Sir Clough William-Ellis and his Portmeirion

On 11/10/2010, in Blog, Personalities, by Michael Oon

What is Portmeirion? Portmeirion Overview Every year, a quarter of a million people go to the furthest corner of Wales to see a Village, not any village. They go to Portmeirion. The rooms in the Hotel are booked at least a year in advance. Many aficionados just wait for a vacancy of a specific room, […]

What is Portmeirion?
Portmeirion
Portmeirion Overview

Every year, a quarter of a million people go to the furthest corner of Wales to see a Village, not any village. They go to Portmeirion.

The rooms in the Hotel are booked at least a year in advance. Many aficionados just wait for a vacancy of a specific room, they can return to that room as frequently as ten times a year. What is this that makes people come to this quiet corner of Wales?

Well, it is an Adult theme park perhaps?

It is Portmeirion, the brain child of Sir Clough William-Ellis who took 4 years to find a location of his dream village and 50 years to build it (1925-1975).

Who is Sir Clough William-Ellis?
Sir Clough William Ellis and Portmeirion
Sir Clough William-Ellis with Portmeirion in the background.

As a boy, he had a burning passion for architecture and buildings. But, he was a non-conformist or unconventional and only stayed at architecture school for only 3 months . He then started a very successful architectural practice in London’s Ebury Street. Although he moved in the right circles of the moneyed, he got the work because he was different.

All monies from his work was channelled to the building of Portmeirion. It was this single minded passion for the project. So much so, it was alleged, his wife was worried about the strain on the finances of the project.

It was his eye in the layout and design that makes this village. His modus operandi was different from his contemperies; he had to build the one building before starting on the next. A very different manner from the current day practise first having a master plan.

The key part that stuck me was his attitude of the built environment to nature. His buildings stand out in the landscape but yet are in harmony with nature as a backdrop. Secondly, he had consideration for the land. There was very little change to the land in the development. The buildings fitted into the landscape. He had a mindset of an environmentalist, a very early one indeed.

The project:

He had this burning desire to have this village, inspired by the atmosphere of the Mediterranean with some resemblance to the Italian town of Portofino. It took him some 4 years to locate a site and after searching far and wide, it was very close to the family home. It took him 50 years to complete the project.

The buildings were constructed slowly but when word of the project filtered out in the property world, many building owners donated parts of their buildings as they were to be demolished. Give credit to Sir Ellis, he took these parts with care and located them in an appropriate location within the village as if they were meant to be there in the first place like the Colonnade.

Colonnades in Portmeirion
The Colonnade)

Portmeirion and popular culture:

It is the beauty, uniqueness and its location that has driven Portmeirion to be a magnet for writers, film and TV producers. It is different and has a lovely and tranquil atmosphere.

Noel Coward in 1941 wrote Blithe Spirit in 2 weeks in the Upper Fountain suite. The play was on the West End stage 3 weeks after completion.

The classic, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (starring Ingrid Bergman) was filmed there with a mock Great Wall. (mind you, this wall would be quite comfortable with the buildings there). The Golden Buddha was a gift from the Producers of the movie to Portmeirion.

Golden Buddha in Portmeirion
Golden Buddha; gift from the Producers of the movie to Portmeirion.

The Prisoner starring Patrick McGoohan – a surreal spy drama, very much in keeping with the times of the Cold war (1966 -1967). The village was the star. Nineteen episodes were made and today, “Prisoner” fans visit and annual conventions are held in the unchanged village some 40 years later.

The point of this post:
Sir Clough William-Ellis was passionate and driven about the development of Portmeirion. He was different, he was original but he had the energy to carry the project through.
Portmeirion is different but yet, people are comfortable to come back again and again. It is more than the curiosity factor that gets people here. If it was only the curiosity factor, there would not be any repeat visits. It is also the top tourist attraction in North Wales.

Link: Portmeirion

Dr Michael Oon

(c) Copyright – Dr Michael Oon. All Rights Reserved Worldwide 2012.

About Michael Oon

Michael Oon has written 145 post in this blog.

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