William Ellis

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Williams-Ellis, Sir (Bertram) Clough (1883–1978). British architect. Main influences on his work were the Picturesque, aspects of the Arts-and-Crafts movement, the Italian Renaissance, and Mediterranean and English vernacular architecture. In the years before and after the 1914–18 war, Williams-Ellis had a flourishing practice, designing houses (among which was the remarkably precocious Llangoed Castle, Breconshire (1913–19)) and other buildings, but he was also involved in the campaign to build cheap cottages, and was much influenced by Patrick Geddes. In 1919 he published Cottage Building in Cob, Pisé, Chalk, and Clay (later reissued in a revised edition of 1947). Among his most felicitous designs of the period were Glenmona House, Maud Cottages, and other additions to the village of Cushendun, and the McNaughton Memorial Hall and School, Giant's Causeway, all in Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland. In 1925 he began his most famous creation, the village of Portmeirion, Merioneth, Wales, a Picturesque composition of individual buildings incorporating Classical details, salvaged fragments, and vernacular elements. Several of the themes explored in Portmeirion were elaborated upon in The Pleasures of Architecture (1924, 1954), written with his wife, Mary Annabel Nassau (Amabel) Strachey (1894–1984).

He began to campaign for effective town-and country-planning, working with ( Sir) Charles Reilly, ( Sir) Patrick Abercrombie, and others. Among his polemics of the time were England and the Octopus (1928) and Britain and the Beast (1937), and he worked tirelessly for the Councils for the Preservation of Rural England and Wales, the National Trust, and the National Parks. After the 1939–45 war, Williams-Ellis was appointed Chairman of Stevenage New Town Development Corporation, but a growing disillusion with the Modern Movement (which he had once supported in Architecture Here and Now (1934—with John Summerson)) and his independence of mind led to a short-lived association with ‘Silkingrad’, as wags called the New Town (after Lewis Silkin (1889–1972), the Socialist Minister of Town and Country Planning who had promoted the New Towns Act (1946)). In his architectural works his handling of internal and external volumes was masterly, and his buildings are invariably pleasant, helped by his innate understanding of scale and materials. One of his most delightful creations was the garden at Plas Brondanw, Merioneth (begun c.1913). His last written works included Architect Errant (1971) and Around the World in Ninety Years (1979).


Brett (1996);
Kalman (1994);
Haslam (1979, 1995);
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004);
personal knowledge

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Ellis, William

(b. Greenwich, England, 20 February 1828; d. Geenwhich, 11 December 1916)

geomagnetism, meteorology, astronomy.

Ellis’ father, Thomas, joined the staff of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich in 1825 and obtained employment there for his son when the boy was thirteen.

Twice married but childless, Ellis occupied himself in his spare time with local church affairs and contributed some 100 articles on a wide range of subjects to scientific journals. He was elected fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1864, honorary member of the British Horological Institution in 1865, member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1873, fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1875 (president 1886–1887), and fellow of the Royal Society in 1893.

Ellis joined the Royal Observatory as a temporary computer on 2 August 1841 and was employed on lunar reductions and the comparison of standards of length during the restoration of the British standards. He left the Royal Observatory in March 1852 to become astronomical observer at Durham University but returned to Greenwich on 13 May 1853 to become a second-class assistant on the permanent staff, which then numbered only nine, including the astronomer royal, George Biddell Airy.

Ellis remained a transit circle observer for more than twenty years, took part in the Harton Colliery geodetic experiments in 1854, and assumed charge of the chronometric galvanic department in 1856. His duties included the care and rating of Royal Navy chronometers and supervision of the hourly galvanic time signals (instituted by Airy in 1853) to a central London telegraph office for distribution throughout the country; he was also in charge of arrangements for the telegraphic determination of longitudes.

Promoted to first-class assistant on 1 February 1871, Ellis was at his own request transferred to the magnetic and meteorological department as superintendent in 1875, a position he held until his retirement on 31 December 1893. It was during this later period that he carried out the work for which he is best known in geomagnetism and meteorology. His paper “On the Relation Between the Diurnal Range of Magnetic Declination and Horizontal Force as Observed at Greenwich During the Years 1841–1877 and the Period of Solar Spot Frequency” (1880) was accepted by most people as proof of the relationship between terrestrial magnetism and sunspots suggested in 1852 by Sabine and others. In his eighty-eighth year Ellis contributed his last paper, “Sunspots and Terrestrial Magnetism,” to Observatory magazine.


Ellis’ own publications include many regular contributions on meteorology to the Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society from 1877 on. Among his papers on magnetism are “Account of Some Experiments Showing the Change of Rate in a Clock by a Particular Case of Magnetic Action.” in Philosophical Magazine, 25 (May 1863), 325–331; “On the Relation Between the Diurnal Range of Magnetic Declination and Horizontal Force as Observed at Greenwich During the Years 1841–1877 and the Period of Solar Spot Frequency,” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 171 (1880); “Earth Currents and the Electric Railway,” in Nature, 44 (June 1891), 127–128; “On the Simultaneity of Magnetic Variations at Different Places on Occasions of Magnetic Disturbance, and on the Relation Between Magnetic and Earth Current Phenomena,” in Proceedings of the Royal Society, 52 (1892), 191–212; “On the Relation Between the Diurnal Range of Magnetic Declination and Horizontal Force, and the Period of Solar Spot Frequency,” ibid., 63 (1898), 64–78; “Magnetic Results at Greenwich and Kew Discussed and Compared. 1889 to 1896,” in Report of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1898), 80–108; and “Sunspots and Terrestrial Magnetism,” in Observatory, 39 (Jan. 1916), 54–59.

P. S. Laurie

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