The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Click to see full size. Photo © Alison Needler
Click to see full size. Photo © Rob Scott
Opening of Wills Memorial Building. Photo © University of Bristol, Special Collections
Entrance hall. Photo © Alison Needler
Reception Room. Photo © Alison Needler

100 Buildings 100 Years

1925: Wills Memorial Building, Bristol

Status: Listed Grade II*
Type: Education
Architect: Sir George Oatley
Location: Queen's Road, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 1RJ

The Wills Memorial Building is the last great Gothic secular building to be built in this country. It was designed by Bristol’s most important architect of the twentieth century, Sir George Herbert Oatley, in 1912. But because of the outbreak of the First World War  it was not completed until 1925. It was paid for by George and Henry Wills of tobacco company fame (or infamy), in memory of their father Henry Overton Wills III. He had enabled the foundation of Bristol University in 1909 with a gift of £100,000.

The Wills brothers wanted to create an ‘architectural elevation at once worthy of the University and an ornament to our native city’. Oatley continued and developed the Gothic tradition and combined it with practical planning and modern construction methods (it is of reinforced concrete faced with Bath stone) to produce a building perfectly suited to its purpose. The monumental 215-feet-high perpendicular Gothic tower is now as much a symbol of Bristol as Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Bristolians cannot imagine Park Street without it at the top.

by Sarah Whittingham

Listing description

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