairway where there was a display of contemporary rural photography by students of Myerscough College.
The Costume Gallery is also on the second floor. Again this gallery hosts exhibitions that change throughout the year. When we visited it was hosting Style & Substance, an exhibition showing how British fashion changed between 1880 and the 1930s.
Unfortunately at the time of our visit the Art Gallery was closed for urgent repairs. It had been scheduled to showcase an exhibition of the works of Victorian painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts.
The second floor balcony also featured some interesting exhibits. One display housed a collection of early spectacles while others featured silver card cases and oriental ivories.
The fourth and topmost floor of the Harris Museum is the Egyptian Balcony. Its walls are adorned with murals of Egyptian sites painted by John Somerscales. This area is not normally open to the public and can only be visited as part of a guided tour. A small fee applies.
The ground floor of the museum houses the Harris Library and the Museum Café. The Museum Café is one of the most unique places to eat in Preston. While sat at your table you can admire the Foucault pendulum, a unique device that demonstrates the rotation of the Earth. Another wall is adorned with a bronze cast of the doors from the east side of the Florence Baptistery.
Facilities at the Harris Museum include free wireless internet access, lift to all floors, and accessible toilets.
The Harris Museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am (11 am Monday) to 5 pm. It is closed Sundays and bank holidays.
Admission to the museum and all exhibitions is free.
Preston Bus Station is just a couple of hundred yards away. Preston Train Station can be reached on foot in about five minutes.
The nearest car parks are at Preston Bus Station, the St George’s Shopping Centre, and Preston Market.