Browse By

Beautiful Buildings: The Wills Memorial Building

Wills Memorial Building
The Wills Memorial Building – centrepiece of the University of Bristol.

A Bristol icon. The Wills Memorial Building was built during World War One as a statement of creation over destruction. However, though building began in 1915, the Tower was not completed until 1925 due to the disruption of WW1. This fine example of Neo-Gothic architecture was the last structure of its style as architecture turned towards Modernism and post-war Art Deco styles.

Commissioned by George Alfred Wills and Henry Herbert Wills and designed by Sir George Oatley, the building was created in memory of the two commissioners’ father, Henry Overton Wills III – the first Chancellor of the University of Bristol.

Designed with grandeur in mind, the University of Bristol were looking to build a “sufficiently outstanding” building, which they felt they didn’t yet possess. Oatley was challenged with creating a “building to last” and to echo those seen on prestigious university campuses such as Oxford and Cambridge. The tower is reinforced concrete faced with Bath and Clipsham stone, with extravagant carving decorating the 215ft building.

The Great Hall. A stunning space used for exams, events and lectures.
The Great Hall. A stunning space used for exams, events, and lectures.

Located at the top of Park Street in arguably the second centre of Bristol, the building takes pride of place looking down upon the surrounding shops and businesses. Originally built for the university, students still flock to the building for the School of Law and the Department of Earth Sciences, as well as the Law and Earth Sciences libraries. The building also boasts the Great Hall, a magnificent space which conveys a real sense of beauty and attention to detail as the panelled walls and a breathtaking hammer-beam roof surround all those inside. The terrific exposed Bath Stone contrasts with the pristine golden brown oak panelling and fascinates all who enter, as it is a combination not often seen.

The Wills Memorial Library -dominated by an intricately designed ceiling.
The Wills Memorial Library – dominated by an intricately designed ceiling.

In 1940, during the Bristol Blitz of World War Two, the Great Hall with its hammer-beam roof was badly damaged by a German bomb blast. It was restored in the 1960s to Oatley’s original design, and by surviving both World Wars I think the Wills Tower is symbolic of resistance and is a place of rejuvenation and regeneration.

Further to the Great Hall, the Wills Memorial Building houses a General Library, a Council Chamber and an additional 51 rooms which include seminar rooms and lecture theatres. The General Library is another fantastic room which never ceases to impress. With long balustrades and a double-height room, any student would be envious of those studying in this space.

The Wills Memorial Building is still the location of the University of Bristol’s graduation ceremonies, which are real events for Bristol when they take place. Hundreds if not thousands of people get to bask within halls designed over one hundred years ago for the same purpose they are used for today. The Wills Memorial Building is a real landmark for Bristol and the university alike.