Oral History: Buildings
Quintin Hogg moved his Young Men’s Christian Institute (known as the Polytechnic from 1891) into 309 Regent Street in 1882. He turned the exhibition hall into a gymnasium and added a swimming pool and rifle range. However, by 1910 lack of space led to money being raised for a rebuild. The new building was designed by George Mitchell, Head of Architecture at the Poly. The sports facilities and the theatre (by now a cinema) were retained but the new design included substantially more classrooms and the oak-panelled Fyvie Hall.
The Young Women’s Christian Institute began life at 15 Langham Place but in 1929 moved to the Great Portland Street Extension building in Little Titchfield Street. This new building provided the women with their own gymnasium and state-of-the-art domestic science classrooms, while the Portland Hall was used for mixed socials.
Demand for space became greater when the Polytechnic of Central London was created in 1970 by a merger with Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce. A building was constructed for Science and Computing at New Cavendish Street, while Architecture moved to the new Marylebone Road campus, which also provided student accommodation. The Little Titchfield Street building was refurbished for the School of Communication.
In 1990 PCL merged with Harrow College of Higher Education, bringing with it the campus at Northwick Park and new space for creative subjects such as Media Studies, Photography, and Fashion Design. The Little Titchfield Street building was remodelled for the School of Law. In 1992 PCL became the University of Westminster and today we are investing heavily in its four campuses and fundraising to re-open its historic cinema to the public.
Barry Nicholson studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic both as an A Level Student in 1963 and as a Mechanical Engineer in the late 1960s. In this excerpt he discusses the basement science laboratories in 309 Regent Street and the equipment in them. From 1970 New Cavendish Street became the home of sciences.
Period: 1980s; 1990s
David Bench studied Environmental Biotechnology at PCL in the late 1980s-early 1990s. In this excerpt he discusses his student accommodation in the tower block at Marylebone Road.
The Marylebone Road campus was added to the Polytechnic in 1970. It provided the Poly’s first onsite accommodation for Architecture and the Built Environment and also for the Business School.
Donald Lush studied Film and Photographic Arts at PCL in the early 1980s. In this excerpt he discusses how the cinema and swimming pool at 309 Regent Street were being used in the 1980s.
The cinema space was added to the building as a theatre in 1848. It was originally used for magic lantern shows and optical illusions such as Pepper’s Ghost. On 21st February 1896 the Lumière brothers rented the space to host the first ever screening of moving pictures to the UK public. As film started to take off, the theatre at the Polytechnic became a working cinema and over the years showed numerous films from Alfred West’s Our Navy and Army Boer War propaganda films to the first x rated film in the UK.
The swimming pool was added in 1884 just two years after Hogg bought 309. It had a three sided gallery with changing cubicles along one all. Ladies were allowed to use the pool twice a week. In the winter to save on heating costs, the pool was drained and used a reading room for members. In the early 1980s it was closed due to maintenance costs. Today it is a social and study space called The Deep End but some of the original features can still be seen.
Period: 1930s; 1940s
Harold Beck attended the Polytechnic Secondary School at Regent Street between 1935-1942. Whilst at the School he was evacuated to Minehead in Somerset. In this excerpt he discusses the assemblies held in the cinema at 309 Regent Street and the cinema itself.
The cinema space was added to the building as a theatre in 1848. It was originally used for magic lantern shows and optical illusions such as Pepper’s Ghost. On February 21 1896 the Lumière brothers rented the space to host the first ever screening of moving pictures to the UK public. As film started to take off, the theatre at the Polytechnic became a working cinema and over the years showed numerous films from Alfred West’s Our Navy and Army Boer War propaganda films to the first x rated film in the UK.
Period: 1970s; 1980s; 1990s; 2000s
Jackie King joined the staff of the Polytechnic of Central London in 1972. Initially joining the Languages Registry as an admissions officer based at Red Lion Square, she went on to become a school manager, campus manager at Harrow and is now the Head of School Administration. In this excerpt she describes using the swimming pool at 309 Regent Street.
The swimming pool was added in 1884 just two years after Hogg bought 309 Regent Street. It had a three sided gallery with changing cubicles along one wall. In the winter to save on heating costs, the pool was drained and used a reading room for members. Ladies were allowed to use the pool twice a week. In the early 1980s it was closed due to maintenance costs. Today it is a social and study space called The Deep End but some of the original features can still be seen.
Period: 1980s; 1990s
Jim Dunton studied Media Studies at the PCL from 1989-1992. In this excerpt he discusses the Little Titchfield Street building where Media Studies was based.
The Little Titchfield Street building was opened by Queen Mary in 1929 and was called the ‘Great Portland Street Extension Building’. Originally home to the Poly’s Young Women’s Christian Institute, it provided the women with their own social rooms and sports facilities. It also included the Portland Hall which was used for club socials and music concerts. Over the years the building has housed various departments including Architecture, Photography, Media Studies, and now houses the Westminster Law School, Regent Library and Archive Services.
Student halls of residence have been at various sites over the years including West End sites such as Bolsover Street and Marylebone Road. The Marylebone Road Halls were the Poly’s first onsite accommodation and were added in 1970. Many students also lived in rented flats and some in squats.
Period: 1930s; 1940s
Lionel Price attended the Polytechnic Secondary School at Regent Street between 1938-1941. He also joined the Institute as a member soon after leaving school in order to use the sports facilities. He joined the basketball club and was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1948 London Olympic Games. In this excerpt he discusses using the sports facilities at the Poly during his time at the Polytechnic Secondary School. As most of the classes at the Poly were in the evening, the school had use of the classrooms and sports facilities during the day.
Peter Brooks studied for a Diploma in Engineering at the Regent Street Polytechnic from 1959. In this excerpt he discusses the Regent Street canteen. Initially housed at Regent Street the School of Civil Engineering moved to the new premises at Marylebone Road in 1970.
Vernon Dewhurst studied Photography at the Regent Street Polytechnic in the 1960s. The head of the School of Photography at the time was Margaret Harker, Britain’s first female professor of photography.
309 Regent Street has a long history with Photography. In 1848 Europe’s first photographic studio opened at the Royal Polytechnic Institution on its roof and members of the public could come and have their portraits taken. Charles Dickens was among the customers. In 1852 photography classes began. Quintin Hogg continued these classes when he acquired the building. In 1960 the Poly established its first full time 3 year diploma in photography and in 1966 the World’s first BSc in the subject.
William Cadell studied Architecture at the Regent Street Polytechnic during the mid 1950s. In this excerpt he discusses the permanent and visiting teaching staff on the architecture course.
From 1891 there was a School of Architecture providing evening classes (and day classes from 1894) in a variety of subjects allied to the Architecture and Building trades, as well as preparation for professional examinations including those of the Surveyor’s Institution, Royal Engineers and Royal Institute of British Architects.
After World War One the School of Architecture taught evening classes in architecture and architectural draughtsmanship, building, surveying, geometry, building law, mathematics and mechanics, as well as technical craft subjects (carpentry, joinery and cabinet making). The Day School provided a three year Diploma course which on completion meant exemption from the RIBA intermediate examination. The Architects (Registration) Act 1931 recognised the School’s Diploma Final Examination in Architecture as qualification for registration.
In 1970 modern purpose-designed premises at Marylebone Road were built for the College of Architecture and Advanced Building Technologies which comprised the Department of Architecture, Surveying and Town Planning and the Department of Civil Engineering. These facilities included a concrete testing laboratory, now the gallery space P3.