The Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge provided Preston’s middle classes with libraries, lectures and good company in exchange for a regular subscription. In the early days the library and reading room were the centre of Institution life, with occasional lectures offering insights into everything from chemistry to astronomy to ‘vegetable physiology.’ It grew with the opening of the Avenham Institute building in 1849, followed by new art and science schools during the decades that followed.
Joseph Livesey was a Preston-born philanthropist and cheesemonger. He was a leading figure in the temperance movement in Preston, which called on people to abstain from alcohol consumption. He was a radical who believed in the power of education to transform lives.
In 1827 he opened a Sunday School which was the only place in the area where young people aged between 14-21 could receive free education. He also helped a Mr Templeton to set up a school in rented rooms on Cannon Street. He played a key role in founding the Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge, the forerunner to today's University.