Sir Clough Williams-Ellis is best remembered for the enchanting fantasy village of Portmeirion in North Wales. But not far away is Plas Brondanw, his own home, where he created an intimate garden, and high above the house constructed a magnificent folly.
Williams-Ellis married Amabel Strachey in 1915. He was at that date serving in the Welsh Guards, and his Commanding Officer suggested that perhaps a silver salver might be an appropriate wedding gift from his fellow soldiers. Williams-Ellis politely suggested that he would prefer a ruin, and went on to explain that he had the perfect site on a ‘rocky eminence’ above his house. The baffled Commanding Officer agreed to the request, but concluded gruffly ‘it’s an odd sort of wedding present, I must say.’
Hurray for the Commanding Officer, for lovely as a silver salver might be, what better wedding gift could there be than the wonderful sham ruin which Williams-Ellis designed for the hilltop, and which stands as a monument to its designer (the ‘other great Welsh architect’ as he would call himself, pointing to a statue of Inigo Jones in his garden).
The Williams-Ellises began to plant the hillside on which the tower would stand when on leave from active service (Amabel was a nurse), but they had to wait a little longer to see their wedding present become reality. The tower was eventually built by the estate team between the wars – work was fitted around remodelling the house and garden at Plas Brondanw, and the creation of the wonderful colourful confection that is Portmeirion.
Across the road from the house are gates from which a path ascends past the ‘Brondanw Pagoda’, a little Chinoiserie pavilion painted in the yellow and blue favoured by the architect across his small estate.
The steep climb is rewarded on arrival at the Brondanw Tower (aka Castel Brondanw or Pentwr) which stands on what Williams-Ellis described as the ‘rocky glacier-scarred summit of the mount’. Christopher Hussey, writing in Country Life in 1957, described this part of the garden as ‘entirely Picturesque’, and in the spirit of the great Regency landowners who ‘turned their estates into landscape pictures’.
With the outbreak of the Second World War, Williams-Ellis was disappointed to be turned down for military service on account of his age (57). He later grumbled that his ‘second world war service amounted to no more than undistinguished membership of my local home guard’. The folly however did see active service as a decidedly dramatic lookout tower.
Trees and shrubs now surround the ruin, but a climb up to the battlements brings you above the tree-line for magnificent views of Snowdonia and to the sea. The Folly Flâneuse was a little unlucky with the weather…
Plas Brondanw is open for visits and, even in the drizzle, is a complete delight https://www.plasbrondanw.com
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