Flights of architectural fancy, film crews and festivals. Portmeirion’s Meurig Jones takes us inside Snowdonia’s most unusual village.
Portmeirion was the brainchild of the architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who for 20 years had the burning ambition to build a village to show off his architecture. He opened in 1926 and his last building was completed in 1976. We now have 57 Hotel rooms and 14 self-catering cottages and welcome more than 200,000 day visitors each year. Clough called the place ‘his home for fallen buildings’ as many parts and two complete buildings were brought here from elsewhere. He also affectionately referred to it as ‘his architectural mongrel’. Though we are known as an Italianate style village with very Mediterranean colours, the architecture actually borrows from many styles. He wanted to make the village feel as if it had been here forever, and used tricks to age the buildings. Some were built with bowing roofs and others with tiered painting so as to make them look old and damp. It now costs us a fortune to keep them looking this way, and we aim to paint them all every five to seven years.
Although we have many film crews and photo- shoots use us every year, the village is still most recognisable as the setting for the cult spy series The Prisoner which was filmed here in 1966/67. In it Patrick McGoohan plays a spy who is kidnapped and wakes up in an unusual village which could be in the Eastern Bloc or the Mediterranean. Whilst here he is subjected to torture and mind games by the mysterious powers who run the village. It remains so popular that the Six of One Society (the Prisoner Appreciation Society) still hold their annual convention here every April. It’s a wonderful carnival of a weekend, with re-enactments and talks. The Human Chess game is so popular it is held twice, as is the election parade which starts at Battery Square and concludes at the Stone-Boat by the Hotel. This year’s guest of honour was Christopher Benjamin who appeared several times in the series and also played roles in shows like Doctor Who, The Avengers and Upstairs, Downstairs. Clough did not want Portmeirion to become a museum, and so in 2010 we started holding small concerts in our historic 17th century Hercules Hall. This quickly raised a lot of interest from artists and festival organisers and in 2012 we held our first ever music festival here, Festival No.6 (named after Patrick McGoohan’s character in the series). Although it only lasts three days, the organising for it goes on all year, with meetings and visits increasing in number the closer we get to the date. This year we have Flaming Lips, Bloc Party and Mogwai headlining the Sunday, so we’re all very excited.