The rise, and fall, and rise again of England’s model villages

When the grass was greener, the summers were longer, and skirts were shorter, strange miniature villages started to appear across the land.

It was the post-war years, when all seemed hopeful, when technology was blazing its white heat, when Concorde, hovercrafts and monorails captured the imagination, that a small group of people started to take a different path.

To a more sedate time, to an era that probably never existed, save for a lucky few, to quaint villages and Miss Marple, to the empty lanes and occasional motor car, steam trains and crumpets, and well ordered gardens.

The model village grew out of nothing, rarely any plans, sometimes to add to a garden’s model railway (always steam of course), or as a passion in their own right.

From the 1950s to 1960s, there was a burst of enthusiasm for the tiny Lilliputian worlds, whether private owners encouraged to open their back gardens or fully commercial operations, this was the golden age.

Model villages had a golden age that was all too short and passed into cynical 1970s, and then, as with many things of the golden age, they are making a resurgence once more as people once again seek alternatives to smartphones and the ever faster pace of life.

Inveterate model village fanatic, Tim Dunn has a life-long passion for the small renditions of homes and shops and has written a joyful romp through their history.

The book is an elongated conversation, and benefits from not being overly laden with stupefying facts that distract unnecessarily from one person’s passion for the miniature world he looms over.

From early years in Bekonscot, to many a journey to rescue objects from model villages that were falling into decay, it’s a heartfelt tale of love and loss as villages were built with passion but later succumbed to neglect.

As those who gave the model village world its genesis slowly tottered off to the model shop in the sky the next generation seemed less interested in such curiosities.

Much was lost, little has been saved, but salvation has arrived. The model village is back, with a new generation of tinkerers and enthusiasts passionately restoring the villages that survived, and in some cases, even expanding them as the public rediscover their joys.

Decorated with plenty of posters and postcards from the 1950s and 60s, the book’s warming nostalgia fest leaves one slightly saddened at what was lost, but ever so delighted at what was saved.

As Tim notes in the book, most model villages today wont make money for their owners, but they make people smile, and what greater reward is there than that.

This model little book will doubtless be in many model village gift-shops (once they’ve checked that they’ve been mentioned in it), and who knows, maybe a tiny copy will one day appear on the delicate shelves of a model book shop in a model village somewhere.

And wont that make people smile.

Model Villages by Tim Dunn is currently available at Amazon or Amberly Publishing

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