Oriel Brondanw is housed in Plas Brondanw a 16th and 17th century small manor house in north Meirionnydd. It is the main house of the Brondanw Estate which Clough Williams-Ellis inherited, in rather a run down state, from his father, John Clough Williams-Ellis, in 1908.
Plas Brondanw is known not only as the home of the illustrious architect of Portmeirion but also for his creation of the captivating Grade I listed gardens. The house and gardens are now held in trust.
Oriel Brondanw, the artistic space within Plas Brondanw, is run by a separate foundation that promotes art as a means to celebrate the artistic life of Susan Williams-Ellis, the instigator of Portmeirion Pottery. She was the daughter of Clough Williams-Ellis and of the author Amabel Williams-Ellis, née Strachey. Plas Brondanw was Susan’s family home.
With its intimate rooms, human dimensions, access to natural light and borrowed landscape the Plas is a wonderful, idiosyncratic space for a gallery. Some of this may be attributed to the rebuilding of the 17th century wing after the calamitous fire of 1951, but also to the buttress rooms that Clough added to the old house in the 1930s as an elegant way of dealing with subsidence.
Since its building in about 1550 and the additions to it in 1660 by William Williams, Plas Brondanw has never been out of the family, although marriage arrangements had to be made in 1807 to unite the Ellis family of Glasfryn, Llangybi with the Williams family of Brondanw to create the Williams-Ellis patronymic. Clough’s grandfather, born in 1808 and brought up at Plas Brondanw, was the first to bear the Williams-Ellis name.
It is difficult to imagine that for 250 years the Plas stood on the shore of the vast Glaslyn estuary, for it was not until 1812 when William Alexander Madocks finally finished building the sea wall known as the Cob, at what became known as Porthmadog, that the Traeth Mawr receded and dried out.
It is interesting to note that it was in Madocks’ old house at Tan yr Allt on the opposite side of the Traeth to Plas Brondanw that Clough’s mother, Ellen Mabel Greaves, was born in 1851, the daughter of John Whitehead Greaves owner of the enormously productive Llechwedd quarries at Blaenau Ffestiniog. Ellen Mabel married John Clough Williams-Ellis, born 1833, the son of John Williams-Ellis and Harriet Ellen Clough of the old Denbighshire ancestry; hence the introduction of the Clough name.
Although John Clough was a brilliant mathematician and had had an academic career in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge before turning to the church and later retiring in 1888 to the Ellis seat at his Glasfryn estate, it was Ellen Mabel who fostered the young Clough’s pleasure in draughtsmanship, form and elegance. These elements along with sound instincts stayed with Clough for the rest of his life and can be seen obviously and subtly at the house that was his ‘passion and obsession’.
Art and beauty and their creators have always been to the forefront at Plas Brondanw and it seems fitting that the house is now able through Oriel Brondanw to promote such a spirit and invite others to share its delight.
Plas Brondanw after the fire of December 1951. The cutting is from the Liverpool Daily Post and is part of the Glasfryn archive.