Sir Winston Churchill & Wills Hall

Wills Hall was officially opened on 14 December 1929 by the Rt Hon. Winston Churchill, the day after he had been installed as the third Chancellor of the University. He cut a ribbon across the driveway, supported by a ‘bodyguard’ of the University's First XV, and then a contingent of Wills residents ‘chaired’ him shoulder-high in Old Quad.

Churchill chaired in Wills Hall Old Quad 1929

Churchill later signed a document declaring that there was "no finer hostel than Wills Hall among the universities of the British Empire", adding the phrase "on trust" in manuscript, because he felt he lacked the necessary expertise to make such a definitive pronouncement!

The Warden, Harry Norton Matthews, presided over a fine luncheon in hall, the menu for which has been preserved. A copy, signed by many of the undergraduates present, has been loaned to the University by the son of one of those present, Mr F. E. P. Meadows, and is reproduced below. The Hall Guest Book was signed by all the guests at high table, including Churchill and his wife.

The final picture above is of Churchill's last visit to Bristol as Chancellor, on 26 November 1954, shortly before his 80th birthday. He is greeting the Sub-Warden of Wills Hall, Dr Yon Mayhew, who is commemorated with a bench in the Quiet Garden.

 

Wills Hall has maintained its contacts with Churchill's family. His daughter, Lady Soames, was guest of honour at the dinner held to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Hall. A plaque commemorating the event was unveiled in the entrance hall, and Lady Soames can be seen here with the University's Chancellor, Lady Hale, the Warden, Professor Julian Rivers, and the Chair of the WHA, Adrian Mezzetti.

The images below are of the menu for the inaugural luncheon, presided over by Churchill, on 14 December 1929. It was a generous affair, with multiple courses and a nod to the Christmas season with a serving of mince pies. It has been signed by the undergraduates present (the SCR Dinner Book has the signatures of those at High Table), and the names of the signatories suggest that the first year's intake was a truly international one.

Churchill sat for a photograph in Old Court with the whole cohort of new students and the SCR. He is in the centre on the front row, with Warden Norton Matthews immediately behind. This has been the setting for most of the annual Hall Photographs since 1929. A nearly complete collection of these photographs was compiled by Adrian Mezzetti and is hung in N-House (near the back door to the former Warden's House) and on the stairs up to the former Senior Common Room.

Churchill photograph in Old Court