In 2013, the University of Westminster will be celebrating its 175th anniversary
To mark this occasion, the University has published "Educating Mind, Body and Spirit: the legacy of Quintin Hogg and the Polytechnic, 1864-1992". This multi-authored history of the predecessor institutions of the University of Westminster has been generously sponsored by the Quintin Hogg Trustees. It includes themed chapters on: Quintin Hogg 1864-1903, wartime, women’s participation, sport and leisure, travel (especially the Polytechnic Touring Association), changing higher education policy, and the emergence of the student.
The University History Project has already produced two publications, The Education of the Eye: a History of the Royal Polytechnic Institution 1838-1881, and An Education in Sport: Competition, communities and identities at the University of Westminster since 1864 by Dr Mark Clapson. These were also sponsored by the Quintin Hogg Trustees.
Oral History Programme
As part of this project the University of Westminster Archive is also currently working on an oral history programme, enabling us to the record the life stories of men and women involved in the University and its predecessor bodies. Oral history is composed of spoken testimony, stories and experience and is a valuable way of capturing individual understandings and perspectives of the recent past. These stories will be added to the permanent Archive collection and will complement our paper records.
We are particularly keen to hear from individuals who were either members or students of Regent Street Polytechnic in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and alumni who attended the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL) in 1970s and 1980s; we would also like to speak to long-serving members of staff (former or current), especially those who were here during the transition from PCL to University of Westminster.
If you are interested in participating in our oral history programme, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please email us via firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone on +44 (0)20 7911 5167.
You can now hear extracts from the Oral History collection on our dedicated webpages, and see a complete list of interviews on our online catalogue. The full interviews can be listened to in the Reading Room - pleasse access arrangements for external researchers and staff and students for more details.
For more information on Archive Services, and links to our other online resources, please visit our webpages.
The University through the decades...
In the run-up to the launch of the new book, we published a key fact from each decade of the University's history every week on the Archives' webpages. These are now available below:
The Polytechnic Institution opens its doors to the public for the first time on 6 August 1838.
Aiming to help its visitors to understand the inventions and discoveries which were changing their lives, their city and their society through display and demonstration, the Polytechnic Institution hoped to delight as well as to instruct. The name was changed to the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1840 after the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, when the latter consented to become its patron.
The first photographic studio in Europe opens on the roof of 309 Regent Street on 23 March 1841.
William Henry Fox Talbot had made use of the Polytechnic’s facilities prior to patenting his Caoltype process on 8 February 1841. He granted a licence to the Polytechnic to demonstrate this new process. Later that year, Richard beard took advantage of the new process to open his photographic studio, the first in Europe. The queues were quite considerable and even Dickens came to his portrait taken). This was only the start of the Polytechnic’s long association with photographic firsts. Classes in Popular Photography began in 1853, and 100 years later in 1966 the Polytechnic was to the world’s first BSc Hons in Photography.
Evening classes are first held at 309 Regent Street
When John Henry Pepper took over as manager of the Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1854 he introduced a system of 6d. tickets for industrial workers and their families to be able to attend evening lectures. Two years later he introduced a comprehensive series of evening classes, with subjects ranging from Algebra to German, Mechanics to History. At the end of the year students could opt to take new public examinations offered by the Society of Arts, the first of their kind in Britain. At the time Pepper gave a speech, insisting that he wanted the Polytechnic to not only be a place for popular amusements in science, but “an Institution in which the elements of science should be regularly and accurately taught”. When Quintin Hogg purchased the Polytechnic he took on and greatly expanded the programme of evening classes, which eventually developed into the University we know today.
Quintin Hogg sets up the York Place Ragged School and Working Boys Home.
Quintin Hogg, a privileged but deeply religious young man, had always been interested in philanthropic endeavours. After starting work in the City he took a great interest in the many boys living round and under the Adelphi Arches, near Charing Cross station. There was no compulsory schooling at this time so Hogg started teaching them how to read and write. He set up the York Place Ragged School and Working Boy’s Home in 1864 – an institution that was eventually to develop into the Regent Street Polytechnic, and the University of Westminster today.
Hanover United Athletic Club is formed.
At the Young Men’s Christian Institute, Hogg encouraged the members to set up clubs for things that interested them. Organising these societies themselves helped them to develop skills in leadership and financial management. One of the earliest clubs to be set up was the Hanover United Athletic Club in 1874. This originally covered cricket, football, rowing and swimming, although later it was best known for its track and field sports, and the Polytechnic Harriers in particular. The club, which was renamed the Polytechnic Athletic Club in 1887, produced many national and international champions, winning medals for Great Britain at every Olympics between 1908 and 1952, with the exception of the 1936 Berlin Games.
Quintin Hogg moves his Young Men’s Christian Institute from Covent Garden to 309 Regent Street
The Royal Polytechnic Institution had wound up in 1881 as Quintin Hogg was looking for a new home for his YMCI, which had yet again outgrown its premises. The YMCI moved in during 1882 and quickly adopted the name of the Polytechnic, which was still carved over the door. He converted the Great Hall into a gymnasium and the following year he bought stables adjacent to the building in order to construct a swimming pool. Today the space that was the pool is the University’s Deep End café.
The first public showing of moving picture to a paying audience in the UK takes place at 309 Regent Street
When Quintin Hogg purchased 309 Regent Street he also acquired its theatre. The theatre, built in 1848, had been used by the Royal Polytechnic Institution for plays involving the ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ illusion and lectures illustrated with magic lantern slides. The space was used by Hogg’s Polytechnic as a classroom, but also rented out whenever possible to make money. One such occasion was to the Lumiere Brothers, who hired the hall on 21 February 1896 to demonstrate their Cinématographie. The report of the original event can be read online via our digitised magazines while you can learn more about our campaign to restore the cinema to public use at www.birthplaceofcinema.com
Quintin Hogg dies on 17 January 1903
Quintin Hogg is regarded as the founder of the University of Westminster, as he was the driving force behind its predecessors, the Young Men’s Christian Institute and the Regent Street Polytechnic. Hogg’s vision was always a total one, to educate the ‘mind, body and spirit’, and he inspired great love and admiration among the Poly’s members. His death at the age of 57 was sudden and unexpected. A memorial fund was immediately started which led to both a statue on Regent Street (since moved to Portland Place) and the purchase of land at Chiswick. Today that land is the Quintin Hogg Memorial Sports Ground, and its continued use by the University’s clubs is a fitting tribute to our founder’s work.
309 Regent Street is re-built to provide more space
After moving his Institute into 309 Regent Street, Quintin Hogg very quickly commenced building works. He turned the Great Hall of the Polytechnic into a gymnasium and added a swimming pool at the rear of the building. However lack of space was always a problem at the Polytechnic, due to the great demand for both its social and educational activities. In 1910 the entire building was demolished from the ground up, with the re-build encompassing numbers 307 and 311 on either side as well. The Pool, Cinema and Gymnasium all remained in place but new modern engineering workshops were installed in the basement and additional floors added. The façade that you can see today dates from this rebuilding. The Polytechnic carried on its work from temporary premises on the other side of Regent Street, and the new building was opened by the King in 1912.
Launch of new courses in Journalism and Management, and training of disabled ex-servicemen
The First World War had a dramatic impact on the Regent Street Polytechnic. The Polytechnic Secondary School had been evacuated to the countryside, and the building had been used a recruitment centre, and to run courses for the Royal Flying Corps. After the war, courses were run for disabled servicemen, enabling them to re-train and find work. The 1920s also saw the introduction of many new courses, in particular within the School of Commerce. New courses in Journalism and Management were the start of a steady increase in professional subjects at the Poly, instead of the more traditional curriculum. This set the stage for the gradual change in the role of the Polytechnics, which would eventually see them being turned into Universities in 1992.
The Polytechnic Touring Association organises the first escorted air tour to Switzerland
Although many people remember the name ‘Lunn Poly’, not many realise it has its roots at Quintin Hogg’s Polytechnic. The Polytechnic Touring Association (PTA), from which it took the ‘Poly’ half of its name, conducted its first tour in 1888 and organised trips to the 1889 Paris Exhibition and the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In 1894 it acquired what would become the Polytechnic Chalets in Lake Lucerne, which remained at the centre of its holiday offerings until the 1960s. Early trips were conducted by train and boat but, with the increasing affordability of air travel, the PTA was able to able to charter ‘the world largest passenger air liner’ for its historic 1932 escorted air tour to Switzerland. By the late 1950s the PTA was starting to promote destinations such as Italy and Spain; however it was bought in 1962 before it could really benefit from the boom in Mediterranean travel. The company was purchased by Thomson Travel International SA and the Lunn Poly shops were re-branded in 2004; now forming part of the TUI chain.
Bombing raids hit the Poly’s sports facilities; 309 Regent Street is lucky to escape.
In 1939 the Polytechnic Day Schools were evacuated to Minehead, as the main building at 309 Regent Street was given over to war work. A total of 6,800 personnel, mainly for the Royal Air Force, received their technical training here. Poly members and students took their turns fire-watching from the roof of 309 Regent Street, which was lucky to escape a direct hit. The nearby Queen’s Hall (home of the Proms until 1940) was destroyed by an incendiary bomb in 1941. However the Polytechnic boathouse and Quintin Hogg Memorial ground at Chiswick were not so fortunate. In July 1944 the boathouse was damaged and its boat burnt, while the Ladies’ pavilion was razed to the ground. The boathouse was repaired and re-opened in 1951, but the Sports Ground did not operate at full capacity again until 1960.
Being a student at the Regent Street Polytechnic was a very different experience to studying at the University today.
Anyone who took daytime classes had to vacate the premises by 5pm, to make way for the evening students and members of the social clubs. The day students felt they were missing out on the social life that a college ought to offer. A Student Representative Council (SRC) had been founded for this very purpose in 1933, but by the 1950s it no longer wanted to restrict itself to organising dances. In 1953 the SRC attempted to form a Union but failed. They did however win substantial concessions from the Polytechnic authorities and by the end of the decade had achieved both an office and a common room in Little Titchfield Street, with a Wednesday Sports afternoon granted the following year. It wasn’t until 1965 that formal autonomous Students’ Union was created.
The Sixties swing at the Regent Street Polytechnic
The Students’ Union was founded in 1965, and they were soon organising a busy social programme centred around gigs in the Little Titchfield building. Depending on the audience expected, these used either the Portland Hall or the gymnasium – or the wall could be lowered between the two to create one large space. Popular stars like Julie Driscoll and Brian Auger played the Poly, but perhaps the most famous concert was Eric Clapton and Cream in October 1966. This turned out to be Jimi Hendrix’s first UK performance, as he was invited onstage to jam with the band just a week after arriving in the country. The one song he played with them would become the stuff of legend.
The Polytechnic expands into new sites at Marylebone Road and New Cavendish Street
In 1960 the London County Council announced a plan to turn Regent Street into a tri-partite federal college by adding a new College of Architecture and Advanced Building Technology (CAABT) and also a College of Engineering and Science (CES). The existing commercial subjects would remain centred on no 309 Regent Street. CAABT was allocated the Luxborough Lodge site in Marylebone Road and CES a site in New Cavendish Street. Both schemes suffered prolonged delays and the new buildings were not finished until 1970. By this time the Regent Street Polytechnic had merged with the Holborn College of law languages and Commerce, and was officially re-designated the Polytechnic of Central London at a ceremony on 21 May 1971.
The Students Union protests!
From its formation in 1970, the Polytechnic of Central London Students’ Union (PCLSU) engaged in a strategy of protest and direct action against PCL, the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and the Government. Topics of protest included the level of student grants, increase in fees for overseas students, and the lack of student accommodation at PCL. As well as joining many of the protest marches going through central London, PCLSU also organised rent strikes for those students who were in halls, and occupations of 309 Regent Street. In November 1981 a twelve day occupation of the building was eventually broken up by the police, resulting in a dozen arrests.
The Inauguration of the University of Westminster
In 1990 a senior civil servant, Richard Bird, published a report calling for greater academic autonomy for some polytechnics. This led to the publication of the White paper ‘Higher Education: A new Framework’ in 1991 which recommended that polytechnics were allowed to adopt a University name and be permitted to award their own degrees. The name was chosen after coming top in a poll of one thousand lower-sixth form students, from a choice of twenty different names (including Quintin Hogg University, which was ranked 19th). On 11 May 1992 the Privy Council agreed that PCl could use the title ‘University of Westminster’ and the institution was re-dedicated at Westminster Abbey on 1 December 1992.