Dame Monica Wills Chapel
The Dame Monica Wills Memorial Chapel at Wills Hall is open to all — by no means only to students at Wills or exclusively to members of the University of Bristol or even to practising Christians. Anyone may attend services and use the Chapel for quiet prayer or reflection when it is open.
The Dame Monica Wills Memorial Chapel at Wills Hall is open to all — by no means only to students at Wills or even exclusively to members of the University of Bristol. Anyone may attend services and use the Chapel for quiet prayer or reflection when it is open. This elegant building houses an organ, a grand piano and a harpsichord, and is often used for concerts, lectures and other events. It has an excellent acoustic. All members of the University and alumni are automatically eligible to join the Chapel Choir (subject to audition).
The Chapel was built in 1930, the gift of Dame Monica Wills (1861-1931), who was the widow of Henry Herbert Wills. It was designed by Sir George Oatley (the architect of Wills Hall) in his own distinctive version of the Romanesque style. It was given to the University 'to the Glory of God, and in memory of the two brothers George Alfred and Henry Herbert Wills who jointly gave the hostel, in order to provide opportunities of regular worship and teaching necessary for the growth of the spiritual life of the students'.
Dame Monica's aim was decidedly ecumenical, to 'make those resident better and more loyal members of the religious body to which they severally may belong', and in this spirit the Chapel has always hosted services and worship of a large variety of styles and confessions. She stipulated that the sanctuary should be 'reserved for Church of England use', but provided a holy table and vessels for Free Church use. The photograph below is of her 'letter of intentions' (3 December 1930), and it will magnify if you click on it.
The Chapel was dedicated by the Bishop of Bristol, Dr George Nickson, in 1930, but is not consecrated. Until 2018 the Warden of Wills Hall was responsible for arranging services in the Chapel. Marriages may take place there with the agreement of the incumbent of Stoke Bishop (within which parish the Chapel is located) but need a special licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Queries about such matters should be directed to the University of Bristol Multi-faith Chaplaincy in the first instance.
The nearby parish of St Mary, Stoke Bishop, generously provides a Chaplain to lead worship in the Chapel, and (in normal times) services are held regularly during term time. Evensong is sung weekly, and the Chapel Choir sings at each service. The Wills Hall Association provides funds to support an Organ Scholar.
The Armistice of 1918 is commemorated annually with a special service at which the names of former Wills Hall students who died in both World Wars or otherwise in the service of their country are read and remembered. Other regular services include a Christmas Carol Concert and a Sunday-morning service for alumni and others attending the annual Reunion Weekend in the summer.
About the Organ
The organ in the Dame Monica Wills Chapel is the donation of the Wills Hall Association. It was dedicated in November 2008 with an inaugural recital by the University Organist, Dr Glyn Jenkins. There had been an organ in the chapel previously, but its lead pipes were stolen in 1978 and the remainder of the instrument was removed during the 1980s.
Aware of the need for a good instrument for worship and concerts, the Chair of the WHA, Richard Cross, launched a far-reaching funding campaign. £40,000 were raised to buy and fully refurbish an organ originally built for the St Alban's International Organ Festival in 1987 and then installed in the Christian Science Church in Clifton. Peter Collins of Melton Mowbray oversaw its re-installation in the Chapel with a new case complete with the Wills Hall crest.
The organ has a tracker action with a mechanical stop action. Couplers are activated or deactivated by unsprung pedals. Manuals have 56 keys, CC-g3, the Pedal has 30 keys, CCC-f. Balanced swell pedal. The specification is as follows:
16 — Subbass
8 — Gemshorn
4 — Principal
2 — Octave
II — Mixture II
8 — Gedact
8 — Gamba
4 — Rohrflöte
2⅔ — Nasard
2 — Gemshorn
1⅗ — Tierce
Manual I to Pedal
Manual II to Pedal
Manual II to Manual I