CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Cotswold Life today CLICK HERE

Cotswold Architect Willie Bertram

PUBLISHED: 13:37 31 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

willie Bertram and Cavendish lodge

willie Bertram and Cavendish lodge

Willie Bertram is a most influential and creative architect who has created treehouses for William and Harry, made his mark on Bath's Royal Crescent, and built 'Britain's most expensive house'. Words and photography by Stephen Morris

Even now, Willie Bertram remembers waiting on the stone step of his Cotswold childhood home for a glimpse of 'the stranger who was my father'. A man home from war, who later, says Willie, 'became one of my first clients and my fiercest critics'.


Since then the boy beguiled by the Cotswold landscape has become Britain's pre-eminent architect in the Classical style, with clients (and critics) knocking at his door.


Last year Willie Bertram made a splash by building Britain's 'most expensive house' - the 35 million Hampstead residence of Israeli diamond dealer Lev Leviev - and is best-known for being the architect most favoured by the Prince of Wales.


For the Prince he has built two tiny hideaway pavilions and other features at Highgrove, including a fairytale treehouse for the young William and Harry. He also advises him on building proposals in the Duchy of Cornwall. The two men have a great working relationship not least, I suspect, because Willie does not compromise his principles - 'not even for princes'.


"I don't draw things I think the Prince will like, he says, 'I draw things I like and rather hope he does too!"


As it happens, both men have an instinct for how landscape and people can coexist harmoniously, and both believe in the power of good architecture to improve our lives.


"And," says Willie laughing, "the prince is extraordinarily perceptive: he'll point at a plan and say 'now, just explain what happens here' knowing full well I don't know either!"


In his newly-published memoir The Architect's Tale, Willie describes how as a failed third-year student his tutor advised him to look beyond architecture for a career. But with characteristic resilience and determination young Bertram qualified and, 'by luck and timing' got his first big break when John Tham hired him to transform two houses in Bath's Royal Crescent into one of the world's great hotels. After John Wood and his son, Willie was the last architect let loose to build in Bath's almost sacred places: in Europe's greatest crescent and later, up the road at Cavendish Lodge - his monumental and controversial neo-Classical pile.


As the Royal Crescent Hotel won Bertram friends, so Cavendish Lodge made enemies. Wrong place, wrong scale, wrong style - even his beloved Cotswold limestone made Bertram's apartments-cum-mansion 'look like a pigsty'. Willie's ambition for the site fell before bitter and bloody battle - in the press, at public enquiry, on ministerial desks and ultimately at the Court of Appeal. He won, but still bears the scars and says - despite the victory - he will never build in Bath again.


After the Royal Crescent Hotel, Willie Bertram transformed Cliveden, the Astor's magnificent Berkshire home, into a luxury hotel. It was here that Christine Keeler, whose portrait Willie found hanging in the loo, seduced John Profumo and brought down the MacMillan government.


In The Archictect's Tale Willie describes the beautiful Pat Kluge and her billionnaire husband who, on Prince Charles's personal recommendation, invited him to the States to design a playhouse for their young son. He is wined and dined in the Kluges' Virginian mansion and introduced to America's richest and most powerful people.


Enchanted and overwhelmed, Willie sketches a miniature, fairytale Bavarian castle for which even John Kluge's bottomless pockets will not find money - and is dropped like a stone.


High society or not, after 45 years in practice Willie remains the geometry-mad schoolboy who drew his first plans at 16, who measures distances in shoe leather and designs his beautiful building with a soft pencil and a notepad. Buildings are his children he says (though he has three of his own and is a grandfather to several), and he is hugely indebted to the skills and traditions that create them.


"Kings or princes, I'm more in awe of a mason cutting a stone - I've tried carving and believe me, it's hard!"


Characteristically for a man who enjoys good company, Willie says his architecture is about people as much as materials and how empathy and understanding are the key to a successful commission. Thus, when Lady Soames invited him to join her 'ordinary family' at Blenheim to redesign the family plot in the little churchyard at Bladon, tact and discretion - and a shared vision - won the day. Typically, the devil and the best story are in the detail, and Willie laughs when he describes how the Duke of Marlborough asked for benches to be wooden, not stone, to avoid piles! Local craftsmen create a new memorial for Sir Winston and Clementine and, in a moving ceremony in May 1998, buglers once more sounded the Last Post.


In an age when architects are seen as arrogant, self-important and incompetent, when they have few friends to fight their corner, Willie Bertram it seems, is a man for all seasons. In the Cotswolds villages where numerous homes already bear the discrete Bertram touch, he is as busy as ever, working and reworking the stone and stone slates into beautiful, timeless beauty. Meanwhile in London with a touch of James Bond, he's building a house within a house: turning the inside of an industrial-like shell into an invisible, three-story mansion for a wealthy client.


"You see?" he says, "I'm a set designer at heart, manipulating space and light and having fun along the way."



The Architect's Tale by William Bertram


296pp, illustrated throughout, including 16 pages of colour illustrations.


Published by Redcliffe Press of Bristol at 18.99.


www.redcliffepress.co.uk ISBN 978 1 906593 24 7


Even now, Willie Bertram remembers waiting on the stone step of his Cotswold childhood home for a glimpse of 'the stranger who was my father'. A man home from war, who later, says Willie, 'became one of my first clients and my fiercest critics'.


Since then the boy beguiled by the Cotswold landscape has become Britain's pre-eminent architect in the Classical style, with clients (and critics) knocking at his door.


Last year Willie Bertram made a splash by building Britain's 'most expensive house' - the 35 million Hampstead residence of Israeli diamond dealer Lev Leviev - and is best-known for being the architect most favoured by the Prince of Wales.


For the Prince he has built two tiny hideaway pavilions and other features at Highgrove, including a fairytale treehouse for the young William and Harry. He also advises him on building proposals in the Duchy of Cornwall. The two men have a great working relationship not least, I suspect, because Willie does not compromise his principles - 'not even for princes'.


"I don't draw things I think the Prince will like, he says, 'I draw things I like and rather hope he does too!"


As it happens, both men have an instinct for how landscape and people can coexist harmoniously, and both believe in the power of good architecture to improve our lives.


"And," says Willie laughing, "the prince is extraordinarily perceptive: he'll point at a plan and say 'now, just explain what happens here' knowing full well I don't know either!"


In his newly-published memoir The Architect's Tale, Willie describes how as a failed third-year student his tutor advised him to look beyond architecture for a career. But with characteristic resilience and determination young Bertram qualified and, 'by luck and timing' got his first big break when John Tham hired him to transform two houses in Bath's Royal Crescent into one of the world's great hotels. After John Wood and his son, Willie was the last architect let loose to build in Bath's almost sacred places: in Europe's greatest crescent and later, up the road at Cavendish Lodge - his monumental and controversial neo-Classical pile.


As the Royal Crescent Hotel won Bertram friends, so Cavendish Lodge made enemies. Wrong place, wrong scale, wrong style - even his beloved Cotswold limestone made Bertram's apartments-cum-mansion 'look like a pigsty'. Willie's ambition for the site fell before bitter and bloody battle - in the press, at public enquiry, on ministerial desks and ultimately at the Court of Appeal. He won, but still bears the scars and says - despite the victory - he will never build in Bath again.


After the Royal Crescent Hotel, Willie Bertram transformed Cliveden, the Astor's magnificent Berkshire home, into a luxury hotel. It was here that Christine Keeler, whose portrait Willie found hanging in the loo, seduced John Profumo and brought down the MacMillan government.


In The Archictect's Tale Willie describes the beautiful Pat Kluge and her billionnaire husband who, on Prince Charles's personal recommendation, invited him to the States to design a playhouse for their young son. He is wined and dined in the Kluges' Virginian mansion and introduced to America's richest and most powerful people.


Enchanted and overwhelmed, Willie sketches a miniature, fairytale Bavarian castle for which even John Kluge's bottomless pockets will not find money - and is dropped like a stone.


High society or not, after 45 years in practice Willie remains the geometry-mad schoolboy who drew his first plans at 16, who measures distances in shoe leather and designs his beautiful building with a soft pencil and a notepad. Buildings are his children he says (though he has three of his own and is a grandfather to several), and he is hugely indebted to the skills and traditions that create them.


"Kings or princes, I'm more in awe of a mason cutting a stone - I've tried carving and believe me, it's hard!"


Characteristically for a man who enjoys good company, Willie says his architecture is about people as much as materials and how empathy and understanding are the key to a successful commission. Thus, when Lady Soames invited him to join her 'ordinary family' at Blenheim to redesign the family plot in the little churchyard at Bladon, tact and discretion - and a shared vision - won the day. Typically, the devil and the best story are in the detail, and Willie laughs when he describes how the Duke of Marlborough asked for benches to be wooden, not stone, to avoid piles! Local craftsmen create a new memorial for Sir Winston and Clementine and, in a moving ceremony in May 1998, buglers once more sounded the Last Post.


In an age when architects are seen as arrogant, self-important and incompetent, when they have few friends to fight their corner, Willie Bertram it seems, is a man for all seasons. In the Cotswolds villages where numerous homes already bear the discrete Bertram touch, he is as busy as ever, working and reworking the stone and stone slates into beautiful, timeless beauty. Meanwhile in London with a touch of James Bond, he's building a house within a house: turning the inside of an industrial-like shell into an invisible, three-story mansion for a wealthy client.


"You see?" he says, "I'm a set designer at heart, manipulating space and light and having fun along the way."



The Architect's Tale by William Bertram


296pp, illustrated throughout, including 16 pages of colour illustrations.


Published by Redcliffe Press of Bristol at 18.99.


www.redcliffepress.co.uk ISBN 978 1 906593 24 7

0 comments

More from People

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

25 years in business is no mean feat – and the owner of Lauren’s Catering has lost none of his ambition

Read more
Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Julian Dunkerton has moved his family’s cider-making business from Herefordshire to the outskirts of Cheltenham, where it boasts a state-of-the-art production unit and a stylish new shop. But don’t think the heart of the business has changed one whit: it still honours the core values Ivor and Susie Dunkerton held dear when they planted their first apple tree, nearly 40 years ago

Read more
Monday, November 26, 2018

If you want to spread some Christmas cheer to those in need, here are some fantastic charities in the Cotswolds to donate to

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Harnessing the power of social media, charity awards and dreaming up new projects - it’s all in a day’s work for Gloucestershire children’s charity Pied Piper and its corporate supporters

Read more
Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Cotswolds’ very own Prince of Wales turns 70 this month, so we looked back on some of the highlights of his life and career, and wondered what birthday pressies we would buy for the man who has the world at his feet

Read more

Thanks to the impact of ground-breaking comedy This Country, the quiet market town of Northleach has become one of the Cotswolds’ hottest film locations. Katie Jarvis is sent to investigate

Read more
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

When landowners are looking to sell their land, and want a transparent journey that delivers them best value, Rosconn Strategic Land is here to take them through the process.

Read more

Radio DJ Paul Gambaccini has secured a payout from prosecutors over unfounded allegations of historical sex offences. The presenter, 69, was arrested in 2013 over a claim he sexually assaulted two teenage boys in the early 1980s. Mr Gambaccini always denied the claims, calling the case “completely fictitious”. He spent a year on bail before the case was dropped. Two years later he gave this interview to Katie Jarvis

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The Barn Theatre’s artistic director, Iwan Lewis, talks to Candia McKormack about a rather special project aimed at bringing the Cotswold community together in commemoration of the Great War’s fallen

Read more
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The environmental charity set up to protect Stroud’s industrial heritage now enhances the lives of its own volunteers. Katie Jarvis meets chief executive Clare Mahdiyone to hear about her Cotswold Life

Read more
Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Alex Caccia was in two minds about setting up Animal Dynamics as a limited company, but a shark attack warning changed all of that. Tanya Gledhill meets a man on a mission to change propulsion, one animal at a time

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

He quit his job with a few thousand pounds in savings and an empty garage. In less than a year, Nick Grey’s technology company Gtech was flying. Tanya Gledhill meets him

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

How does it feel to interview Sir Michael Parkinson, the nation’s best-ever interviewer? Katie Jarvis takes a very deep breath – and finds out

Read more
Wednesday, September 19, 2018

When Charles Martell became the latest High Sheriff of Gloucestershire, he started discovering things about the county he never knew – not to mention things about himself, too. Katie Jarvis spoke to him about saw pits, walnuts, peaceable towns and pink-headed ducks

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory A+ Education

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search