Architecture Housing Your Home's History

From Factory to Fireside: 6 Marvellous Model Villages

The later years of the industrial revolution brought about a radical change in living conditions for a lucky few.

The later years of the industrial revolution brought about a radical change in living conditions for a lucky few.

View of Shipley and Saltaire in West Yorkshire. © Historic England Archive DP033095.

Some industrial entrepreneurs moved their enterprises away from the choked towns and cities to rural areas and created purpose-built villages to house their workforce.

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.

1. 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, close to the canal and railway, fulfilling all transport and waterpower needs for his operation.

View along Titus Street, Saltaire. © Crown Copyright. Historic England AA039287.

Salt built ‘Saltaire’ near the mills, a large village of tidy terraced houses, far grander than any model village built before.

The village had bathhouses, a hospital, a church, a school, alms-houses, allotments, a park and a boathouse. It also had an institute complete with a library, concert hall, billiard room, laboratory and gym.

Recreational initiatives were encouraged, such as the establishment of a brass band.

Salts Mill, Saltaire, ground floor bookshop 2016 c Historic England Archive
A modern bookshop in Salts Mill, Saltaire. © Historic England Archive.

In December 2001, UNESCO designated Saltaire a World Heritage Site.

2. 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.

SP048813 SP0481/051 Cadbury Factory, Bournville, 1920
The Cadbury Factory in Bournville, photographed in 1920. © Historic England Archive.

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 it was ‘one of the nicest places to live in Britain’.

Bourneville Shopping Parade, Birmingham 2015 c Historic England
Bourneville Shopping Parade in Birmingham. © Historic England Archive.

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, 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.

3. 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.

Bridge Street in Port Sunlight, photographed in 1896. © Historic England Archive.

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, an open-air swimming pool, a 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 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.

4. Railways and Swindon Railway Village

In the 1840s, the works of the Great Western Railway transformed Swindon into a bustling railway town.

Swindon in Bloom '95
A house in Swindon, photographed in 1995. © Historic England Archive.

The railway’s 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 Health Service. Nye Bevan, Minister for Health (1945-51), commented later: ‘there was a complete health service in Swindon. All we had to do was expand it to the country’.

Bristol Street in Swindon, photographed in 1995. © Historic England Archive.

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.

5. Shoes and the Bata Estate, East Tilbury, Essex

In 1894, entrepreneur Tomas Bata founded a footwear company in the Czech town of Zlín.

Project; Thames Gateway ProjectSite; Bata estate, East Tilbury. Essex.
Bata estate in East Tilbury. Essex. © Historic England Archive.

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 worldwide.

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.

6. 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.

P0000310 Silver Street from Fifty Years of Work _ Play published in 1934
Silver Street in Braintree, Essex. Photo via the Silver End Heritage Society.

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 manufactured by Crittall’s company.

5 comments on “From Factory to Fireside: 6 Marvellous Model Villages

  1. Reblogged this on Karl Quinney.

  2. Two of these company towns, Saltaire and Swindon—together with a third, the railway town of Crewe (not included above)—had Victorian Turkish baths. These were built by the Swindon and Crewe railways (GWR and LNWR) and by Titus Salt (in Saltaire) for their employees. The one in Saltaire was little used, but the other two were popular and were eventually used by other inhabitants of the towns. The Turkish baths in Swindon still exist, though GLL Better wants to gut them, showing how careful we need to be to guard our heritage. There is a chapter on company baths in Victorian Turkish Baths, published in 2015 by Historic England (

    • Tim Holland

      I visited the baths in Swindon today, and was given a tour round the accessible parts by one of the excellent staff. It certainly needs a lot spending on it by a sympathetic renovator; the two baths are in good repair, thought the smaller is unused. The original Armitage shanks urinals are still in situ. Much of the original decoration is still there, brickwork and stained glass windows still in place.

  3. In Ashton-under-Lyne Hugh Mason built a small village for his worker at Oxford mill, including a park, pool and library. A few houses remain along with the mill and park but in the centre of the village is a primary school, so I’m a way it’s still helping those in the community.

  4. The idea that the NHS was based on anything in Swindon is an urban myth.
    The Bevan ‘quote’ above is a 21st Century fake.

    Tredegar’s village idiots spout similar nonsense about their town.
    The National Health Service Act 1946 was based on the wartime coalition’s 1944 NHS white paper agreed across parties before Bevan was involved.

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