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Behind the keyhole: take a peek inside Bristol’s best buildings

Royal Fort House

Royal Fort House

Wills Memorial Building

Wills Memorial Building

Bristol Heart Institute

Bristol Heart Institute

Press release issued: 3 September 2012

Members of the public are being offered the chance to see an unrivalled view of Bristol from the top of the Wills Memorial Building tower as part of the University’s contribution to Doors Open Day this weekend.

As well as enjoying the view from the top of Wills Tower, some 68 metres above Park Street, visitors will also be given a unique insight into the history of the building, which was opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1925 before being badly damaged during the Blitz in 1940.

There’s also the opportunity to learn about the teaching and research that goes on within the building through a series of interactive exhibits highlighting some of the University’s latest research.

The doors will also be flung open to Royal Fort House and the Bristol Heart Institute on Saturday [8 September] as the public are invited to enjoy a rare glimpse behind the scenes of 60 of the city’s most interesting buildings.

The Centre for Public Engagement, part of the University's Communications & Marketing division,  has arranged for the University to be part of the city-wide Doors Open Day, which is now in its 19th year.

The popular event grants the public access to 60 of Bristol's most interesting and exciting venues, offering visitors an unrivalled opportunity to explore behind the scenes of Bristol's cultural heritage. Entry to all buildings is free.

Including a comprehensive mix of new and old venues, this year's event stretches into every corner of the city, from the Victorian Arnos Vale Cemetery in Brislington, to the 3rd Century Kings Weston Roman Villa; from contemporary art and design centre Spike Island along the Harbourside to the Clifton Rocks Railway; from the tiny Müller Museum in Cotham to the Julian Trust Nightshelter in St Pauls.

Wills Memorial Building

One of the city’s landmark buildings, the Wills Memorial Building was designed in 1912 by Sir George Oatley, providing spectacular interior space. It was one of the last magnificent Gothic buildings constructed in England.

As well as an opportunity for the public to take a tour to the top of the 215-foot, Grade II listed tower, visitors will also be able to enjoy some hands-on activities organised by the Bristol Dinosaur Project, which is based in the School of Earth Sciences. There will also be hands-on exhibits, showcasing subjects from nanomaterials and biodiversity to oceanography and palaeontology.

The Entrance Hall, Great Hall and Reception Room, Council Chamber and Library will all be open for public viewing.

Tour times: 9.55am, 10.15am, 10.35am, 10.55am, 11.15am, 11.35am, 11.55am, 12.15pm, 12.35pm, 13.15pm, 13.35pm, 13.55pm, 14.15pm, 14.35pm, 14.55pm and 15.15pm. Tours to the top of the tower must be booked in advance at the first floor reception desk on the day.

Royal Fort House

Royal Fort House, one of the finest Georgian houses in Bristol and rarely open to the public, was designed by James Bridges and built in 1758-62 on the site of a Civil War fortification for Thomas Tyndall, a wealthy Bristol merchant, and his young wife Alicia. The house, which has outstanding Rococo plasterwork, public artwork and gardens, was named the Royal Fort in honour of Prince Rupert.

There will also be an exhibition of photographs taken by modern languages students who have spent their third year abroad.

Tour times: 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm. Places are limited and are on a first come, first served basis.

Bristol Heart Institute, Bristol Royal Infirmary (Horfield Rd, BS2 8HW)

The Bristol Heart Institute (BHI) is a £61 million state-of-the-art regional cardiothoracic centre, part of University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust working in partnership with the University of Bristol.  It has been taking patients since May 2009.

The BHI building has received several awards for its innovative design and patient environment, including a prestigious Building Better Healthcare award for Best Use of Visual Art in Healthcare, a 2009 blue plaque from the Bristol Civic Society’s Environmental Awards and the Royal Institute of British Architects Ibstock Premier Award and best Public Sector building.

A self-guided tour will be available, with the opportunity to view some clinical areas.

Further information

Further information about the event is available on the Centre for Public Engagement website or by contacting Diane Thorne, tel 0117 331 8318, email

More information is available on the Bristol Doors Open Day website:

Tours of the Wills Memorial Building are also held on the first Saturday and Wednesday of every month to raise money for the Wallace and Gromit Grand Appeal. For further information, please call Dave Skelhorne on 07770 265108.

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