The University of Westminster boasts a rich history and has been providing students with academic excellence, cultural engagement and personal enrichment since its inception as The Polytechnic Institution in 1838. Here you can find out a little bit more about our unique heritage, and the traditions of excellence that help to shape the University today.
A place for pioneers
The Westminster story began in 1838, when Sir George Cayley opened the Polytechnic Institution at 309 Regent Street in London. In 1881, philanthropist Quintin Hogg, bought the Royal Polytechnic Institution building and moved his Young Men’s Christian Institute into 309 Regent Street, which soon became the publicly funded Regent Street Polytechnic.
Since then, our education institution has secured a reputation as a place for firsts. These include:
- the first polytechnic in the UK (1838)
- the opening of the first public photographic portrait studio in Europe (1841)
- the venue for the first public moving picture show in the UK, organised by the Lumiere brothers (1896)
- organising the first marathon race (at the London Olympics) over the now traditional distance of 26 miles, 385 yards (1908)
- offering the first degree courses in Photographic Science, Photography, and Media Studies (1960s and 1970s)
- the first modern university to win the Queen’s Award for Enterprise – International Trade
- the UK’s first Partner University for UN Habitat, the agency which deals with human settlement and development
The Polytechnic Institution
Established under the chairmanship of the distinguished scientist Sir George Cayley, The Polytechnic Institution at 309 Regent Street was created in order to demonstrate new technologies and inventions to the public and played a significant role in the popularisation of science.
In 1841, the name changed to The Royal Polytechnic Institution when Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, became Patron.
The Regent Street Polytechnic
During the 1860s, Quintin Hogg, a young business man, began to provide basic education for some of London's poorest children in the slums of Covent Garden. Hogg developed his vision to provide educational, social, sporting and social opportunities for young working men in The Young Men's Christian Institute. He purchased 309 Regent Street in 1882.
New day and evening courses in technical and commercial subjects were introduced to support the expanding economy as London became the world's largest city.
The Polytechnic became publicly funded in 1891 and was re-named the Regent Street Polytechnic.
During the First and Second World Wars courses were directed towards the war effort, taking the lead in retraining the large numbers of disabled soldiers returning from war.
Polytechnic of Central London (PCL) 1970–1992
The 1960s saw a major new expansion scheme for the Regent Street Polytechnic, transforming it into a multi-site institution. A new site in Marylebone Road was to house a college of architecture and advanced building technologies, while a second new site in New Cavendish Street was to house engineering and science.
By the time the new buildings had been completed, the Regent Street Polytechnic had been merged with Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce to form the Polytechnic of Central London (known as PCL).
The newly formed Students’ Union played host to several leading bands of the era, including Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Pink Floyd also formed at the Polytechnic at this time.
PCL was one of 30 new polytechnics formed in 1970, awarding degrees from the Council of National Academic Awards.
Throughout the next 20 years, PCL continued its commitment to part-time and evening education, and pioneered an extensive programme of short courses for mid-career professionals that attracted more than 20,000 students a year.
University of Westminster 1992–the present
PCL gained University status in 1992, bringing the right to award its own degrees and to participate in publicly funded research.
Today’s University, with 22,000 students, is far bigger than its predecessors and is structured into four campuses – Cavendish, Harrow, Marylebone and Regent.
Our expanding overseas activity has resulted in the University being awarded the Queen's Award for Enterprise in 2000 and again in 2005.