The question "Why was Portmeirion built?" is often asked but rarely answered.
The fact is that there is no definitive answer to this question. It was built by Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis who acquired the site in 1925. He had long harboured the ambition to one day create his own perfect seaside village but how he would achieve and where he might find a suitable location were questions that were for many years left unanswered. Williams-Ellis' passion for was building and as soon as he could be became an architect. One of his first large scale projects was Llangoed Hall near Brecon in mid Wales which he carried out for a client in 1912-13 just before the outbreak of the Great War. He served as a reconnaissance officer during that war and only took up his architectural work again in the early 1920s. His first job was creating Stowe School in Buckinghamshire. Then in 1925 his great uncle asked him for his assistance with the preparation of a derelict coastal estate that he wanted to sell. It had been inhabited by an eccentric spinster called Adelaid Haig who kept a pack of mongrel dogs in its gothic halls and had for years refused to allow any maintenance of the grounds so that the whole place was completely overgrown. Axmen had to be employed to cut a swathe through the undergrowth in order to carry out her coffin.
Williams-Ellis readily agreed to visit, as he had never set food in this secluded domain although it was only five miles from his ancestral home at Plas Brondanw. As soon as he cast his gaze over the crags and hollows, and saw the estuary, the waterfalls and the enveloping woods he knew this was the perfect place for his proposed experiment in owner development. He therefore advised his great uncle that the estate was virtually worthless but that he would take it off his hands for a modest sum, which was duly agreed although there does not seem to be any record of the actual amount involved.
He had married Amabel Strachey in 1915; she was a daughter of St Loe Strachey the proprietor of the Spectator newspaper. Amabel was horrified at the idea of turning this ramshackle site into a seaside village and was convinced that the family would be ruined by this reckless adventure. However Williams-Ellis gained the financial backing of the Midland Bank to purchase the site and fund the first phase of its development. He was a practical man and realised that he would need to ensure that the development became financially viable so that it could contribute towards its further development. To this end he decided to convert the old house, which was known as Aber Iâ, into a hotel which he renamed Portmeirion. Guests were invited to the grand opening on 4th April 1926 and soon his hotel became known and attracted a steady stream of paying guests. This enabled Williams-Ellis to carry on with his building work which continued until 1939 and the outbreak of the Second World War. By this time he had completed around half of the village. Once wartime building restrictions were lifted in the early 1950s work started on the final phase. By this time Williams-Ellis was in his 70s and was in some haste to complete the village. This was achieved in 1973 when he was 90 years old. He lived for another five years and often stated that there was no one more surprised that he was that he had managed to complete the work that he had embarked upon fifty years previously.
When asked what he meant by it all he would answer that had he been able to express his meaning in words he would not have gone to all the trouble of building it. He said it should speak for itself and that visitors should make of it what they would. He had built it for fun; his own as well as other people's and he hoped it would give enjoyment to future generations. He had built it to show that one could develop a beautiful site without spoiling it and that architectural good manners could be good business as well. He hoped it would survive for the future as a small contribution to the environment of Wales. He had always fought for beauty, which he called 'that strange necessity', and he hoped that here he had achieved something of that sort, if only to quite a small and modest degree.