The first historical reference to Portmeirion was by Gerald of Wales in 1188: "We crossed the Traeth Mawr and the Traeth Bychan. ... Two stone castles have been built there more recently." The castle of Aber Iau is mentioned in 1700, and by then had a foundry and small shipyard and a few cottages.
Clough Williams-Ellis acquired the site in 1925, then "a neglected wilderness". He renamed the place Portmeirion and set about "a great clearing to allow me to even see where I was... A pale mansion, a hundred years old, spread its length along a balustraded terrace on the sea's edge - the house (as I first discovered it) was as neglected as were the twenty miles of cliff and woodland rides and paths that criss-cross the whole headland."
The concept of a tightly grouped coastal village had already formed in Clough's mind some years before he bought the site. He planned a "tight little knot of controlled development, forever, as now, set in its wide green belt of woods and farmland."