Quintin Hogg envisaged the Polytechnic as a multi-faceted institution that would develop the intellectual, physical, social and spiritual elements of its members. As well as social and sporting clubs it provided classes in technical skills and trades for London’s workers. The London County Council (LCC) was impressed with Hogg’s holistic vision and from 1891 began funding the Regent Street Polytechnic as an institution for ‘the promotion of the industrial skills, general knowledge, health and well-being of young men and women belonging to the poorer classes’. Hogg’s Poly was used as a model for a network of Polytechnics established across London.
In the 1880s over 10,000 people a year were studying at the Polytechnic and around half of them were also members of its social and sporting clubs. Classes were mainly taught in the evening in order for students to attend after work. They covered a wide range of subjects, including engineering, architecture, photography, brick-laying, carpentry, commerce, banking, English, art, and languages. After World War Two there was a dramatic expansion in higher education in the UK and the Poly began to include more arts subjects such as sociology and history.
In May 1970 the Poly merged with Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce to become the Polytechnic of Central London (PCL). PCL was able to offer degrees, validated by the Council for National Academic Awards (CNAA), as well as offering a range of postgraduate courses for the first time. A substantial programme of mid-career short courses harked back to its routes in evening education. However, the polytechnics were unable to access the same levels of research funding as their University counterparts. This so-called ‘binary line’ in UK Higher Education was abolished in 1991 following a call for polytechnics to be allowed to adopt a university name and award their own degrees. On 1 December 1992 a service was held at Westminster Abbey to mark the inauguration of the University of Westminster.