Sir Clough Williams-Ellis; Sir (Bertram) Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) Is Widely Known as the Architect of Portmeirion. Judith Alfrey, from Cadw, Looks Back on His Legacy and Shows How He Has Inspired Planners, Policy-Makers and Others to Think Differently about the Built Environment, Including the Importance of Preserving the Character and Distinctiveness of Our Towns and Countryside and an Appreciation of Our Historic Buildings

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 9, 2015 | Go to article overview

Sir Clough Williams-Ellis; Sir (Bertram) Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) Is Widely Known as the Architect of Portmeirion. Judith Alfrey, from Cadw, Looks Back on His Legacy and Shows How He Has Inspired Planners, Policy-Makers and Others to Think Differently about the Built Environment, Including the Importance of Preserving the Character and Distinctiveness of Our Towns and Countryside and an Appreciation of Our Historic Buildings


CLOUGH WILLIAMS.ELLIS had strong Welsh roots, descending on his father's side from the Ellises of Glasfryn, Caernarfonshire, and from the Williamses of Plas Brondanw in Meirionnydd, while his mother's family owned slate quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. His roots were in Meirionnydd, where he lived for much of his life, and it was in Meirionnydd, on the shores of the Dwyryd estuary, that he created Portmeirion the Italianate village between 1925 and 1976. Portmeirion was the fulfilment of a long-held ambition, created not just to indulge a fantasy or private whim (though it is certainly whimsical), but also because there were things he wanted to prove, many of which still have resonances and renewed relevance today.

Portmeirion was an early experiment in sustainable tourism. Clough was cheerfully open about the need for his project to be financially viable, and he recognised the value of tourism to the economy. Portmeirion has proved remarkably successful, and its particular charms have inspired artists, writers, and film-makers: Noel Coward wrote his comic play Blithe Spirit here in 1945, and in the 1960s, the TV series The Prisoner was filmed here the village itself had a starring role in what has been described as one of the most influential pieces of television of its time.

Clough's encouragement of wellmanaged tourism was not limited to the creation of Portmeirion. After World War II, he made himself unpopular in some quarters by arguing in favour of the development of the Butlins' holiday camp at Pwllheli, acknowledging the need to match the granting of paid holidays with the provision of appropriate facilities for recreation and enjoyment.

But at Portmeirion, he was encouraging visitors for a particular purpose: he sought to spark a lively interest and understanding of architecture, design, and landscaping that could help raise the standard for new building and development. He wanted to instil visual awareness and a real delight in architecture, which is, after all, an essential back-kdrop to everyday life. As he once said, "you can shut up a bad book, but few of us can wholly evade streets and houses".

Clough also wanted to promote the idea of amenity, defined as the pleasant, useful and enjoyable qualities of a place, including the beauty that an architect designs, and the familiar scene that history bequeaths. His bold experiment at Portmeirion was intended to stimulate a committed interest in the built environment and demonstrate how well-conceived development could be comfortably accommodated, even in a landscape of remarkable natural beauty.

Alongside the development of PortA -meirion, Clough Williams-Ellis also found other ways to advance this cause. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Council for the Preservation of Rural England in 1926 (now the Campaign to Protect Rural England) and of the Council for the Preservation of Rural Wales (now the Campaign for the Protection of Rural Wales), founded two years later in 1928. The motive force for the establishment of these campaigning organisations was the threat of encroaching ribbon development eating into the character and amenity of the countryside. Clough was angry at the damage inflic ted by urban sprawl and at ill-considered development which masked the historical charms and distinctive character of Britain's towns and villages. …

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Sir Clough Williams-Ellis; Sir (Bertram) Clough Williams-Ellis (1883-1978) Is Widely Known as the Architect of Portmeirion. Judith Alfrey, from Cadw, Looks Back on His Legacy and Shows How He Has Inspired Planners, Policy-Makers and Others to Think Differently about the Built Environment, Including the Importance of Preserving the Character and Distinctiveness of Our Towns and Countryside and an Appreciation of Our Historic Buildings
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