England

The big joy of small villages

Children enjoy Bekonscot Image copyright Bekonscot
Image caption Bekonscot in Buckinghamshire is generally accepted as the world's oldest model village

From meta models of models to fantastical landscapes and replicas of much-loved locations, the UK's quaint and quirky miniature villages continue to be a big draw.

The UK is home to more than 30 miniature villages, ranging from hobbyists to full-blown tourist attractions employing professional engineers.

They can be found in weather-beaten coastal resorts, picturesque villages nestled in rolling hills or as complements to major tourist attractions such as Land's End or Blenheim Palace.

Or even just an enthusiast's garden.

Brian Salter, author of Models Towns and Villages, said: "People love going to model villages because we like things in miniatures, we all had toys and there is a nostalgia and old worldliness to them.

"And people like making models because it is a way to build and own something you love when you could never have the real thing."


Bekonscot, Buckinghamshire

Image copyright Bekonscot
Image caption The models at Bekonscot vary in scale from 1:15 to 1:18

Generally accepted as the world's first model village, Bekonscot in Beaconsfield opened in August 1929 when Roland Callingham - under instruction from his wife - moved his model railway from his home to a neighbouring garden.

Image copyright Bekonscot
Image caption Bekonscot has been featured in TV adverts

About 160,000 people a year visit the 1930s-styled village, which has around 200 buildings, including a house on fire and operational coal mine.

Image copyright Booksplease.org
Image caption Green Hedges, the home of Famous Five and Noddy author Enid Blyton, has been recreated in model form at Bekonscot

And one of its hidden gems is a replica of Green Hedges, the home of Enid Blyton who lived next door to the Callinghams.

Image copyright Bekonscot
Image caption Author Brian Salter said Bekonscot is accepted as the world's first model village. It started as a model railway in a house

Brian Newman-Smith, managing director of Bekonscot, said: "What we have here is unique and different, we don't have white knuckle rides, it is quite peaceful and depicts England. People leave their world and worries behind when they enter the gates."

Image copyright Bekonscot
Image caption Bekonscot was popular with Queen Elizabeth when she was a young princess

Bourton-on-the-water, Gloucestershire

Image caption Bourton model village also includes a model of the model, which itself has a model of the model of the model

To experience meta on an epically small scale, visit Bourton-on-the-Water's 75-year-old model village.

Found in the back garden of the Old New Inn, the attraction is modelled on the Cotswold village with its streets, shops, River Windrush, houses and churches recreated from the mustard-coloured stone in 1:9 scale.

INTERACTIVE
  • River Windrush

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    The River Windrush which flows through Bourton also flows through the model village

  • Church of St Lawrence

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    The Church of St Lawrence's medieval nave and Georgian tower have been recreated in model form along with its interior

  • The Model Village

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    The model village in the grounds of the Old New Inn was completed in 1941 after the landlord and his wife meticulously measured Bourton to ensure their version was accurate

  • Changing shop fronts

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    The only things that change in the village are the shop fronts which are kept up to date with the real retailers' alterations

  • War Memorial

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    The model village was granted Grade II Listed status in 2012, much like many of the real buildings the oldest of which was built in the 17th Century

One of the highlights is the model of the model village in the model pub's model garden. And it goes on, with a model in that model, and then a painted model in the model's model's model.

Image caption Each building lasts about four years before it needs refurbishing

Owner Vicki Atherton said: "People do get really excited about the model in the model, they are quite surprised by it which surprises me because, as it is a model of Bourton, you would expect to see it."

Brian Salter said the challenge facing villages is not a lack of interest but rather their mere maintenance.

Mr Salter said: "Everybody loves these villages but the maintenance of them is like a treadmill, both the buildings need attention and the grounds need to be well kept."

Image copyright Vicki Atherton
Image caption Maintenance is the biggest challenge facing model villages with damage caused by either the elements or visitors.

Babbacombe, Devon

Image copyright Babbacombe
Image caption Babbacombe's new fishing village is a composite of three real villages in Devon and Cornwall. A model based on nearby Paignton Zoo is due to open this summer.

Home to what was the world's smallest working television, Babbacombe in Torquay also has fishing villages, Stonehenge and a fire-breathing dragon.

The attraction opened in 1963 with the models originally made from timber, but the coastal wind and salt took their toll so fibre glass is now used.

It attracts 150,000 visitors a year and general manager Simon Wills said he has noticed a particular interest from Chinese tourists.

Image copyright Babbacombe
Image caption Babbacombe's fire-breathing dragon is popular with visitors as is their miniature Stonehenge complete with ancient druids, according to Simon Wills

He said: "I've been trying to figure out why it is so popular for the last 40 years.

"People are fascinated with things in miniature, perhaps it dates back to their childhood with model trains or doll houses."

Image copyright Babbacombe
Image caption Babbacombe's original TV, a two and half inch cathode ray tube device, was the world's smallest working TV when it was installed in the 1960s

Lakeland, Cumbria

Image caption Edward Robinson said his preferred material is slate after previous workings with limestone and sandstone proved infuriating

Edward Robinson started making models 23 years ago after an ME diagnosis forced him to end his career as a builder.

He and his wife Kathleen have converted a paddock behind their home in Flookburgh near Grange-over-Sands into a display area for his models.

Image copyright National Trust
Image caption Having made an eight-foot-high version of Ambleside's Bridge House Edward Robinson is now working on a smaller rendition

His latest creation is the unusual but eye-catching Bridge House in Ambleside built, like most of his creations, from locally quarried slate.

Image caption Visitors in all shapes and sizes make their way to Lakeland, which is open from 1 March to 31 October

The model has now been moved to the Honister Slate Mine, but visitors to Lakeland can still see dozens of his creations all modelled on real Lake District buildings, albeit their original states as barns and farms rather than their modern-day conversions.

He said: "I find it therapeutic, it can take three months to make a model but it is time well spent."

Image caption Edward Robinson said he starts with the door then scales the building from there when recreating Lake District buildings such as Beatrix Potter's home Hill Top

Mr Robinson said his models were particularly popular with visitors from India although he cannot explain why.

He said: "They seem to be crazy for them and are really bowled over when they come in, which is nice to see."


Bondville, East Yorkshire

Image copyright Bondville
Image caption Everything at Bondville is made in a 1:12 scale

Bondville in Bridlington was created by Geoff and Carol Cooper in 1988, their third model village.

Although it is now owned by Jan Whitehead, Mr Cooper still makes and maintains the models and figures while Mrs Cooper helps with the gardening.

What's unusual about Bondville is its total adherence to the 1:12 scale (plus its picturesque harbour and miniatures of characters from Last of the Summer Wine).

Image copyright Bondville
Image caption Bondville has a distinctly Yorkshire feel especially with the likes of Compo, Foggy and Clegg outside the Dog and Duck pub

Ms Whitehead said: "Geoff is very strict on the scale and while many other villages have variances we simply don't.

"Geoff will adapt things to make sure they fit properly, vehicles in particular are very difficult to buy in 1:12 scale, especially things like ambulances and fire engines, so Geoff will make them himself.

Image copyright Bondville
Image caption Bondville is one of only two villages in the UK to have a 1:12 scale railway which matches the rest of the models and figures (the other is Anglesey)

"The maintenance is a huge task but we are all committed to it. Our buildings are made from concrete with brickwork scribed by hand, it would be much easier to use fibre glass but we don't want to go down that route because then we would lose the realism which is the real charm.

"People say to us it looks exactly like a real village only in miniature, that's what we strive for."

Image copyright Bondville
Image caption Many model villages enjoy creating humorous shop names and signs, such as Junk and Disorderly in Bondville or Willie Cheatam's greengrocers at Skegness

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