The Town Hall – a reconstructed masterpiece.
This is one of Sir Clough’s finest buildings, which was completed on the eve of the Second World War. It was claimed by Sir Clough to be the construction which earned Portmeirion a reputation as a “Home for Fallen Buildings”, and as a result, he would often be sent information concerning impending demolitions, and was able to purchase many of the pieces of architecture which are still to be seen around the village today.
For many years he had wanted to erect an opera house in Portmeirion, “a miniature Glyndebourne” as he put it, and in 1936 whilst working on the plans, he noticed an article in “Country Life” magazine announcing the demolition of Emral Hall near Worthenbury in Flintshire. Determined to salvage at least part of this distinguished mansion, Sir Clough rushed to the train and arrived at the hall as the sale was starting. Straight away he managed to buy the ballroom’s barrel-vaulted ceiling, depicting the Labours of Hercules, for a mere £13. However, to display this magnificent 17th Century piece (commissioned by John Puleston – a Parliamentary lawyer), he was then committed to purchase the rest of the room at any cost, this included the fine oak panels, doors and the fireplace, also purchased by Sir Clough were three of the Jacobean mullioned windows with the original glass panes and the Puleston Coat of Arms.
It was deemed prudent to obtain a great deal more of the old mansion to house his reconstructed ballroom, so Sir Clough’s original bargain purchase resulted in a total expenditure of several thousands of pounds. It took him some time to decide what type of building he should erect, but eventually he drove in a marking peg where the main doorway stands today and started work.
The main Jacobean mullioned window above the doorway is made of original 17th Century glass and provides a magnificent view of the main axis to the Pantheon. He decorated his building with various unusual items, such as the oval metal grille, which came from the Bank of England in Threadneedle Street. To the left is a door marked “Fire Engine” which originally housed a hand-pumped fire engine, but nowadays, amusingly, hides a boiler room. The cartouche above the doorway depicting a red hand and star are the arms of the Marquess of Londonderry. Crowning the hall, an upturned pigswill boiler serves admirably as a cupola. The resulting Town Hall containing the Hall of Hercules was described by Sir Clough as an “unabashed pastiche of venerable Jacobean bits and pieces”, and the Hercules Hall itself was praised for its acoustic qualities by famous musicians such as Sir Arthur Bliss, Yvonne Arnaud and Benjamin Britten. Over the years it has played host to conventions, dances, fashion shows and, of course, musical performances.
The Hall is open to residents of Portmeirion in the evening, where the bar is open and a variety of meals are available. However, if you do pay a visit be sure to go through the main doorway (which also leads to the public toilets on each side) to look at the bust of Sir Clough sculpted by Jonah Jones on behalf “of the many who have shared his own pleasure in what has been here achieved.”
Source: Portmeirion Explored (1995) A visitors guide p.18-19; Wrexham History; Puleston Jones Family History.