Original features

March 12, 2009

It was a pledge of £100,000 made in 1908 by Henry Overton Wills, a member of the family that created the Wills Tobacco Company, that made possible the University of Bristol's foundation. The Wills Memorial Building was commissioned by his sons at a cost of just over £500,000 and opened by King George V in 1925.

Now one of the city's most prominent landmarks, it houses Bristol's department of earth sciences and the School of Law, as well as the Great Hall, which is used for degree ceremonies.

It was designed in the Gothic style by George Oatley and built in reinforced concrete clad in Bath stone.

The main entrance, surmounted by sculptures of the Muses, leads into a hall with a celebrated fan-vaulted ceiling.

When major restoration work began in 2006, a hidden inscription - IO TRIVMPHE - was discovered high up on the octagonal belltower.

This was the phrase with which Roman crowds greeted victorious generals, but it also refers to the initials of Sir Isambard Owen, the vice-chancellor of Bristol who oversaw the original construction.

At the official opening ceremony, the new floodlights were switched on by Harry Patch, a 109-year-old war veteran and former plumber who had worked on the building in the 1920s.

Send suggestions for this architectural series to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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