Preston's iconic Harris Museum needs a facelift after shock condition report by experts

The architectural jewel in Preston's crown - the imposing Harris Museum and Art Gallery - is in real need of a structural facelift, according to experts.

By Brian Ellis
Sunday, 13th March 2022, 8:14 am

The late-Victorian building, which towers above the city's Flag Market, requires urgent work on its roof, stonework, windows and doors if it is to avoid falling into further disrepair, says a condition survey.

Town Hall bosses have now submitted an application to themselves for listed building consent to carry out a major programme of improvements to the fabric of the city's 128-year-old neo-classical centrepiece.

The authority, which owns and runs the iconic Harris, wants to start an external refurbishment after being told the general condition of the building is only "fair" overall.

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The pediment sculptures above the portico have .significant fabric issues.'

Repairs are needed to the weathered stonework, leaky roof and peeling and rotten window frames and doors.

"If preventative maintenance is not prioritised, there is a risk of significant harm to the historic fabric of the Harris," says a report to the planning committee.

The application is seeking permission to carry out repairs to the external stonework and partial replacement of some pieces, together with cleaning and re-pointing. The roof is said to need additional leadwork and work on the gutters to prevent further rainwater ingress. Repairs, partial replacement and repainting are required to external window frames and doors which have stood up to almost 130 years of Lancashire weather.

"If left it will result in failure and further harm to the building," warns the report.

The magnificent Harris building is in need of major work.

"The general condition of the Harris Museum is fair overall."

Architects say the significance of the Grade I Listed building to Preston cannot be over emphasised. And the external work is just part of the £10.7m Re-imagining the Harris project. "Both its architectural style and presence within the city centre are unique," says the report.

"It forms the focal point for key views within the city and is a fundamental symbol of Preston city centre. Locally the building is of exceptional significance, but is of such quality that it stands comparison against the majority of similar buildings regionally and against many nationally." Its Grade I listing makes the Harris one of the top 2.5 per cent of significant buildings in the country, as classified by Historic England.

But a condition survey in 2016 revealed some movement of the building was evident by cracks in lintels externally and walls and ceilings internally. Deterioration of some masonry, caused by weathering, had been found. The survey said: "There are localised areas of deterioration of external masonry which can be dangerous to passers-by. Surveys in 2010 identified significant fabric condition issues to the pediment sculptures above the portico (high on the front of the building)."

And at basement level, where exhibits are stored, there was "significant" water ingress and damp which posed "a major threat to books and collections stored in those areas." "Due to the Harris's prominent location, monumental architectural style and continued outreach and involvement with the local community, it has an intrinsic connection to the cultural identity of Preston and is well-loved by those who use it."