English Heritage is an organisation1 which recognises buildings and structures of historic or cultural significance in England, and advises the British government on which of these should be given the legal protection that comes with being added to its register of listed buildings, and so preserved for future generations. There are around 374,000 listed buildings at the time of writing including palaces and stately homes, town halls, industrial buildings, bridges and other grand or particularly interesting structures2. Occasionally a more unusual type of edifice is added to the list, and just such an event occurred in March 2013 when, for the first time ever, a model village was given Grade II Listed3 status. This unique distinction is held by The Model Village at Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire.
The Village in Miniature
The idea of the model village was conceived in the 1930s by a Mr CA Morris, who was landlord of The Old New Inn4 at the time, but his plan wasn't as simple as merely creating a model that looked like a village. No, Mr Morris envisioned a model that would be a precise representation of the very village in which it stood, even as far as using the same Cotswold stone which had been used to build the village in the first place.
It's reported that he and his wife measured the centre of Bourton themselves and then employed several local builders and craftsmen to construct the model on an old vegetable patch behind the pub. Work started in 1936, and though the model was opened on 13 May, 1937, the day after King George VI's coronation, the project was not finished until 1940.
The result is an accurate model of Bourton-on-the-Water at a scale of 1:9, with allowances made for pathways so that people can walk through it. An offshoot of the River Windrush5 flows through the model in place of the real river and there are tiny trees planted in the positions where trees stand in the real village. Hymn music can be heard coming from the model's version of Bourton's parish church, which also has a stained glass window, pews and some intricate carving around the doorway. The accuracy and quality of the model is a tribute to those original 1930s craftsmen and their great attention to detail6.
The model village is kept up to date, but since there are 117 listed buildings in Bourton-on-the-Water, and changing the outward appearance of a listed building is prohibited by law, the layout rarely needs altering. When shops change hands, as they do from time to time, the signage is replaced as needed to keep the model current.
The Finer Details
At one end of the model's High Street stands a big white box on a turntable. If this existed in the real Bourton it would be a skyscraper blocking the main road through the village, so in that respect the model isn't entirely accurate, but this box lets you look at the model from a different perspective and in closer detail, for it is an inverted periscope. The box contains two mirrors, and looking into it yields a view of the model at street level as if you were reduced to the same small scale. Once again the skill of the people who built the model is revealed as, turning the periscope to the left, you face a nearby shop which shows all the wares in its window display as clearly as if you were standing in front of the real shop. You could easily be fooled into thinking that you were looking down the real High Street, were it not for all the giant feet that appear to be walking around.
If, however, you want to see a different aspect of the model, a macroscopic outlook instead of a microscopic one, a few steps lead up to a platform where you can get a more elevated view.
The real gem in the model, though, is related to the fact that it is a model of the actual village. As a genuine depiction of the village it must, therefore, contain a model of the model on the spot where the model stands in relation to the village as a whole, and in fact it does. But it would surely be an act of defeatism if the model of the model did not also contain a further model, and there is indeed a model of the model of the model of the village sitting on a board about half a metre across. You will, no doubt, now be expecting a model of the model of the model of the model of the village, and, yes, there is one, in a sense, for it's now reduced in size to a piece of slate about an inch long upon which a rough outline of the model has been painted. Some eagle-eyed observers have claimed that there is a little spot on that slate in the position where the model would stand, but clearly, the scale is now too small for there to be any kind of realism to a model that could occupy such a spot.
Describing the detail of the model doesn't do it justice and it really needs to be viewed in person. You can find Bourton-in-the-Water roughly 20 miles east of Gloucester, just off the A4297. But until you are able to make your way there, here's a little taster.