Frank William Wills

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Frank William Wills about 1911 in his council robes as Mayor of Bristol
Sir Frank William Wills about 1912 being knighted by George V at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

Sir Frank William Wills Kt. (17 August 1852 – 26 March 1932) of Berkeley Square, Bristol, England, was a member of the Wills tobacco family, who became a noted British architect and went on to serve as Lord Mayor of Bristol.

Early life and careerEdit

Frank Wills was born on 17 August 1852 in Bristol into a large family, as the 5th of seven children born to Henry Overton Wills II and Henry's second wife Mary Seccombe (1815–1897). There were also eleven children from Henry's first marriage to Isabella Board (1806–1843).[1] Frank's father Henry was one of the owners of the W.D. & H.O. Wills tobacco company, which became the largest tobacco importer and manufacturer of tobacco products in late 19th-century Britain.[2]

Frank had several brothers who followed their father into the family tobacco business, but he was drawn instead to a technical career. He initially attended Mill Hill School in London and Amersham Hall in Buckinghamshire, before entering the Merchant Venturer's Technical College in Bristol, where he trained as an architect and surveyor.[3] He ultimately became one of the most respected architects in Bristol, and built several notable buildings, including the main W.D. & H.O. Wills company factory on East Street in Bedminster, the facade of which is partially preserved in the modern building. He also worked on the Bedminster Library, several churches, part of the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery, and the Bristol Grammar School.[4][5]

Residence - Nos 15 /16 Berkeley Square, Bristol

Later years and deathEdit

His interests turned in later years to politics and public service, which led him to serve in 1891 as president of the Anchor Society, a charitable organisation in Bristol that looked after the old and infirm. He went on to city politics, becoming in 1908 a City Councillor, then in 1910–11 the Lord Mayor of Bristol.[6][3] He was knighted on 28 June 1912 by King George V during a royal visit to the opening of the Edward VII Memorial Wing of the Bristol Royal Infirmary (BRI) in Bristol.[7] He was also a Justice of the Peace, and died a much respected citizen on 26 March 1932 in Bristol, where he is buried in the Arnos Vale Cemetery.[8] A portrait of him by an unknown artist hangs in the Mansion House of Bristol City Council.[9]

Family connectionsEdit

Sir Frank Wills had several notable family connections. His grandfather was Henry Overton Wills I, who went from co-owning a small tobacco shop in 1786 on Castle Street in Bristol, to owning a succession of tobacco companies. H.O. Wills died in 1826 and was succeeded by his sons William Day Wills (Frank Will's uncle) and Henry Overton Wills II (Franks's father). They went on in 1830 to found W.D. & H.O. Wills, which grew to become the largest tobacco company in Britain. They were followed by Frank's cousin Sir William Henry Wills (Lord Winterstoke), who became the first chairman in 1901 of the newly created Imperial Tobacco Company, which made him essentially the head of the British tobacco industry. Frank Wills also had two half-brothers of note – Sir Edward Payson Wills and Sir Frederick Wills, who both became baronets, and like Frank were past presidents of the Anchor Society. Sir Frederick Wills also served as a member of parliament. Another half brother was Henry Overton Wills III, who became first Chancellor of the University of Bristol.[10][2][1] He was also uncle of Gilbert Wills, 1st Baron Dulverton, Sir Ernest Wills, 3rd Baronet of Hazelwood, & Sir George Alfred Wills, Baronet of Blagdon, & great grandfather of Sir John Gilmour, 4th Baronet of Lundin & Montrave. In 1874 Frank married Sarah Rebecca Dobell, a daughter of Henry William Dobell of Sherard House, Eltham ( who was Comptroller General ) & Mary Charlotte Seth-Smith, whose father was Seth Smith (property developer), who built large proportions of Mayfair and Belgravia in the early 19th century.


  1. ^ a b George H. Graham. "Henry Overton Wills II JP (1800–1871)". Genealogy: Graham-Milburn family data (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  2. ^ a b B.W.E Alford (2013). W.D. & H.O. Wills and the development of the UK tobacco Industry: 1786–1965. Routledge. 544 p.
  3. ^ a b "Frank William Wills (1852–1932)". W.D & H.O. Wills: The Bristol based tobacco company founded in 1786 (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  4. ^ "East Street Tobacco Factory". Bristols Free Museums and Historic House (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  5. ^ "Frank William Wills". Graces Guide to British Industrial History (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  6. ^ "List of Mayors and Lord Mayors of Bristol". Bristol City Council (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Postcard of the Royal Visit to Bristol. Knighting of the Lord Mayor (Sir F. Wills)". Bristol Archives: Bristol City Council (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  8. ^ "Frank Wills". Notable People of Arnos Vale Cemetery (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  9. ^ "Portrait of Sir Frank Wills, KT, Lord Mayor (1911–1912)". ArtUK (website). Retrieved 1 December 2017.
  10. ^ Sir Bernard Burke (1898). "Wills: Baronet of Blagdon and Baronet of Manor Heath". Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage. London: Burke's Peerage Limited. p. 1538.