Ceremonial art nouveau keys will be handed over as work starts on Preston's reimagined Harris museum, art gallery and library

It’s made of metal and designed in an art nouveau style enclosing a rock crystal drop below a finial crown and was first used to open Preston’s Grade-1 listed Harris building back in 1893 by the 16th Earl of Derby.
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Now this fancy key’s use is more ceremonial and it will be handed over to signify the start of more than £13m construction works at the Harris museum, art gallery and library, as part of the ‘Your Place’ capital project.

Councillor Peter Kelly, Cabinet member for Arts and Culture at Preston City Council will present Michael Conlon, Chairman of Conlon Construction, with the key which features an enamelled coats of arms from the Stanley family, impaled with the arms of his wife, Lady Constance Villers, the eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Clarendon.

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It will mean the start of building work to reinvent the Harris as a 21st century community, cultural and learning space.

The HarrisThe Harris
The Harris

Conlon Construction Ltd was appointed as the main contractor for the Harris Your Place project back in April and working closely with the project team to refine the costs of the scheme and develop the programme for delivery.

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Internal works will start in the Harris including surveys and asbestos removal as well as installation of hoardings to create a safe working environment, scaffolding erection and preparation for the contractors to start on site.

In preparation for the monumental refurbishment, more than 250,000 objects have been removed from the building and placed into safe storage.

The ceremonial key for Preston's HarrisThe ceremonial key for Preston's Harris
The ceremonial key for Preston's Harris
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Oil paintings, watercolours, sculptures, drawings and prints have been individually cleaned with a brush and conservation vacuum cleaner. A team of expert movers closely condition checked the artworks and frames with a torch, before each painting was wrapped or crated and catalogued ready for storage. The Harris worked with professional decant contractors, Restore Harrow Green to carefully pack up and remove the collections.

Councillor Peter Kelly, Cabinet member for Arts and Culture at Preston City Council, said: “It’s a fantastic achievement to get to this stage of the Harris Your Place capital project.

"What a real team effort it’s been - decanting the museum with world-class collection items cleaned, protected, catalogued and moved into safe storage, all in preparation for the Harris Your Place renovations to begin. The ceremonial handing over of the keys to Conlon Construction is a remarkable step forward in this transformational journey.”

Michael Conlon, chairman of Conlon Construction, said: “Accepting the ceremonial keys to the Harris, a building of tremendous cultural and historical significance to the city of Preston, is a huge honour.

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"Conlon Construction has called the city home for the last 60 years and the Harris fed the imaginations of our team on visits when we were children. It even served as the venue for my own wedding last year. Our many connections to the Harris make this quite a unique and special project for all of us at Conlon. We’re proud to undertake the refurbishments readying it for the next phase of Its incredible history. It’s an exciting, 21st century facility which will support the needs of the city and the county for generations to come.”

The Harris is currently operating from other local spaces around Preston including the Guild Hall.

The key handover ceremony is due to take place outside the Harris building on Thursday August 18 at 11AM.


Opened in 1893, the Grade I listed building in the city centre is owned and managed by Preston City Council. The Harris is one of the leading museums, galleries and libraries in the region. Host to art collections of national significance, exciting activities and events for all ages and an award-winning contemporary art programme, the Harris welcomed over 380,000 visitors in 2018/2019.

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Its Grade-1 listing makes the Harris one of the top 2.5 per cent of significant buildings in the country, as classified by Historic England.


Harris Your Place is a £14million project to restore and reimagine the Harris, following a final stage application to The National Lottery Heritage Fund for £4.5million towards the re-imagining the Harris – Harris Your Place project in November 2020.

The scheme has already received development funding of £180,500 from Heritage Fund and is supported by key partners including Lancashire County Council, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal.


When the new Harris opens in Spring 2024, inventive blended displays will give access to remarkable collections. New spaces have been designed to activate curiosity, creativity and reflection and offer library services in enriched settings, positioning the Harris as a uniquely blended venue, true to its original purpose.

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The new Harris aims to attract a further 100,000 visitors a year on top of the existing 350,000 and will be a real visitor destination for Preston and Lancashire.


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.

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, said a condition survey.

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," said a report to the planning committee.