Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Thinking small!

Bekonscot Model Village Geograph pic © Copyright Ray Stanton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Model villages, like crazy golf, miniature railways, piers, variety shows, and seaside amusement parks, used to be the sort of holiday treat children adored (as did many an accompanying adult) alongside ice cream cones and other delights.

In fact, I once saw Sooty and Harry Corbett in a show at Scarborough, and I still have Sooty's autograph. Quite how a hand puppet with arms but no fingers managed to write so legibly is a mystery still; the autograph book was sent backstage and re-appeared later with autographs and good wishes from all the cast, so I didn't actually see the signing.

Sadly, the rise of the cheap package holiday abroad meant the demise of so many of those once thriving UK attractions, yet some do hang on in there despite it all, and in 'credit crunch Britain' it appears people are keen once again to enjoy some of the more simple pleasures a holiday at home has to offer. OK, the weather may not always be what it could be, but possibly that might also mean seaside towns could witness a resurgence in the use of Winter Gardens, and at least you won't find your underwear has gone to Barbados while you have arrived in Benidorm.

Southport's Land of the Little People, which fascinated so many children, alas is no more, (along with the wonderful Pleasureland and so much else at Southport) although another model village has risen to fill the gap: the Model Railway Village is situated in King's Gardens opposite the Royal Clifton Hotel and near the Marine Lake Bridge. The Model Railway Village opened in May 1996 and was created by Ray and Jean Jones. The website is lovely, with taster videos of what can be seen:

The Land of the Little People was demolished in the late 1980s to make way for the aborted Winter Gardens/SIBEC shopping development. Its site is now occupied by a Morrison's supermarket.

The Land of the Little People opened in 1957, and was a detailed scale model of an English town set in two acres of landscaped gardens. The Lord Street attraction included a miniature hospital, school, castle, airport, farms shops, thatched village and tiny model railway. The original owners, Harry, Tom and Bill Dobbins, opened two more model villages in the 1960s, Babbacombe Model Village in Torquay, Devon and Merrivale Model Village in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk:

Once you start delving, it's surprising how many of these still exist today, including at Godshill:

Bourton on the Water:


Corfe Castle:

Forest of Dean:



And no doubt many more besides.
UPDATE: 18th March
Nick has kindly posted these in the comments section, I will add them here:

There is also a fantastic model village at Sewerby near Bridlington:

Skegness Model Village:


Wimborne Model Town:

"Personally, I will not rest until every model village in Britain is catalogued on Nothing To See Here..." The splendid Nothing to See Here website is at:

although I think it still has some way to go before all are included, what is there is fascinating with plenty of pictures to entice.

Of course, the most famous of all is Bekonscot Model Village, the oldest in the world (1929) and even nominated as an Icon of England:

Bekonscot Model Village
Bekonscot Model Village is a mini-miracle, a major masterpiece on a minor (1:12) scale. Not one but six model villages nestle in the one-acre site in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, complete with a Gauge 1 model railway threading through it. Thatched cottages, a Tudor house, a castle, a windmill, a coal mine, a fairground, a cricket match, a scout camp and a fox hunt – all rural England is here.

Unlike some model villages, these ones are mainly fictional, allowing the founder Roland Callingham, his gardener Tom Berry, and their host of enthusiastic successors to let their imaginations run free. Although some place-names and businesses have their real-life counterparts (Enid Blyton’s house Green Hedges, for example), others are excuses for gloriously bad puns: the greengrocer is Chris P Lettis.

Beckonscot was opened to the public in 1929, making it the oldest model village in the world. In 1992 the decision was taken to send the village back in time, reversing the annual modernisations. Visiting Bekconscot today is a voyage of discovery, not only into a spectacularly detailed miniature world, but into an idyllic view of England’s past.

I did not, however, think that the world of model villages was anything which would be a contender for the next SAVE Buildings at Risk catalogue,

but the Himley Hall Model Village certainly seems as though it requires a great deal of TLC, although now rescued from its original site and hopefully to be resurrected in the near future. The story is told here, with a detailed set of photographs too:

On 18-19 August 2006, Tim Dunn plus friends and team from Bekonscot moved the remnants of the long-forgotten Himley Model Village from Dudley (West Midlands) to Beaconsfield.

This project has taken 18 months to complete since we first discovered the village, rotting and rusting away in the corner of a stately home parkland. The Model Village closed in 1994 and has been lying dormant since we rediscovered the site in 2005.

We need your help! We have brought several buildings back and need assistance in restoring them, as we are setting up a charitable Model Village Museum. We would like to hear from you if you:
  • have memories of Himley Model Village
  • know what real buildings these models are based on
  • would like to help us restore these attractive wooden buildings

You can contact Tim Dunn, project leader, on 07973 174 357 or

Another small (ouch) piece of news is that the Tom Thumb Theatre in Margate is on the market;

it was offered for sale last year, but there's now an auction in the offing with a considerably reduced guide price. It would make an enchanting puppet theatre, and I see until recently it was available for civil marriages; let's hope it finds a sympathetic new owner and isn't simply allowed to be demolished or converted into something else. Alongside a renewed Dreamland, a tiny theatre offering miniature delights would greatly add to the regeneration of Margate.

And while on the subject of moving, how about this?

RECORD reports from New York's East River as the Lieb House by Robert Venturi, spared from the wrecking ball with a relocation, floats from New Jersey to its new home on Long Island.




Nick said...

There is also a fantastic model village at Sewerby near Bridlington:

Skegness Model Village:


Wimborne Model Town:

Nemesis said...

Thanks for those, Nick! I will add them to the 'live' links when I get a mo.

quba said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Markasaurus said...

Between this and Charles' post on the same topic at Fantastic Journal I am now committed to add at least one model village to my summer travel itinerary! Thanks for the wonderful list.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say Hi! I am the Grandson of Bill Dobbins who built the Model Village in Gt Yarmouth. His Brothers Tom and Harry also had model villages in Southport (as you say, sadly no more) and in Torquay - still going strong. I recently went back to the Village in Gt Yarmouth, the owners really have a passion for it and are working hard to bring it back to it's former glory - well worth a visit