View all news

University opens its doors for city-wide event

The Wills Memorial Building

The Wills Memorial Building

Bristol Heart Institute

Bristol Heart Institute

Clifton Hill House

Clifton Hill House

Press release issued: 11 September 2013

Ever wondered what the city of Bristol looks like from the top of its highest landmark? The unrivalled view from the top of the Wills Memorial Building tower is just one of the unique sights which visitors are invited to experience as part of the University of Bristol’s contribution to the popular Doors Open Day event this weekend.

As well as enjoying the view from 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, Clifton Hill House, the Theatre Collection and the Bristol Heart Institute on Saturday [14 September] as the public are invited to enjoy a rare glimpse behind the scenes of 62 of the city’s most interesting buildings.

The Centre for Public Engagement has arranged for the University to be part of the city-wide Doors Open Day, which is now in its 20th year.

The popular event grants the public access to 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.

Wills Memorial Building (Queen’s Road, BS9 1RJ)

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 to get a taste of the research going on at the University.

The Entrance Hall, Reception Room 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 (off Tyndall Avenue, BS8 1UJ)

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.

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

Clifton Hill House (Lower Clifton Hill, BS8 1BX)

Clifton Hill House was built between 1746 and 1750 as a most imposing semi-rural mansion of Palladian inspiration for Paul Fisher, a highly successful linen draper, a very wealthy merchant and ship-owner who participated in the slave trade of the time.

In 1851, Clifton Hill House was bought by Dr John Addington Symonds, a well-known Bristol physician who was famous not only for his medical proficiency but also for his gift at entertaining the literary and artistic élite of his time. When Dr Symonds died in 1871, the house passed to his son, John Addington Symonds, who was a poet, historian, literary and art critic.

Symonds had been instrumental in the founding of Bristol University College and how pleased the family was then the house was finally sold to the University in 1909 for £5,500, and became the first hall of residence for women in the South West of England. It is now a popular mixed hall of residence, housing a lively community of some 230 students.

There are no guided tours but staff will be on hand throughout the day to answer questions about the building.

Theatre Collection (21 Park Row, BS1 5LY)

The Theatre Collection is an accredited museum and one of the world’s largest archives of British theatre and live Art. Founded in 1951 to serve the country’s first Drama Department, it is now an internationally renowned research facility.

On Doors Open Day, visitors will have the opportunity to preview the Theatre Collection’s new exhibition ‘The Secret Life of Objects’, which explores the hidden histories lying behind some of the most interesting objects in the collection.

There are no guided tours but Theatre Collection staff will be on hand throughout the day to answer questions about the building and the Theatre Collection.

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’s been taking patients since May 2009 and was officially opened by Princess Anne.

The award-winning BHI building was designed by Bristol-based CODA Architects in partnership with patients, staff and the public and delivers the very best in cardiac services to the people of Bristol, the South West and beyond.

Guided tours will take visitors round the open parts of the building at regular intervals, from 10am with the last tour at 1.30pm.

Further information

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

Tower Tours

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 or email

Edit this page