|Sir Clough Williams-Ellis - Creator, Designer, Architect|
|Sir Clough Williams-Ellis - Born 28th May 1883, Died 9th April 1978|
Sir Clough Williams-Ellis
Sir Clough created an enchanting fantasy wonderland when his imaginative dream of bringing Portmeirion into existence came to fruition. A chance encounter at the request of a friend led to Clough discovering the land of perfection that existed just five miles away from where he lived, well after he'd travelled far and abroad to find the perfect site.
The creation of Portmeirion took place over many years, and in different stages. Firstly the house of a reclusive lady became the basis of the original hotel, other buildings were converted, then buildings were built or got transported from other places: 'A home for fallen buildings' is how Sir Clough once described the village.
The Bristol Colonnade came from Bristol, the mermaid panels scattered throughout the village came from the former Liverpool Sailors Society building, and the ceiling of Hercules Hall came from Emral Hall, now the site of a caravan park in Wales. Like the diverse range of people who visit Portmeirion every year, the buildings and ornaments that present themselves as a coherent whole are as diverse in origin. Nothing ever seems out of place.
Admiring Portmeirion the second I ever set eyes on it, one felt the need to find out about the creation of the place, from conception to design to creation to posterity. Who had created it, why had it been created and what had been the aims? To that end I took an interest in the great man himself, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis. Through reading the many books either written by him, about him, or about Portmeirion itself, you can only admire him: he took on a project many would have thought unwise, that he created something unique, that he created a place where people from all over the world would want to come to find peace & tranquillity, that he created a place that never seeks to drastically change, yet remains as admired now as ever.
Perhaps Sir Clough did make an almost perfect creation in Portmeirion, he would no doubt take comfort from the fact that the whole village is a protected site, but then nobody who has been there would want it to change. Many towns and cities have, or are now, actively trying to 'modernise', to re-invigorate themselves through the building of new town centres, but Portmeirion has and hopefully always will, exist as it is and will always be desired to do so by the many people who love to visit or stay there, for many centuries to come.
Sir Clough's artistic genius in creating a perfect village means that it is difficult to take photos of anything in or of the village in a way that hasn't already been realised before: the same views of Portmeirion can be seen in the photographs of a hundred different camera operators. My own photos on these pages are almost certainly no different to those taken by a great many people, but I adore the village, I adore it's existence, I'm enthusiastic about the entire experience of being there, and I can only share that enthusiasm by displaying those photos.
But what are buildings without people? Part of the overall magic and charm of Portmeirion are the people who visit there, whether as staying guests or day visitors. It never fails to charm me when I see people making their way through the village with provided map in hand, seeing Portmeirion for the first time themselves and expressing words and expressions of delight. I never fail to enjoy, even when staying as a guest in the hotel or one of the village buildings, the inrush of day visitors, of the cheerfulness they display, the willingness of them to relax in the wonderful surroundings and the serenity that Portmeirion exudes.
As Clough himself says in his book 'Portmeirion, The Place and It's Meaning', "This artificial landscape is only alive and meaningful when it is being used". People makes the place have meaning. Actually, Clough was referring to peacocks but I suspect he meant human beings too.
The national park Snowdonia owes Sir Clough a debt for it was he who bought 300 acres of land in 1935 and promptly declared he was donating it to the nation with the hope a National Park would be the outcome. It was. He and others of his time ensured that Britain came to have National Parks and very grateful we should be for that.
I recommend Sir Clough's books, they are not merely dry accounts of building design and creation, but laced with a gentle wit that makes one warm to him greatly. My favourite passage from his books comes, once again, from 'Portmeirion, The Place and It's Meaning' and, referring to Clough's admittance that he cannot remember the names of many visitors who return year after year to Portmeirion, it goes thus:
"I do clearly recall, however, one charming old gentleman who once firmly buttonholed me and addressed me thus: 'You are Mr Williams-Ellis as I very well know and it is really time you knew who I was as this is the thirty-third time I have stayed here.' I forget his name."
I really would have liked to have met Sir Clough.
Sir Clough was knighted for services to architecture and the environment in 1972: by that time he had achieved a remarkable reality out of a dream. Could anyone ever create another Portmeirion? Who would have the imagination?
The book 'Portmeirion', published in 2006, a compilation by Jan Morris, Alwyn W Turner, Mark Eastment, Stephen Lacey & Robin Llewelyn (with a foreword by Jools Holland), is a very worthwhile addition to the Portmeirion legacy. It is lovingly illustrated throughout with many sumptuous photographs, and the text is a very concise account of all aspects of both Sir Clough and his creation. It is published by Antique Collectors' Club, ISBN 1-85149-522-3, and quotes on the back, and within the text inside, one of Clough's sayings:
"Cherish the past, adorn the present, construct for the future."
Sir Clough was even known to design the odd piece of pottery, something for which his daughter Susan is indelibly linked to, and on one of the early designs Clough put the following inscription:
"When this you see, remember me, And bear me in your mind
Let all the world say what they will, Speak of me as you find."
The word Portmeirion was first known to me through the range of pottery that seemed to permeate my consciousness since I was a kid, noticing it in a shop called Boswells in Oxford every time I went in. The patterns were pretty and the materials used to craft the pottery always looked expensive and very durable. The designer / creator of the Portmeirion Pottery was Susan Williams-Ellis, daughter of Sir Clough, and she too has to be much admired. Her work is sought and sold throughout the world, with any limited editions quickly snapped up the second of release.
When I first visited Portmeirion I was surprised that the pottery wasn't actually made in or around the village but was made in Stoke-On-Trent, but the shop that sells the pottery in Portmeirion usually boasts an amazing selection of Susan's designs, and is always worth a look.
Sadly, in November 2007, Susan passed away at the age of 89: it is likely that her own legacy, as that for Sir Clough's, is sure to last for many, many years to come.
Born 6th June 1918, Died 27th November 2007
In presenting this list, I'm only listing the books I have read, as opposed to everything ever written about, or by, Sir Clough, Susan or Portmeirion.
England and the Octopus
By Clough Williams-Ellis
Describing himself as 'angry young
man' when he wrote this, the book, in effect, describes how towns and
cities were spreading themselves out as tentacles to the countryside. If
this book were written today it would scarcely have lost any of it's
arguments for what is going on today.
One quote from the book goes: "If you have no sound and compelling public opinion, if, further, you have no leaders who will lead and no politicians with policies, your beautiful Civil Service and your accumulated data are of but little use to you than are seven-league boots to a useless man."
This is a fascinating book published two years after the creation of Portmeirion.
Facsimile Edition Published by CPRE ISBN: 0 946044 50 3
Portmeirion: The Place and its Meaning
By Clough Williams-Ellis
This is almost certainly my favourite
book written by Sir Clough, it's 90 or so pages of text serve as a
sketch-like history of Portmeirion, with some lovely anecdotes and
description of the evolution to the village.
Sir Clough doesn't waste words where none are necessary and this makes for an interesting, easy read.
Published by Portmeirion Limited ISBN: 0.216.90672.5
By Clough Williams-Ellis
Inscribed to his wife, which says "To
Amabel for everything", this book covers Clough's life and work up to
1971, with chapters detailing his childhood, schools, the First World
War, the search for Portmeirion, Portmeirion itself, and contains a list
of the buildings Clough was commissioned to design.
Laced with Clough's usual light-wit, this is another good book to read.
"Cambridge in my family was as axiomatic as porridge for breakfast, eaten with salt, and any idea of Oxford would have seemed as perversely heretical as sweetened bread-and-milk."
Working for an electrical inventor, Clough decided that that wasn't the job for him:
"And anyhow, I would far, far sooner be poor as an architect than rich as anything else - I would sooner fail as an architect than succeed as an engineer; and after all, if that's how I feel - why should I fail?"
Portmeirion Limited ISBN: 0 216 91023 4
Portmeirion: It's What? When? Why and How Variously Answered
By Clough Williams-Ellis
(the 1989 edition has 52 pages including the cover)
This is a small-sized book, more of a
summary (essays?) of what Portmeirion is, written by Sir Clough. I have
the 1989 edition and this contains quite a few photos that were also
used as postcard designs at the time. Reading it now, I'm drawn to the
introduction to the book written by Clough's grandson Robin Llewelyn,
"One of the next large scale projects will be the conversion of the Victorian Castell Deudraeth into a fully equipped leisure and conference centre. "
Yes, the Castell has been fantastically renovated since then, and contains a lovely restaurant amongst many other pleasures.
The actual book is possibly aimed at people who wish to know something about the essence of Portmeirion, but not every detail.
In response to his own thoughts that to put too many details into Portmeirion at the expense of its simplicity, Clough writes:
"Being over ninety, I probably shan't have time to do very much more, and who knows, I may yet reform - and become as austerely orthodox as any of my critics."
The World In Ninety Years
By Clough Williams-Ellis
Written at the age of 94, Clough's
book continues on from his 1971 book 'Architect Errant'.
Acknowledging that this was likely to be his last book, this is quite a wistful exploration of Clough's thoughts, but with a kind of knowledge that he was, to all intents and purposes, happy with what he had achieved during his life.
"I am entirely content with my still reasonable score, as how should I not be, in that, over all, fate has been so kind?"
"I may have done little good, but I am not conscious of having done much harm, and I shall enter oblivion with complete composure."
Golden Dragon Books ISBN: 0 216 90694 6
Williams Ellis: A Portrait In Words
By Amabel Williams-Ellis
Clough's wife Amabel was an author in
her own right, having published books such as 'Headlong Down The Years',
an apparently thinly-veiled portrayal of Clough and of Portmeirion.
Amongst others, she also retold Grimm's Fairy Tales in a book published
by Piccolo in 1981.
This booklet is a small account of Clough's life, with quotes from Clough's own books.
Amabel Strachey was born 25th May 1894 and married Clough in 1915. She passed away six years after Clough, on 27th August 1984.
Williams Ellis: The Architect Of Portmeirion
By Jonah Jones
Jonah Jones was a sculptor, painter
and author of 'A Tree May Fall Down' and 'Zorn'. He also worked, amongst
many different things, for Clough, and was greatly admired by Clough.
Jonah was responsible for the fixed carvings that adorn some of Portmeirion's buildings.
Jonah is described in 'Portmeirion: The Place and its Meaning' by Clough as "...a most versatile and sympathetic sculptor who is happily a neighbour and whose vigorous work I feel honoured to display."
In turn, Jonah wrote this amiable book about Clough's life and it is a good addition to the Portmeirion range, clearly written by someone who liked Clough but who can still express himself from a distance.
Towards the end of the book Jonah tells of his sadness at Clough's death, which took place shortly after Clough recorded an interview for BBC2 about a nearby neighbour, Richard Hughes.
"It was as he would have wished, to go out working to the very end, still backing into the limelight."
Jonah Jones was born 17th February 1919 and passed away 29th November 2004.
Published by SEREN ISBN 1-85411-166-3 (1-85411-214-7 paperback)
By Siān Lewis
Illustrated by Jenny Williams
Published in English as: Sea Shells and Wedding Bells
This is an illustrated children's book
and is about Bethan and Gareth, two children on holiday.
Portmeirion first gets mentioned on page 13, when their father decides to take them there. The next six pages are illustrated with depictions of Portmeirion, produced by illustrator Jenny Williams.
Although primarily a children's book, it is interesting to see Portmeirion in a medium other than photographic, and it might have some appeal to fans of the village.
(Welsh ISBN: 1 901862 48 8) (English ISBN: 1 901862 47 X)
Jan Morris, Alwyn W Turner, Mark Eastment, Stephen Lacey & Robin Llewelyn (with a foreword by Jools Holland)
This is a lavish, large-sized book
that is delightful to read, delightful to picture and delightful to
count amongst one's possessions.
The chapters are written by different people, there is a whole section devoted to the Portmeirion pottery, the photos are fantastic, and the whole thing is simply glorious.
I've read this book three times since buying it and it reminds me of everything I remember being joyous about Portmeirion. There are photos from throughout the history of the village, some of which I hadn't seen until this publication. I highly recommend this book.
Publishers: Antique Collectors' Club ISBN: 1-85149-522-3
|A Love Affair With Life||A 30 minute 1973 BBC programme about Sir Clough and Portmeirion. This used to be shown on the Portmeirion TV Channel that broadcasts throughout the village. This was an interesting programme and it would be nice to see it released on DVD some day.|
|Portmeirion The Enchanted Village||A fairly recent half hour documentary narrated by John Muxworthy. It's not bad at all, I've watched it a few times, and I particularly like the footage of snow falling on the village. It is very well filmed.|