When I visited the model village at Bourton-on-the-Water, last year, I loved the village but was hugely disappointed that there was no tea towel. A model village is an ideal setting for a tea towel. I visited Bekonscot Model Village last week and I expected the same thing to happen. But no, joy upon joy, there was a tea towel. You come to the shop after you have finished your ‘tour’; this is good because it meant I wasn’t distracted by the tea towel while I explored the 6 towns that constitute Bekonscot Model Village.
Bekonscot Model Village was founded in 1929 by Roland R. Callingham, in his own garden, not as a commercial endeavour but for the amusement of family and visitors. Based on England in 1930’s, in a ‘time warp’ they say, Bekonscot Model Village describes itself as “a little piece of history, that is forever England”. It is the oldest, and original, Model Village in the world, covering one and a half acres, with 200 buildings, 3000 inhabitants and 1000 animals, a Gauge 1 miniature railway and a 7.25 inch Gauge, ride-on railway which wends it’s way around the outskirts of the Model Village, criss-crossing some gardens and takes a turn, twice, round the pond. Bekonscot Model Village also has 3000 shrubs and trees, maintained bonsai-style but not genuine bonsai plants, employing two full-time gardeners all year round. I’ve often wondered how Bekonscot got it’s name: Roland Callingham obviously lived in Beaconsfield and had moved there from Ascot – a combination of the names of the two places. Bekonscot Model Village has been run by the Church Army since 1978, with large donations to charities both locally and nationally, after running costs are paid for.
What I like about Bekonscot Model Village is the attention to detail, the pristine state that the buildings and models are kept in, some of which are originals, the way that the site has been developed over the years, with new additions like the circus. The six towns that make up Bekonscot are:
- Bekonscot is the largest and where it first started
- Hanton is a small hamlet where a recent addition of Enid Blyton’s house, Green Hedges, is located. Here there is a wedding going as well as a house fire with smoke coming out of the thatched roof; there is also a steam roller moving up and down
- Splashyng is where the hospital is based, modelled on Amersham Hospital; there is a canal basin with cable cars moving up and down and the fox hunt
- Greenhaily is where Chessnade Zoo is located, with pens of different animals. I loved the Penguin Pool but there are lions, tigers, camels, rhinos, elephants and much more. Greenhaily also has a windmill, cricket on the green. When Ramsgate Model Village closed down, some of the houses became part of Greenhaily
- Southpool is a small fishing village and harbour where you can look through the roof of the pottery and see the potter at work; there is an oil refinery, dry docks and rock climbers
- Evenlode New Town and Epwood which has mining cottages, an archaeological dig, a castle, retirement home and a game of polo.
I love (a) the comic humour of the names of shops and businesses, names that you can miss the first time round. I like Sam and Ella’s Butchers Shop the best but there are hundreds but (b) the sheer detail of things happening in village life, often hid around a corner so that you have to look for it carefully. There is Morris Dancing, all manner of sport from hockey to football, from rugby to golf, from netball to polo. There is a funfair, a circus, a convent, an airfield, race course, various schools, churches and shops. And finally (c) there are surprising pieces of animation, tiny bits that could easily be missed: the woman washing her windows, the man nearly falling off a ladder, the roundabout and see-saw in the children’s playground, the cable cars and the trapeze artists in the circus tent (and much more). There is even a maze based on the one at Hampton Court, constructed with their advice.
In addition, is the amazing railway. There are three lines and it is not possible for the trains to crash into each other. The Gauge 1 railway has been there since Bekonscot opened nearly 90 years ago; scaled down there are the equivalent of 10 miles of railway track. There is a sophisticated signal box system whose computer programme was designed by the man that did the signalling system for the Jubilee Line Extension. The trains are programmed to travel different routes, stop at stations and go round the ‘loops’.
I vaguely remember going to Bekonscot Model Village with my mother when I was a young child. I remember some of the buildings but not the detail. But last week, I was fascinated to see children as young as 2 being mesmerised by the little trains, 92 year olds loving the detail and having memories brought back, teenagers wanting to track the trains and see where they go, families finding a day out at Bekonscot Model Village as a really great day out. I couldn’t resist going on the railway; you have to straddle the seat and I thought “I can’t do that” but if people 20 years older than me can, I gave it a go and it was great. Glad I didn’t miss it.
By the time I got to the shop, I had had a fabulous day but then to find a tea towel! Wow! It is a tea towel designed by Phil Clements of Smart and Gifted; I have several of his. It is a great tea towel because it has seven pictures of various parts of the Model Village: Bandstand on the end of the pier, Morris Dancing, the Windmill, the Airfield, a station, the Funfair and the children’s playground. It must have been difficult to decide which images to put on the tea towel. As I use it, it is a truly great reminder of Bekonscot Model Village, the day I spent there, my desire to go back again to see the bits that I might have missed and my desire to find some other Model Villages. Must re-read @MrTimDunn’s Blog, that will tell me where would be good to go. Thank you @MrTimDunn, who initially inspired me to go to Bekonscot Model Village.
Click below to return to Virtual Tea Towel Museum