The Wills Memorial Geology Library
Wills Memorial Building, front face
Great George in the tower of the Wills Memorial Building
The Wills Memorial Building was commissioned in 1912 by George Alfred Wills and Henry Herbert Wills, the magnates of the Bristol tobacco company W. D. & H. O. Wills, in honour of their father, Henry Overton Wills III, benefactor and first Chancellor of the University who donated £100,000 to the University. Sir George Oatley, who also worked on a number of other buildings for the University, was chosen as architect and told to "build to last". He produced a design in the Perpendicular Gothic style, to evoke the famous university buildings of Oxford and Cambridge. The building was funded through the fortunes which the Wills family made through tobacco
Oatley later claimed that his inspiration for the building came from a dream where he saw a tower on a hill with shields around it.
Construction was started in 1915 but was halted in 1916 due to the continuation of World War I. Building was restarted in 1919, and the Wills Memorial Building was finally opened on 9 June 1925 by King George V and Queen Mary, having cost a total of £501,566 19s 10d. The building was opened with a Royal Salute of 21 chimes from 'Great George', the nine and a half ton bell within the octagonal belfry of the tower, which is tolled on the death of a monarch or chancellor. To celebrate the Centenary of the University receiving its charter, 'Great George' was rung, along with bells in Bristol's other churches, just as they did in May 1909 when King Edward VII granted the University its Royal Charter to grant degrees. Oatley received a knighthood that same year in recognition of his work on the building.
In 1940, during the Bristol Blitz of World War II, the Great Hall with its Hammerbeam roof was badly damaged by a German bomb-blast. It was restored in the 1960s to Oatley's original design: at the same time the adjoining wing was enlarged by Ralph Brentnall.