The Hotel Portmeirion
The Hotel Portmeirion opened in 1926 as the focal point of Clough Williams-Ellis' proposed idea village. Artists, writers and Albanian royalty have stayed here not to mention various politicians, tycoons and other swindlers, however everyone is special at Portmeirion and all are welcome.
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The main building of the hotel was built around 1850 (extended by Clough Williams-Ellis in 1926 & 1930; listed Grade II 1971) was the original mansion of Aber Iâ.and first described by Richard Richards in 1861 as "one of the most picturesque of all the summer residences to be found on the sea-coast of Wales."
When Clough discovered it in 1925 he was faced with dereliction and an overgrown wilderness. "I obviously had to use the old house on the sea's edge for something and, if I wanted a village, it would have to have an economic basis and the obvious thing seemed to be tourism. It was at Easter 1926, after less than a year's preparation, that the original old house, little altered, opened somewhat tentatively as an unlicensed hotel."
Clough's first extension of the old house was drawn in October 1926. This tower-like wing added to the west of the old house rises close to the cliff face. The wing was originally limewashed with yellow, and its subtlety depends on the use of external window shutters painted in the green which became synonymous with the village. Clough added a new dining room in 1930. Instead of reproducing the Victorian style of the original structure, here Clough exploited a curved, highly glazed plan of clearly Modern concept. It opened at Easter 1931, as noted in an early edition of the guide book: "The big brand-new curvilinear restaurant on the sea-edge, opened a little doubtfully for Easter, was, by August, hopelessly inadequate for its dual purpose of serving both residents and day-visitors."
As Richard Haslam points out, with this addition Clough achieved two of his ideals: "a place which, because of its sheltered outlook over the sea and its airy position, calls for lightness of construction; and a space defined only by curves in its plan. It is made almost entirely of wood; the outer walls are mostly window, the simple joinery of its flat roof is shown on the drawing, and the columns are cut from sections of mast from a dismantled Porthmadog schooner."
Clough later added a new entrance and offices in a similar style around 1935. These additions to the front of the hotel continued in use until their destruction in the fire of 1981. Conceived as superimposed glazed walls on curved plans under flat roofs, they were fluent and modern spaces, which enabled the functions of a hotel to coexist with a Victorian house hemmed in by a cliff.
On the night of Friday 5 June 1981 the hotel was gutted by fire, the flames fanned by a stiff Easterly wind. Reconstruction commenced almost immediately and eventually all its main rooms were substantially restored to their former state as evidenced by Clough's description of the original interior: "As you enter the hall past a massive carved Italian renaissance fireplace, you see beyond it the wide and easy flight of a typical eighteenth century stair with an elegant balustrade...No one knows whence it came, but we do know where the library at its foot came from, and it was the Great Exhibition of 1851 - all complete with its intricately carved doors and mantelpiece - to be built straight into the house that was then, presumably, just ready to receive it. The Mirror Room, next it, reflects as you enter the view outside the wrong way round; the mantelshelf is supported by the functional haloes of a pair of carved saints and the inlaid parquet is that surviving the room's use as a curs' kennel - strangely without a mark. The big room at the end of the hall was originally the billiards room - pleasant enough with a bay window towards the sea and a wide alcove opposite... It was the dining room when the house first became an hotel and so continued until I built out a new curvilinear one beyond it." The hotel reopened on 29th April 1988 and in 1990 was awarded the Good Hotel Guide's César Award for "Brilliant restoration of a great hotel to former glory".
The Cockpit bar was fitted with timbers from HMS Arethusa, the last man-of-war to sail into action. The crystal goblet (top) by Laurence Whistler made to mark Portmeirion's 40th anniversary was kept here. Both bar and contents were lost in the fire of 5 June 1981.
The Hotel enjoyed a celebrated clientele such as H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Noël Coward and Sir Kenneth Clark.