Wills Memorial Building

Built

1925

Location

Bristol

 

The roof of the entrance hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, in 1925. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

This astonishing building for the University of Bristol was completed in 1925, at a time when the Gothic style had largely faded away, whilst Modernism was growing and Art Deco was about to become an international style.

...the final flowering of secular gothic in England.

Why was such an extravagant building designed? The College of Bristol received a charter to become a university in 1909 and with its new status it was felt that “ the existing buildings were not sufficiently outstanding ” (Crick p.72). One hundred years ago, the sons of the university’s first chancellor, the third Henry Overton Wills, offered to fund a project to remedy this problem. They commissioned local architects George Herbert Oatley and George Churchus Lawrence to design a campus building to rival those of Oxford and Cambridge – no red bricks for this new university.

The Wills Memorial Building represented “ the final flowering of secular gothic in England ” (Stamp p. 62) though the style was still used for some new churches well into the 20th century. Despite its appearance, this is a relatively young building in the architectural history of the South West.  

Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, in 1925: Entrance hall and south window (left) and arts library (right). © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection The roof of the entrance hall, Wills Memorial Building, University of Bristol, in 1925. © Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Library Photographs Collection

 

References   (available from the British Architectural Library , RIBA)

  • Crick, C., 1975:   Victorian buildings in Bristol 
    Bristol: Bristol & West Building Society in conjunction with the City Art Gallery, Bristol
  • Stamp, G., 2009 November: Dreaming towers.   Apollo , vol. 170, no. 570.
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