University of Bristol
The early years
The Wills Memorial Building
Most of the buildings here are used by the University. The Wills Memorial Building is left of centre. Viewed from the Cabot Tower on Brandon Hill
The Victoria Rooms now house the University's Department of Music.After the founding of the University College as a College of the University of London in 1876, Government support began in 1889 and allowed the opening of a new Medical School and an Engineering School (after mergers with the Bristol Medical School and the Merchant Venturers' Technical College), two subjects which remain among the University's greatest strengths. In 1908, gifts from the Fry and Wills families (who made their fortunes in chocolate and tobacco respectively), particularly £100,000 from Henry Overton Wills III (£6m in today's money) were provided to endow a University for Bristol and the West of England, provided that a Royal Charter could be obtained within two years. In December 1909, the King granted such a Charter and erected The University of Bristol; Henry Wills became its first Chancellor. He died in 1911, and in tribute his sons George and Harry built the Wills Memorial Building, started in 1913 and completed in 1925 — a spectacular edifice which dominates the city to this day. These days, it houses parts of the academic provision for law, management & finance, geography & geology amongst others and graduation ceremonies are held in its Great Hall. In 1920 George Wills bought The Victoria Rooms and endowed them to the University as a Students' Union — one of the first Student Unions in the country.
At the point of foundation, the University was required to provide for the local community. This mission was behind the creation of the Department of Extra-Mural Adult Education in 1924 to provide courses to the local community. This mission continues today — the new admissions policy specifically caters to the 'BS' postcode area of Bristol.
In 1927 the H.H. Wills Physics Laboratory was opened by Ernest Rutherford. It has since housed some of Bristol's most famous names: Paul Dirac (1933), a Bristol graduate; Cecil Frank Powell (1950); Hans Albrecht Bethe (1967); and Sir Nevill Francis Mott (1977). The Laboratory stands on the same site today close to the Bristol Grammar School and the city museum and remains at the forefront of research in the field.
Sir Winston Churchill became the University's third Chancellor in 1929, serving the University in that capacity until 1965.
Towards mass higher education
During World War II, the Wills Memorial was bombed, destroying the Great Hall and the organ it housed. It has since been restored to its former glory, complete with oak panelled walls and a new organ.
In 1946, the University established the first drama department in the country. In the same year, Bristol began offering special entrance exams and grants to aid the resettlement of servicemen returning home. Student numbers continued to increase, and the Faculty of Engineering eventually needed the new premises that were to become Queen's Building in 1955. This substantial building housed all of the University's engineers until 1996 when Electrical Engineering and Computer Science moved over the road into the new Merchant Venturers' Building to make space for these rapidly expanding fields. Today, Queen's Building caters for most of the teaching needs of the Faculty and provides academic space for the 'heavy' engineerings (civil, mechanical, aeronautical).
With unprecedented growth in the 1960s, particularly in undergraduate numbers, the Student's Union eventually acquired larger premises in a new building in the Clifton area of the city, in 1965. This building was more spacious than the Victoria Rooms, which were now given over to the Department of Music. The new Union provides many practice and performance rooms, some specialist rooms as well as three bars: the Epi; the Mandela (also known as AR2) and the Avon Gorge. Whilst spacious, the Union building is thought by many to be ugly, and out of character compared to the architecture of the rest of the Clifton area. It is also rather away ftom the areas where the students are taught. There are long term plans to relocate the Union back to the most central part of the city.
The Sixties were a time of considerable student activism in Britain, and Bristol was no exception. In 1968, many students marched in support of the Anderson Report which called for higher student grants. This discontent culminated in an 11-day sit-in the Senate House (the administrative headquarters of the University).