Eccentric, Extravagant, Amazing Portmeirion

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I wonder if you saw the recent TV series The Village which explored a year in the life of Portmeirion.  What came over loud and clear was the love the staff have for the quirky Italianate village that clings to the hillside between the mountains of Snowdonia and the Dwyryd estuary.

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Now owned by a charitable trust, it evolved from an idea conceived in 1925 by architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, and grew over over the following half century into the most extraordinary landmark in Wales, perhaps in Britain. 

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The village was described by Marcel Theroux as ‘a dreamlike place which, in spite of its small size, is somehow capable of displacing reality’ . Architecturally, it comprises a diverse fusion of ornate, eccentric and extravagant styling where re-erected buildings and artefacts from all around the world spread out from a central piazza, contributing to Portmeirion’s  colourful charm.

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Greatly admired  by Frank Lloyd Wright, acclaimed architect of New York’s Guggenheim Museum when he visited, it’s odd, it’s contrived and it really shouldn’t work but it does, oh so magnificently. Although Sir Clough denied having intentionally mirrored it, many have likened Portmeirion to the fishing village of Portofino on the Italian Riviera. 

SDThis photo of my daughter was taken there 30 years ago. We visited Portmeirion several times over the years and I will never tire of the delight of stepping into this wonderland.  Each time the sun has shone brilliantly….but then, it is a magical place after all. The village welcomes more than 200,000 visitors a year, but it isn’t all just for show. The houses are real – used as holiday lets. There are also two luxury hotels including Castle Deudraeth. 

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Portmeirion is renowned for inspiring many writers (Noel Coward, HG Wells and George Bernard Shaw to name but a few), and artists including Rob Piercy, who has a gallery in the village and is recognised as one of the UK’s foremost mountain painters. 

PrisonerThe surreal 1960’s cult series The Prisoner used Portmeirion as its backdrop, and for almost forty years, the village has played host to the annual ‘Prisoner Convention’ attended by many of the 50,000 member of the  ‘Six of One’ Prisoner Appreciation Society  which attracts fans from all around the world.  

Susan Williams-Ellis, daughter of Sir Clough designed the world famous Botanic Garden Portmeirion Pottery in 1972. The pieces individually patterned  and it received a less than enthusiastic response from the department store buyers who told her that no-one would want to buy a dinner service which didn’t match.  They were wrong; it proved hugely popular and remains so. “I think I proved them all wrong!” said Susan.

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With grateful thanks to the Portmeirion Press Office which kindly provided several photographs:

Dome and Piazza long – Arwyn Jones

Castell Deudraeth – Portmeirion

Centre of Village – Shutter Stock

Village Mountain – Simon Gareth

Dome and Piazza long – Arwyn Jones

 

 

 

 

 

10 comments

  1. I have never been to Portmeirion but I’ve always wanted to visit this quirky looking place. I love S. Wales and, in particular, the Gower, but there are plenty of other areas that I haven’t visited – yet! I will definitely try to catch up with the TV series you mentioned about the village.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Gower is a beautiful stretch of coastline. As a child I went to Wales a lot – we holidayed in Tenby many times. I was only saying to my husband last night that it’s about time we did a tour of Wales; it’s been far too long.

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  2. I have a few bowls of that range. Unfortunately it’s now produced in China and I don’t find the colours or patterns as clear as the “made in the UK” line. So it’s a hunt in thrift stores or ebay now.

    I’ve always wanted to go there but the husband has an aversion to driving in the UK. He’s a terrible passenger, so it’s on the list of places to go with my bestie that I travel with.

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    • It is sad that some of the production was outsourced to China, but I understand that it has now partly returned to the UK and that around 70% is currently produced in the UK. The V&A museum held the biggest display ever last year but I don’t like to go to London any more – too many people!

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  3. We visited Portmeirion many yeas ago in, I think the summer of 1980 or thereabouts, when we had a brief holiday in Wales with our two young sons. I loved Portmeirion, but at that time it was rather run down, with an air of neglect about the place. The series, which I enjoyed, shows how much better-kept it is today.
    My introduction to the pottery was when my mother and I, many years ago, were having French conversation lessons (privately) with a dear elderly lady. She had taught French conversation at a local school (evening classes, I mean) and we had attended but when it came to the second year only a handful of people turned up, and she said that the class wasn’t viable. So she then offered to teach us at her home and so Mum and I, along with an elderly gentleman, went along once a week, and at ‘half time’ she made coffee for us and used Botanic Garden cups and saucers. We loved them and bought some for ourselves! That would’ve been around about 1975. We no longer have the dinner service, but we still have the coffee service.
    Those photos are wonderful.

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    • I was only thinking yesterday as I prepared the Portmeirion post that I would like a set of the cups and saucers. My first visit would have been c1987 and it was a little shabby but I still loved it. Later visits showed somewhere far better cared for.

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  4. What a lovely article Eloise. I particularly enjoyed the part about the Port Meirion dinner service. When I was first married and lived in Bristol, there was an iconic shop “Bristol Guild” on Park Street which had wonderful furniture and household items way beyond my meagre purse at the time. Port Meirion Pottery always featured heavily and I used to go in to look at the individual pieces and dream of owning such a thing. I still think it looks fresh and modern today, though my taste now is for plain white bone china for food. This brought back some very happy memories.

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    • I like white china too, Margaret. But I do love the Botanical range as it is so detailed. I have a couple of pieces – a dish and a small jar, and used to have some storage jars but I think they must have got left behind when I seperated many years ago. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the post.

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  5. We have friends of friends who go there every October for a week. It’s on our list of places to visit but sadLy not this year I think. We are still staying patiently at home and hoping we can soon be out for a day to the sea. It’s lovely now after a wet and windy start so I have just cleaned the outside of all the back windows. I’m watching Talking Heads in its new version and have enjoyed the eight I have seen so far. Catriona

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    • Oh, lucky friends! I’d love to go again next year. I’ve watched a few Talking Heads and plan to watch the others. The first (Imelda Staunton – Lady of Letters) has been my favourite so far.

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