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

The Wills Memorial Building

Royal Fort House

Press release issued: 7 September 2015

Ever wondered what Bristol looks like from the top of one of its highest landmarks? The unrivalled view from the roof 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.

Four of its buildings will be open as part of the annual event revealing the city’s architectural treasures on Saturday [12 September].

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

The doors will also be flung open to Royal Fort House, the Theatre Collection and Engine Shed as the public are invited to enjoy a rare glimpse behind the scenes of 71 of the city’s most interesting buildings between 10am and 4pm.

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.

Now in its 22nd year, Bristol Doors Open Day is being organised by the Architecture Centre – Bristol’s centre for design and the built environment – for the second year running. To celebrate the Bristol’s year as European Green Capital, many of the venues will be extolling their eco credentials.

The Centre for Public Engagement has arranged for the University to once again take part in the popular city-wide event, which is part of the nationwide Heritage Open Days event - the UK’s biggest public participation event.

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.

Visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy a tower tour and witness the unparalleled view of Bristol from the top of Park Street. The entrance hall, Great Hall and library will all be open for public viewing.

Tour times: 09.35am, 09.55am, 10.15am, 10.35am, 10.55am, 11.15am, 11.35am, 11.55am, 12.15pm, 12.35pm, 1.15pm, 1.35pm, 2.15pm, 2.35pm and 3.15pm.

Tours can only be booked on the day and it is advisable to book early as they are likely to be full by lunchtime.

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 allocated on a first come, first served basis.

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 see ‘Setting Out to Shock’ – an exhibition curated by History of Art masters students which explores the visuality, history and thematics of shock in the theatre, extending from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to the contemporary live art practices of Franko B, whose archive is held at the Theatre Collection.

There are no guided tours but Theatre Collection staff will be on hand throughout the day, from 10am to 4pm, to answer questions about the building and the Theatre Collection.

Engine Shed (BS1 6QH)

Engine Shed forms part of the original Temple Meads train station, opened in 1841 as the Western terminus of the Great Western Railway, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It’s thought to be one of the oldest surviving terminuses in the world, where passengers and trains inhabited the same space under the one roof. The building was fronted by offices which were home to Brunel’s Boardroom, drawing offices, the Bristol Offices of Great Western Railway and Station Master’s quarters.

The Grade I listed building had a £1.7 million transformation in 2013 thanks to a partnership between Bristol City Council, the University of Bristol and the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). It's managed by Bristol SETsquared - the University of Bristol's double award-winning business incubator - which has a third of the current space to provide premium serviced offices for its early-stage technology businesses.

Please note, tours of Engine Shed are now fully-booked.


Further information


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 see the website or call Gary Nott on +44 (0)117 954 5219 or email


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