The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

Portland House, Weymouth

The architects Lord Gerald Wellesley and Trenwith Wills built this unusual building in 1935 for Geoffrey Henry Bushby [click here for an view of the terrace and the top terrace]. It is an excellent and very complete example of the Hollywood Spanish style in Britain. There are very few remaining examples of this style in Britain, certainly none with such a wealth of original fixtures and fittings. Portland House is a particularly valuable part of inter-war architectural history as a fine example of the eclectic fantasy architecture of the period. It brilliantly reflects popular imagery of the day: a combination of the glamour of the cinema with the exoticism of the sunshine holiday.

Portland House is set in an extraordinary theatrical scene; it is approached by a broad stone-paved walk, lined with tall palms leading to the low whitewashed front with arched window and door openings. The building is L-shaped in plan with the south side facing the sea. It sits upon two broad terraces, one above the other (see photograph). The lower level of the house, which contains the main reception rooms, gives out onto this terrace. The parapet of the upper terrace with its fish-scale panels of tile serves as a balustrade to this lower level. At each end, wrapping around each corner of the front, are fine arched loggias supported by baseless columns.

The building’s treatment is Mediterranean in inspiration; its single storey façade is rendered and painted white with its metal door and window frames painted electric blue. Its deep eaves support a roof of red tiles. The entrance façade has four large circular windows, two on each side.

Inside the building, the architect has taken advantage of the steeply sloping site to provide a novel plan. A generous flight of stairs leads down to a lower level, and the main reception rooms. The unique character of Portland House is manifest in the survival of its period interior decoration, and innovative domestic fittings, including an Intercom system in the dining room. The kitchen and bathrooms have all survived in their original condition.

The theatricality of the house is emphasised by the choice of materials used in the interior scheme, including green marble sills to the extensive French windows in the dining room, the massive Portland stone chimneypiece and hand painted tiles depicting flowers on the risers and skirting of the stairs. Other significant details are the original silvered metal door furniture throughout, retractable light fitting in the drawing room, and several glass clamshell up lighters.

The Hollywood Spanish style was popular in England in the interwar years and we believe that Portland House is the best example seen to date. The overall quality of the house, with a wealth of surviving fittings and fixtures and such ingenuous planning, certainly warrants its Grade II listing.

Emmanuelle Morgan