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New chapter for the Wills Memorial Building

Press release issued: 12 September 2003

The first book ever to be published about Bristol's landmark Wills Memorial Building goes on sale on Doors Open Day - Saturday, September 13.

The first book ever to be published about Bristol’s landmark Wills Memorial Building goes on sale tomorrow when the building will be open to members of the public as part of Doors Open Day [Saturday, September 13].

The book is the first in a series of richly illustrated, full-colour guides to University of Bristol buildings and gardens.  The idea for the series came about after several members of the public, visiting the University on guided tours, requested a souvenir guide to take home with them. 

The Wills Memorial Building guide is authored by Sarah Whittingham, who is currently completing a PhD on the architect of the building, Sir George Oatley.

The guide describes the building’s fascinating history, its style, design and construction, and the special features of its most spectacular rooms.  More than 100 illustrations include Oatley’s original sketches, black and white images of the construction process and sumptuous colour photographs of the building as it is today.

Sarah Whittingham said: “To most Bristolians the Wills Memorial Building is the University.  Now, for the first time, people will be able to read all about its history: its design, the long years of construction during the First World War, its opening by King George V, the destruction of the Great Hall by a German bomb in 1940 and its restoration in the 1960s.”

The Wills Memorial Building exists thanks to the generosity of the Wills family and the genius of architect George Oatley.  The building was commissioned for the University by George and Henry Herbert Wills, in honour of their father, Henry Overton Wills III, benefactor and first Chancellor of the University.  It was designed by Oatley in 1912 in a Perpendicular Gothic style that evokes the ancient collegiate buildings of Oxford and Cambridge. 

Construction began in 1915 but was halted in 1916 due to the progress of the First World War and only began again in 1919.  The building was finally opened in 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary.  That year, Oatley received a knighthood in recognition of his work on the building. 

The final cost of construction was £501,566 19s 10d.

The Guidebook Series

The Wills Memorial Building is No 1 in the University of Bristol Buildings series.  Further titles will include the University precinct, Royal Fort House, the Old Baptist College, Clifton Hill House, houses and gardens in Stoke Bishop, Goldney House and Gardens.  The project is supported by a generous £1,850 grant from the University of Bristol Alumni Foundation.

The guidebook series is part of the University’s continuing programme of outreach activities aimed at strengthening the links between the University and the people of Bristol.  The University’s Public Programmes Office is responsible for a number of successful outreach initiatives, including public tours of University buildings, residential Summer Schools and free lunchtime lectures in venues across the city.

Doors Open Day 2003

Four Bristol University buildings will be open to the public on Doors Open Day: the Old Baptist College, Woodland Road, Royal Fort House, Tyndall Avenue, the Synthetic Chemistry Building, Cantock’s Close and the Wills Memorial Building, Park Street.

Copies of the Wills Memorial Building guide are available for £10 in person or £11 by post.  Cheques, made payable to 'University of Bristol', should be sent to the Public Relations Office, Communications & Marketing Services, Senate House, Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TH.

The guide has 58 pages, over 100 illustrations and is full colour throughout.


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