The later years of the industrial revolution brought about a radical change in living conditions for a lucky few.
Some industrial entrepreneurs moved their enterprises away from the choked towns and cities to rural areas and created purpose-built villages to house their work force. The new estates rescued workers from the cramped slum dwellings of overcrowded towns and cities, providing housing in airy, sanitary ‘model villages’, often complete with school, chapel and recreational facilities.
Here’s a tour of 6 industries from soap to shoes and their wonderful worker’s villages:
Textiles and Saltaire Model Village, Shipley
In the 1850s, wool industrialist Titus Salt relocated all five of his mills from Bradford to a new rural site near the River Aire, and close to the canal and railway, fulfilling all transport and waterpower needs for his operation. Near the mills, Salt built ‘Saltaire’, a large village of tidy terraced houses, far grander than any model village built before. The village had bath-houses, a hospital, church, school, alms-houses, allotments, park and boathouse. It also had an institute complete with library, concert hall, billiard room, laboratory and gym. Recreational initiatives were encouraged, such as the establishment of a brass band.
In December 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Chocolate and Bournville Model Village, Birmingham
Wanting to expand their cocoa and chocolate business, the Cadbury brothers moved their factory from central Birmingham to Bournbrook Hall, a greenfield site south of the city. The Cadbury’s named the area ‘Bournville’ and built a model village to ‘alleviate the evils of modern, more cramped living conditions’. By 1900, the estate included 313 cottages and houses with large gardens and modern interiors. The designs became a blueprint for many other model village estates around Britain.
The Cadburys built sports fields, bowling greens, fishing lakes, a lido and the Rowheath Pavilion which was also used for balls and dinners.
Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in 2003 found that it was “one of the nicest places to live in Britain”.
In nearby Harborne, John Sutton established the Moor Pool Estate, part of the ‘Garden City’ concept shared by the Cadburys in Bournville. The estate had low density housing with a community hall, two tennis clubs, a bowling green, allotments and the Moor Pool pond. These facilities are still used by residents of the estate.
Soap and Port Sunlight, Merseyside
Port Sunlight model village was built by the Lever Brothers to house soap factory workers. It is named after their popular cleaning product, Sunlight.
Between 1899 and 1914, 800 houses were built at Port Sunlight for 3,500 people. The model village had allotments, an art gallery, a cottage hospital, schools, a concert hall, open air swimming pool, church, and a temperance hotel.
Lever Brothers claimed that Port Sunlight was a profit sharing initiative where the profits were invested in the village, rather than shared with the workers. Lever said, “if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.”
Port Sunlight contains 900 Grade II listed buildings, and was declared a Conservation Area in 1978.
Railways and Swindon Railway Village
In the 1840s, the works of the Great Western Railway transformed Swindon into a bustling railway town. The railways workers were housed in a village of stone terraced cottages and the Mechanics Institute (1855) contained the UK’s first lending library. It also provided health services to workers, a forerunner of the National Heath Service. Nye Bevan, Minister for Health 1945-51) commented later that: “There was a complete health service in Swindon. All we had to do was expand it to the country”.
Swindon Borough Council applied to demolish the village in the 1960s, but poet and railway enthusiast John Betjeman successfully campaigned to save it. Much of the village is now a Conservation Area.
Shoes and the Bata Estate, East Tilbury, Essex
In 1894, entrepreneur Tomas Bata founded a footwear company in the Czech town of Zlín. By 1939 the company had fulfilled Tomas’ ambition to become “shoemakers to the world”, with factories in 30 countries including two in the UK – one in Cumbria and the other at East Tilbury on the Thames Estuary.
The first factory in Zlín stood within a progressive modern township of homes, shops and facilities for workers, and the principles of this were extended across the world. The East Tilbury site had a cinema, restaurant, sports facilities, garage, farms, grocers, butcher, post office and shoe shop and everything was owned by the company. The town even had its own newspaper.
Windows and Silver End, Braintree, Essex
Silver End model village was created in the 1920s by Francis Henry Crittall, to house the workers of his metal window factory. Crittall, or “The Guv’nor”, as he was known, also built a large department store and a village hall which boasted a first class dance floor, cinema, library, snooker room and health clinic. It remains the largest village hall in the UK. The steel window frames for the village homes were of course manufactured by Crittall’s company.
Do you live in a model village? Is your street made up of workers’ housing? Tell us about the places we’ve missed – they could help tell the History of England in 100 Places, sponsored by specialist insurer, Ecclesiastical.
England’s history is a hotbed of invention and creativity. Many places have shaped both our country and the world beyond. We need you to name the most important places that tell our national story and bring our extraordinary history to life.
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