The Model Villages of Britain
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Starting from the late 18th century, many English landowners and industrialists began building villages to provide housing for their workers and their families close to their workplace. Elsewhere, such type of settlements are known as “company towns”. In Britain they are called “model villages”.
While company towns are usually associated with the mining industry, in Britain model villages are centered around all sorts of industries ranging from soap to chocolate. When they began popping up all over Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries, they sharply contrasted the overcrowded living conditions of British working-class districts of the time. Model villages had higher standards of living with high quality housing, integrated community amenities, open spaces and other attractive physical environments that British workers had seldom access to. They became models—examples for others to follow.
Houses in Port Sunlight, a British model village
Some of the first model villages were built by landowners driven mainly by aesthetic reasons. Old cottages belonging to the poor often blotted the countryside and spoiled the fine vista offered from their country house. So landowners had these cottages demolished and the people relocated to a new landscape creating the first model village. Later, as the Industrial Revolution took hold, many industrialists who built factories in rural locations provided housing for workers clustered around the workplace. Unlike the landowners, some of these industrialists were genuinely concerned for the welfare of their workers. Others recognized that keeping workers happy by providing them a healthier residential environment was the key to increased productivity, which translated into a more successful business.
There were once over 400 planned settlements in Britain. An early example is New Lanark in Scotland, built by Robert Owen for his cotton mills. New Lanark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site now.
One of the most renowned model village, Port Sunlight, was built by William Hesketh Lever of Lever Brothers to accommodate workers of his soap factory. The name is derived from Lever Brothers' most popular brand of cleaning agent, Sunlight.
Between 1899 and 1914, Lever built around 800 houses to house a population of 3,500. Each house was designed by a different architect resulting in a beautiful mix of styles. There are both half-timbered houses featuring carved woodwork as well as brick buildings with exquisite masonry, pargetting and twisted chimneys. The garden village had allotments and public buildings including the Lady Lever Art Gallery, a cottage hospital, schools, a concert hall, open air swimming pool, church, and a temperance hotel. Lever introduced welfare schemes, and provided for the education and entertainment of his workforce, encouraging recreation and organizations which promoted art, literature, science or music.
Today, Port Sunlight contains nine hundred Grade II listed buildings.
Another exemplary model village, Bournville, in Birmingham, was established by the Cadbury brothers, George and Richard. According to Joseph Rowntree Foundation, it is "one of the nicest places to live in Britain". The statement was made in 2003, and it’s as true as it was a century ago.
The Cadburys built hundreds of cottages, and provided recreational facilities like swimming pools, football, cricket and hockey pitches, grassed running tracks, several bowling greens, and a fishing lake for the benefit of their workers and their families. No charges were levied for use of these facilities. The Cadburys provided education and workers were given the opportunity to complete commercial or technical training. The firm also established work councils, such as the Women's Works Council, and supported trades unions. They pioneered pension schemes, joint works committees and a full staff medical service.
A house in Bournville.
Bournville Rest House built by the employees of Cadbury Brothers Ltd. to celebrate the Silver Wedding Anniversary of George and Elizabeth Cadbury.
The Bolsover Company also developed two exemplary mining communities in Derbyshire during the late nineteenth century—Bolsover (1891) and Creswell (1896). The Bolsover Company aimed to provide improved living conditions for the miners and their families, believing that the provision of facilities and the promotion of workers' welfare would discourage drunkenness, gambling and bad language. The houses at Creswell were built in concentric circles, and within these circles was a large open parkland and a bandstand. Both villages had clubhouses, bowling greens, cooperative society stores, cricket pitches and schools. The company also organized various events intended to enhance community life, such as flower shows, lectures, sporting events, concerts, teas and dances.
Bolsover model village.
Textile manufacturer Edward Akroyd built two model villages at Copley (between 1849 and 1853) and Ackroyden (between 1861 and 1863). So did Sir Titus Salt, a leading industrialist in the Yorkshire woollen industry, who built Saltaire in 1851. Salt built neat stone houses for his workers, provided wash-houses with tap water, bath-houses, a hospital, an institute for recreation and education, and generally provided better living conditions than the slums at Bradford from where he relocated his business and workers. Saltaire became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
The practice of building model villages came to an end in the 1920s. Stewartby and Silver End, both built in 1926, one by The London Brick Company and the other by Crittall Windows Ltd, were the last model villages in Britain.
Houses in Saltaire.
Houses in Saltaire.
Whiteley Village, a model village in Surrey, has an octagonal layout.
Vickerstown, a model village was built in 1901 by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering.
Rows of houses built for railway workers in Swindon Railway village.