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University of Westminster (formerly Regent Street Polytechnic)

A Grade II Listed Building in City of Westminster, London

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Coordinates

Latitude: 51.5169 / 51°31'0"N

Longitude: -0.1433 / 0°8'35"W

OS Eastings: 528924

OS Northings: 181408

OS Grid: TQ289814

Mapcode National: GBR CB.ZD

Mapcode Global: VHGQZ.G4LH

Entry Name: University of Westminster (formerly Regent Street Polytechnic)

Listing Date: 20 June 1973

Last Amended: 16 March 2015

Grade: II

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1265181

English Heritage Legacy ID: 425752

Location: Westminster, London, W1B

County: London

District: City of Westminster

Electoral Ward/Division: West End

Parish: Non Civil Parish

Built-Up Area: City of Westminster

Traditional County: Middlesex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Greater London

Church of England Parish: All Souls Langham Place

Church of England Diocese: London

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Summary


Former polytechnic, now part of the University of Westminster. Frontage block to Regent Street of 1910-12 by George A Mitchell in association with Frank Verity, who designed the street elevation. Additions of 1923-7 by FJ Wills, who also remodelled the theatre as a cinema.

Description

Former polytechnic, now part of the University of Westminster. Frontage block to Regent Street of 1910-12 by George A Mitchell in association with Frank Verity, who designed the street elevation. Additions of 1923-7 by FJ Wills, who also remodelled the theatre as a cinema.

MATERIALS: the frontage block has a steel frame, faced in granite at ground floor and Portland stone above; slate roof, and metal-frame casement windows. The rear part is largely steel framed faced in brown stock brick and glazed brick to the light wells.

PLAN: rectangular frontage block aligned north-south with a central entrance hall and stair to rear; to the right (north) is a former shop, now a café; to the left (south) is the cinema foyer. Above this level were offices, classrooms and studios, whose layout has been considerably altered. At the rear, the footprints of the Great Hall and theatre of the old Polytechnic are perpetuated in the former gymnasium, now a student meeting area, and the cinema. To the north-west of the frontage block is Fyvie Hall, added in 1910-12, above this is the former library, now the Board Room. Behind Fyvie Hall is the former swimming pool, now a student meeting area.

EXTERIOR: the frontage block, designed in the Beaux Arts manner with neo-Grec ornament, comprises four main storeys over a double basement, an attic storey and steep mansard roof. The symmetrical five-bay façade is framed by rusticated pilasters surmounted by paired consoles, topped by a stone torchère. The ground floor has a recessed central entrance; the door surround and flanking windows have timber frames with paterae ornament to the intersections; that to the shop is a modern reproduction; the cinema entrance is modern. The first, second and third floors have a giant order of engaged Ionic columns. The first floor has tripartite windows divided by stone pilasters, with alternating segmental and triangular pediments. The second and third floors have vertically framed metal tripartite windows with ornate spandrel panels. Above is a dentil cornice. The attic storey has small tripartite windows a mutule cornice and blocking course. The roof has a row of three pilastered triple-light windows over the three central bays; the end bays are accentuated by taller stone-faced dormers with fluted pilasters and an entablature. The roof has bronze ridge cresting. The rear part of the roof is of northlight form, lighting studios.

INTERIORS: the entrance has a glazed timber lobby with revolving doors to either side. The opulent entrance hall, clad in panels of contrasting coloured marble, has marble door architraves, an enriched plaster beamed ceiling supported on marble-clad piers, and a terrazzo floor with a central mosaic roundel depicting St George slaying the dragon with the motto THE LORD IS OUR STRENGTH. To the rear is a segmental roof lantern with stained glass. The stair is flanked by marble-clad Doric columns supporting a segmental pediment, within the tympanum is a stone tablet dedicating the rebuilt Polytechnic to the memory of King Edward VII. The stair has a short flight leading to a landing where it divides into two separate stairs, each with a lift shaft within the well, now enclosed. The lift entrances have ornate gilded wrought-iron aedicular surrounds with roundels of St George; rare survivals. Above the marble door architrave on the rear landing is a scrolled plaque commemorating the rebuilding of the Polytechnic; the wall of the left-hand stair flight has marble plaques engraved with the names of trophy winners. The stair has a wrought-iron balustrade, brass handrails and terrazzo treads. The former shop, now a cafe, has no visible original features. Classrooms, laboratories and offices at basement and upper-floor levels of the 1910-12 frontage block have undergone repeated changes to their interiors and layout and are thus of lesser interest.

Fyvie Hall has full-height oak panelling with Corinthian pilasters and an entablature, and an arched niche at the west end. The deep coved cornice is inset with curved stained-glass windows; the ceiling has strapwork decoration. On the south wall are large mullion-and-transom windows with Arts-and-Crafts stained glass, octagonal leaded lights and roundels depicting St George, Christian symbols, and Biblical quotations. The Compton organ at the east end was installed in 1934. On the three other walls the friezes of the panelling are inset with a series of eight rectangular panels with paintings by the artist and former Polytechnic student Delmar Harmood Banner (1896-1983). They date from 1923 and depict scenes of the artists and industries of London: (i) The building of Westminster Abbey (ii) the sculpture of Westminster Abbey (iii) the painting of the Painted Chamber at Westminster Palace c1300 (iv) the painting of the Bishop’s Bible, 1540 (v) the goldsmiths (vi) the tapestry weavers at Mortlake c1630; (vii) the potters c1690 and (viii) the shipbuilders c1700.

The former gymnasium (now a student meeting area) has a beamed and coffered ceiling from the 1910-12 rebuilding, but has been otherwise much altered. The former Council Room (now the Alumni Room) at the rear of the gymnasium, dating from 1910-12, has ¾ timber panelling inset with photographs of governors. The former swimming baths, now a refectory, has been considerably altered but retains original tiled pilasters, partly overclad, and an ornate cast-iron balustrade to the balcony.

The cinema foyer has been modernised and retains no visible original features. A rear stair leads to the auditorium, entered through a pair of double doors with diamond panes. The auditorium is decorated with neo-classical plasterwork and has a segmental barrel-vaulted ceiling above which the cast-iron arched roof structure from Thomson’s 1848 theatre remains in situ. The proscenium arch is flanked by panelled pilasters. The curved balcony has a solid balustrade and brass rail. To the left of the stage is a Compton organ installed in 1936; behind the stage is the organ chamber complete with pipework and fittings. Behind the stage is a section of the theatre balcony dating from the 1890s remodelling, which has ornate cast-iron balustrading.

The 1927 library (now the Board Room) above Fyvie Hall has a glazed barrel vaulted roof with coffered plasterwork panels and decorative ceiling grilles. Shelving has been removed.

The interiors of the 1923-7 rear additions by FJ Wills, i.e. above the levels of the cinema and former gymnasium, are without special interest*.

* Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 (‘the Act’) it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.

History

The evolution of this complex and accretive site began in 1838 at No. 309 Regent Street with the opening of the Polytechnic Institute by the aeronautical pioneer Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) and his associates. A commercial venture, it took its cue from the National Gallery of Practical Science, Strand, or Adelaide Gallery, which had opened in 1832 to 'blend Instruction with Amusement'. In 1837, the partners acquired Lord Bentinck’s townhouse, No. 5 Cavendish Square, and the new Polytechnic, designed by James Thomson, was built over its garden and the adjacent mews to the east fronting the recently developed Regent Street, a prime location. The Polytechnic offered ‘an institution where the Public, at little expense, may acquire practical knowledge of the various arts and branches of science’, seeking to 'instruct and delight' its visitors in the inventions that were transforming society. Laboratories and equipment were available for hire to would-be inventors. Behind the modest three-storey Greek Revival frontage was a ‘hall of manufactures’ and a Great Hall which featured a tank for diving-bell demonstrations. The name changed to The Royal Polytechnic Institution in 1841 when Prince Albert became patron; in that year the world’s first photographic studio was built on the roof. A 1200-seat theatre was added on the south side in 1848, also to Thomson’s design, over the garden of No. 4 Cavendish Square and its respective mews in Regent Street. A new six-bay Italianate frontage was built, although the southern half of this (No. 307 Regent Street) was leased out. The theatre repertoire included optical displays which were projected onto a large screen.

Even before the growth of public museums and scientific education stimulated by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the genre of attraction at which the Polytechnic undoubtedly excelled was in decline: the Adelaide closed in 1848, and the Diorama and the Colosseum in Regent’s Park would do so respectively in 1851 and 1855. The Polytechnic however saw renewed popularity under Professor John Henry Pepper, Director from 1854-72, who not only produced some spectacular shows, including the famous illusion ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ in 1862, but enhanced its educational credentials through increased evening classes for working men. After his departure, decreasing profits led to eventual bankruptcy and in 1882 the building was sold to the evangelical philanthropist and educational reformer Quintin Hogg (1845-1903) and renamed the Young Men’s Christian Institution.

Here, Hogg would realise his mission of providing practical education for young working men through day and evening courses in technical and commercial subjects. Hogg was a keen sportsman and one of his first changes was to convert the Great Hall into a gymnasium; in 1884 a swimming pool was built on land at the rear of No. 6 Cavendish Square. Public funding was secured in 1891 when the institution was renamed Regent Street Polytechnic; the lease of No. 307 was also acquired in that year, enabling street access to the theatre which could now be let out for hire. The theatre had been rebuilt after a fire of 1881 and altered again in 1894; it was here on 21 February 1896 that the French shadowgraphist Félecien Trewey brought his Cinématographe-Lumière, the first display of moving film to a paying audience in Britain. The Polytechnic soon outgrew its capacity, and in 1910-12 the entire Regent Street frontage was rebuilt, incorporating the adjacent property to the north, No. 311. The architects were George A Mitchell, the Polytechnic’s Head of Architecture, and Frank Verity; the latter responsible for the façade. Two flanking wings, intended for commercial use, were also designed but never built. Fyvie Hall, named after the benefactor Lord Leith of Fyvie, was added at this time and the gymnasium rebuilt with an extra floor. The next major phase of work took place in 1926-7 under Frederick J Wills who substantially rebuilt the theatre as a permanent cinema, with a four-storey superstructure. The gymnasium block received four more storeys, and the chemistry laboratory was rebuilt as a library.

During both world wars, the Polytechnic took the lead in retraining large numbers of disabled ex-servicemen. It merged with the Holborn College of Law, Languages and Commerce in 1970 as the Polytechnic of Central London, and with Harrow College of Higher Education in 1990, achieving university status in 1992.

Reasons for Listing

The former Regent Street Polytechnic, now University of Westminster, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: an accomplished essay in the late-Edwardian Beaux Arts manner designed by a notable architect, Frank Verity;

* Interiors: of particular interest are the fine entrance hall; the Fyvie Hall which has high-quality fittings and a distinctive set of paintings by the artist and Polytechnic student Delmar Banner; and the cinema which retains elements from the previous theatre wherein Britain's first public display of moving film took place;

* Historic interest: as the successor to the original Polytechnic of 1838, and as one of the foremost institutions providing higher education in the arts and sciences for working-class people, under the auspices of the philanthropist Quintin Hogg.

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