The Poly Buildings

309 Regent Street has been a site of education since it opened as the Polytechnic Institution (later the Royal Polytechnic Institution) on 6 August 1838.  The original building had an exhibition hall with a vaulted roof where the public could come and view experiments and, from 1848, a theatre designed for its famous magic lantern shows.  The first photographic studio in Europe opened in 1841, situated on the roof.

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.

Browse interviews

Barry Nicholson

Period: 1960s

David Bench

Period: 1980s; 1990s

Donald Lush

Period: 1980s

Harold Beck

Period: 1930s; 1940s

Jackie King

Period: 1970s; 1980s; 1990s; 2000s

Jim Dunton

Period: 1980s; 1990s

Lionel Price

Period: 1930s; 1940s

Peter Brooks

Period: 1960s

Vernon Dewhurst

Period: 1960s

William Cadell

Period: 1950s

Browse our oral history

Browse our directory of interviews by topic

Quick links

Find out more about our heritage.

Archive Services