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Wills Tower set for new glory

Press release issued: 3 January 2006

Bristol University’s famous gothic tower at the top of Park Street is about to disappear under scaffolding so that experts can closely inspect the exterior and undertake essential repair and restoration work. It is thought to be the first such operation in over 30 years.

Bristol University’s famous gothic tower at the top of Park Street is about to disappear under scaffolding so that experts can closely inspect the exterior and undertake essential repair and restoration work.  It is thought to be the first such operation in over 30 years.

When the nine-month, £750,000 project is complete, the tower will be an even more impressive sight on the city’s skyline.  The stonework will be cleaner and the building illuminated by discreet, energy-efficient floodlights.  Bristol will have a new night-time spectacle.

The 215-foot, Grade II* listed tower is part of the University’s Wills Memorial Building, which was opened on June 9, 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary. 

George and Henry Wills, of the family that created the Wills Tobacco Company, met the entire £500,000 cost of the development.  They wanted to create a lasting memorial to their father, Henry Overton Wills III, whose pledge of £100,000 in 1908 had made the foundation of the University possible.

The building’s architect, George Oatley, was knighted for his work.  The Daily Telegraph of June 10, 1925 described the tower as “an enduring monument to the genius” of its architect.

The Wills Memorial Building accommodates the University’s Department of Earth Sciences and its School of Law, together with their libraries.  It also houses the magnificent, 100-foot-long Great Hall, which can seat a thousand people for graduation ceremonies and other important occasions.  Great George, the University’s nine-ton, 11-hundredweight bell, sits high in the tower. 

Mike Phipps, the University’s Bursar, said: “The Wills Tower is a much-loved Bristol icon.  Decades of weather and traffic fumes have inevitably taken their toll, and we want to restore it to tip-top condition.

“The tower will be covered in scaffolding for the repair work, and we’re taking advantage of that to restore the stonework using the latest environmentally friendly techniques.  We’re also going to repaint the nine heraldic shields above the first-stage windows and then illuminate the tower.

“When the work is finished, the tower should be fit for its next few decades.  It will also be an even finer sight for all the people of Bristol.”

The erection of scaffolding will start on January 9.  It will take between eight and ten weeks to reach the top.  The whole project should be finished by October 2006.  The restoration of the rest of the Wills Memorial Building will follow.