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New series of University tours for spring

Press release issued: 19 January 2004

Brideshead in Bristol, documents about Bristol's links with the West Indies, and laboratories dating from the 1920s are just some of the sights in store this Spring as part of a new series of Bristol University tours.

Brideshead in Bristol, documents about Bristol's links with the West Indies, laboratories dating from the 1920s, and possibly the last chance to visit the Botanic Garden at its current venue are just some of the sights in store this Spring as part of a new series of Bristol University tours.

The guided tours, led by experts in history, archaeology and architecture, provide a unique opportunity to see inside many University buildings and gardens not usually open to the public.

The Spring series builds on the tremendous success of the Autumn Tours Programme which attracted a record number of visitors.  It includes some University buildings that are opening their doors to the public for the very first time together with Saturday and evening weekday tours.

The first tour is on Tuesday 3 February and repeated on Tuesday 20 April, when there will be a rare opportunity to see inside the H H Wills Physics Laboratory on Tyndall Avenue.  The two-hour tour, led by Dr Vincent Smith of the Department of Physics, will take in the original 1927 laboratories, the roof-mounted Coldrick Radio Telescope used for studying stars in the Milky Way, the Condensed Matters Group where materials are studied at very low temperatures, and the Microstructures Group where visitors will be able to see two electron microscopes - capable of magnifying objects many thousands of times - in use.  Finally, the tour will be invited to observe and taste an experiment in progress.

A tour on Saturday 6 and Friday 26 March will provide an opportunity to see the UK's largest theatre archive outside the Victoria and Albert Museum. The University's Theatre Collection has the status of a fully registered museum, but it is equally important as an international research resource for anyone interested in British theatre history.  In the archive strong rooms you can see Olivier's signed gloves from The Entertainer, set designs for Look Back in Anger, and some of Dame Judi Dench's first reviews for Hamlet at the Old Vic.

A new tour on Tuesday 30 March will explore Wills Hall, House and Chapel. Wills Hall of Residence in Stoke Bishop was designed by Sir George Oatley in 1922 and was one of the many gifts to the University from the Wills family.  Built around an existing house, Downside, the intention was to evoke Oxbridge colleges - an aim that was triumphantly achieved.  The tour will include the original house, the quadrangle and the St Monica Chapel of 1928.

On Wednesday 10 March there will be the chance to see papers of the Pinney family, held in the Special Collections Department of the University's Library.  The papers provide a major starting-point to understand how the sugar plantations were managed from the West Country.  A selection of documents will form the basis of a display for a round-the-table discussion of the sources for the slave economy and the planter households back in the mother country.  (Due to space constraints places on this tour are limited).

There will be three opportunities [Wednesday 26 May, Thursday 24 June and Thursday 22 July] to visit the Botanic Garden before it moves from its current site at Bracken Hill.  The garden specialises in specimens from Northern Europe, South Africa and New Zealand, and contains a conservation collection of threatened species of the SW peninsula of England. There are many examples of crop plants, particularly those from tropical parts of the world.  There is also a comprehensive collection of herbs and plants used in complementary medicine, including a Chinese Medicinal Garden.  The garden is listed as Grade 2 in the English Heritage Register of Historic Parks and Gardens. During this one and a half hour tour you will see a selection of the 4,500 or so different plant species from around the world that are grown here.

Other University properties on the tours programme include the landmark Wills Memorial Building, the Old Baptist College, University Walk, with its fine Arts and Crafts interior, and Burwalls, the dramatically-sited Victorian house overlooking the Suspension Bridge.

There will also be two walking tours of the city, taking in many of its finest historical buildings, and three talks at The Holmes, Stoke Bishop, two with a military theme and the third, a new talk, on the history of The Holmes.  This talk, on Tuesday 18 May, will look at the House's origins as a speculative building venture by W E George of the brewing family, the House as the home of the Baker family, its acquisition by the University and its requisition during World World II for use by the Americans.

Places on the tours must be booked and paid for in advance.

Ways to book:

  • Contact Joan Lewis, Tours Co-ordinator at
  • or fill out the application form in the University's Spring Tours brochure
  • or visit the University website and download an application form at

Copies of the Spring Tours Programme brochure can also be obtained by calling 0117 928 7157.

The Tours Programme is arranged by the University of Bristol's Public Programmes Office whose main aim is to strengthen the links between the University and the people of Bristol and to increase the University's capacity for local engagement.

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