Wills Memorial Building - History and Facts | History Hit

Wills Memorial Building

Bristol, England, United Kingdom

Image Credit: Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

About Wills Memorial Building

The Wills Memorial Building is a neo-Gothic building belonging to the University of Bristol. It sits atop Park Street, and its 65m tall tower makes it one of the most iconic buildings in the Bristol skyline.

History of the Wills Memorial Building

The Wills Memorial Building commissioned in honour of Henry Overton Wills III: he was a major benefactor of the University of Bristol, donating £100,000 towards its founding, and eventually became the first Chancellor of the University. His sons chose the architect Sir George Oatley to complete the work, and construction started in 1915.

Oatley primarily used a style called Perpendicular Gothic: it was designed to mimic the architecture found across the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He was later knighted – a direct result of his work on the building.

The building’s completion was delayed by the First World War: it was eventually opened in June 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary. It cost in the region of £500,000. The Wills family had made their fortune through the tobacco trade, which indirectly funded the slave trade. As a result, various groups have lobbied for it to be renamed in the 21st century in order to sever these links.

The Great Hall was badly damaged during the Bristol Blitz, and eventually restored in the 1960s. The tower houses a bell known as Great George, which strikes hourly.

Wills Memorial Building today

The Wills Memorial Building is still in use by the University of Bristol: it houses the schools of Law & Earth Sciences. The Great Hall is used for graduation ceremonies, and it remains a hub of university life. Access to the building beyond the entrance hall is via guided tour only.

The university offers tower tours which allow visitors a peak into the Harry Potter-esqe libraries, and they remain the only way for students and visitors alike to climb to the top of the tower. The views are unquestionably the best in Bristol: the whole city and surrounding countryside is visible.

Getting to the Wills Memorial Building

Located at the top of Park Street, the Wills Memorial Building is visible almost everywhere in Bristol. It’s a short up hill walk from the city centre/ harbourside area, or easily accessible by bus: the number 1, 2, 8, and 72 buses all stop opposite, at the top of Park Street.

Bristol Temple Meads station (twice hourly connections to London, very good links with the rest of the South West, Wales and the Midlands) is a 30 minute walk or 10 minute bus journey.

Parking is somewhat scarce in this area of Bristol: residential parking in Redland / Clifton is available, or the nearest car park is Trenchard Street.


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