View all news

80-year-old engraving finally discovered

Press release issued: 2 August 2006

An age-old inscription has been discovered by men working on one of the city’s most famous landmarks, Bristol University’s Wills Memorial Building. The stone engraving has been hidden for over 80 years.

An age-old inscription has been discovered by men working on one of the city’s most famous landmarks, Bristol University’s Wills Memorial Building. The stone engraving has been hidden for over 80 years.

A letter sent in 1925 found by Gethin Morgan, Emeritus Professor at Bristol University, who has been researching the inscription’s existence proved crucial to its discovery.

The letter from Sir George Oatley, the building’s architect, to Sir Isambard Owen,  Bristol’s then Vice-Chancellor responsible for the building’s completion, acknowledges Sir George’s wish that Sir Isambard should receive recognition for his inspirational efforts behind the building’s existence.

As a special tribute George Oatley arranged for the inscription IO TRIVMPHE to be engraved in the stonework. The IO signifying Isambard’s initials and TRIVMPHE signifying how the crowds in ancient Rome used to greet victorious returning Generals with shouts of IO TRIVMPHE. 

However the whereabouts of the inscription were never known until now. Not visible to the public eye, it was only discovered when men working on the building’s restoration uncovered the inscription high up on the north face exterior of the the building’s 68 metre high tower.

To mark this occasion, a viewing is taking place at the top of the tower on Thursday, 3 August at 8.30 am to celebrate the discovery. Gethin Morgan, Emeritus Professor who helped discover the inscription and Dr Stella Clarke, University Pro-Chancellor will both be attending the viewing.

Professor Gethin Morgan said: “Soon the scaffolding will be dismantled, and the inscription will once again normally be visible to the gods alone, perhaps not to be seen again by us for the best part of a century. But as a resounding statement of achievement and acclamation it will surely remain vivid in our minds and will continue to resonate throughout the whole of the University.”