Henry Overton Wills III

Henry Overton Wills III (22 December 1828 – 4 September 1911) of Kelston Knoll, near Bath in Somerset, was a prominent and wealthy member of the Bristol tobacco manufacturing family of Wills which founded the firm of W. D. & H. O. Wills. As a philanthropist his best-known act was the funding of the University of Bristol, founded in 1909, of which he became the first Chancellor.

Henry Overton Wills III
The cathedral-like Wills Memorial Building in Bristol, built in memory of Henry Overton Wills III by his two eldest sons


He was the eldest of the 18 children[1] of Henry Overton Wills II (1800-1871) by his first wife Isabella Board. He was a first-cousin of William Henry Wills, 1st Baron Winterstoke, the first Chairman of Imperial Tobacco, formed by the merger of the family's original business with twelve other tobacco firms. He was the elder brother of Sir Edward Payson Wills, 1st Baronet (1834–1910) of Hazelwood and Clapton-in-Gordano and of Sir Frederick Wills, 1st Baronet (1838-1909) of Northmoor (father of Gilbert Wills, 1st Baron Dulverton). His younger half-brother was Sir Frank William Wills, Knight, Lord Mayor of Bristol.


Wills entered the family firm of W. D. & H. O. Wills in 1846, but retired from active association with the business in 1880, due to poor health. When the formation of Imperial Tobacco greatly increased the family’s wealth, various members began to contribute significant amounts of money to local causes.[2] The most significant of these was announced in 1908 by his eldest son Sir George Alfred Wills, 1st Baronet (1854–1928), when he read a letter from his father promising £100,000 (about £10 million in today's money) to fund a university at Bristol if a royal charter for the purpose could be obtained within two years. With the charter and further funding quickly obtained, the University of Bristol was founded in 1909 with Henry as its first Chancellor.[3]

Marriage and childrenEdit

Coats of arms on the Wills Memorial Building, built by the eldest two sons of Henry Overton Wills III: centre: arms of the University of Bristol; left: arms of Sir George Alfred Wills, 1st Baronet, with a canton of a baronet (the Red Hand of Ulster); right: arms of Henry Herbert Wills, with a crescent for the difference of a second son

In 1853 at Plymouth in Devon he married Alice Hopkinson (1827-1881), by whom he had issue including:

Death and burialEdit

He died on 4 September 1911 at Kelston Knoll and was buried in Arnos Grove Cemetery in Bristol, where survives his monument, together with many others of the Wills family. His estate was valued at £5,214,821, about £520 million in today's money.


The Wills Memorial Building, one of the landmark buildings of Bristol University, was built in Henry's honour by his sons George and Harry.[4][5][6][7] One of the Wills' family homes, Downside House in Bristol, is now a hall of residence known as Wills Hall for the university.[8]


  1. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20160312134832/http://www.davenapier.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/wills/howgrave.htm
  2. ^ "Henry Overton Wills III 1828 - 1911". The Wills Family. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  3. ^ "Sculpture of Henry Overton Wills III by Edwin Whitney-Smith". University of Bristol. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  4. ^ Bristol University | The University | The Wills Memorial Building Archived 2007-10-10 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ http://www.about-bristol.co.uk/lnd-03.asp
  6. ^ Building – 686 – Wills Memorial Tower – Bristol
  7. ^ "Bristol University". Wills Tower set for new glory. Retrieved 23 June 2007.
  8. ^ "Wills Hall Guide" (PDF). University of Bristol. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 November 2015. Retrieved 14 November 2015.

External linksEdit

Academic offices
Preceded by
Chancellor of the University of Bristol
Succeeded by
The Viscount Haldane