The University of Bristol started life as University College, Bristol, in 1876, following a meeting held in the Victoria Rooms to found a centre for higher learning in the city of Bristol. As a subsidiary to the College, the Day Training College for the training of schoolteachers was founded at 21 Berkeley Square under Marian Pease in 1892. In 1893 the Bristol Medical School (founded 1833) was incorporated into the College as its Medical Faculty. Though University College had allowed women to enrol in classes from its commencement in 1876, the Medical school retained its own strict policy in this regard, unique among the future University of Bristol's departments in forbidding women to take examinations in Medicine within the Faculty until 1906. Also in 1906, the Secondary Training Department was founded to train teachers for secondary schools, as a complement to the Day Training College. The work carried out at University College, Bristol had been long considered to be of University level, and a campaign was begun to have the College recognised by the Government and incorporated as a University for Bristol. Henry Overton Wills announced that he would give 100,000 to a University founded in Bristol before January 14th, 1910, and his offer was met when the University of Bristol was granted its charter in 1909. H.O. Wills himself served as first Chancellor of the University of Bristol, with Professor Conwy Lloyd Morgan serving briefly as Vice-Chancellor before resigning to serve as Professor of Psychology and Ethics. Sir Isambard Owen succeeded him as Vice-Chancellor, from 1909 until 1921.
The University of Bristol gained ground swiftly, establishing a Department of Engineering in the Merchant Venturers' Technical College in 1909, merging the University's Engineering teaching with that of the Technical College and opening Clifton Hill House as a hall of residence for women in that same year. The University constructed a Chemistry and Physiology building in Woodland Road in 1910 (a building which would later go on to house the Department of Zoology), and was presented with playing fields at Coombe Dingle by George Wills in 1911. The death of Henry Overton Wills in 1911 prompted the election of Viscount Haldane of Cloan as Chancellor in 1912 (Chancellor 1912-1928), and the construction of what was to become known as the Wills Memorial building on Park Row, the impressive and ornate tower of which is still a major landmark in Bristol today. The construction of the Wills Memorial Building was completed in 1925, and George V opened the building on 25 June, 1925. Dr. Helen Wodehouse was appointed Professor of Education in 1921 ' the first woman to hold a chair within the University. In 1921, the Students' Union was moved from Royal Fort House to the Victoria Rooms, as the whole of Royal Fort House was required for teaching by that point. The University of Bristol acquired its first full-time librarian in 1923, and the H.H. Wills Physics Laboratory opened its doors in 1927, increasing the attraction of the University for students of science.
The University buildings, including the Great Hall of the Wills Memorial Building, sustained damage during World War II, though they were later rebuilt and King George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Chancellor of the University of Bristol, 1929-1965) came to personally survey the extent of the damage. In 1946, Sir Phillip Morris was appointed Vice-Chancellor (holding the post from 1946-1966) bringing a number of revolutionary ideas to higher education and Bristol in particular. The Faculty of Engineering remained in the housing provided by the Merchant Venturers' Technical College until 1955, when it moved to its new building (later renamed the Queen's Building after its official opening by Queen Elizabeth II in 1958). A succession of Chancellors and Vice-Chancellors steered the University through the 1960s and 1970s, including His Grace the 10th Duke of Beaufort (Chancellor, 1965-1970), Professor Dorothy Hodgkin (Chancellor, 1971-1988), Professor John Harris (Vice-Chancellor, 1966-1968), and Sir Alec Merrison (Vice-Chancellor, 1969-1984). In December of 1968 an 11-day-long student sit-in at Senate House resulted in increased communication within the University, particularly between staff and students, following a short period of heightened media interest resulting from the protest. The situation was dealt with speedily despite the unexpected death of Professor Harris in 1968. His successor, Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor John Roderick Collar, looked into a number of methods of reorganising the University, and in 1969 Sir Alec Merrison took office as Vice-Chancellor, dealing with the departmental woes of the University and later chairing committees such as the Royal Commission on the National Health Service. Merrison was pragmatic and capable, and believed that the Universities of Britain should justify themselves to Government not by the immediate applications of their work but by their excellence in the work of the advancement of knowledge, be it in the field of architecture, medicine, the classics, or theology. Senate and Council saw extensive reform from 1969, and students as well as non-professorial staff were admitted to the governing bodies of the University for the first time. 1981 saw another, more forced, restructuring of the University, as nationwide budget cuts brought about the end of the Department of Architecture and further alteration of the staffing and administration of the University. Sir John Kingman succeeded Sir Alec Merrison as Vice-Chancellor in 1985, and the University continued to grow as an institution. Sir John Kingman retired in 2001, and was succeeded by Professor Eric Thomas, who currently holds the office of Vice-Chancellor. New buildings such as the Synthetic Chemistry building and the Tyndall Avenue Sports Centre have been built to accomodate the growing needs of the University, which continues to move forward as an institution of learning.