7 August 2016

Bourton-on-the-Water: Entire Village Placed on Special Architectural or Historic Interest List

The village of Bourton-on-the-Water is one of those quintessentially English places – you might not be surprised to bump in to a Downton Abbey cast member on its quaint streets.  It is considered so important that this week the entire village was designated Grade II Listed by English Heritage, the body which advises on the care of the historic environment in England.

Located in the Cotswolds range of hills in the county of Gloucestershire, the village is a perfectly preserved slice of the British way of life during the early decades of the twentieth century. Yet look a little closer.  Is there something not quite right about the place? For a start – where are the people?

Well, that answers the question! It isn't a British remake of Honey I Shrunk the Kids. This is in fact an amazing 1:9 scale model and lies at the heart of the real Bourton-on-the-Water. The model village was the brainchild of a local landlord who perhaps had the idea after partaking of one or two more pints than he should have behind his own bar.  It took five years to create, employing local craftsmen at the height of the 1930s depression.

Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey said on the English Heritage website: “This may be a highly unusual listing but it is no less worthy of its Grade II listed status. The craftsmanship involved in creating what is a hugely loved family attraction is second to none and I’m delighted that in listing we have preserved the work of the local people who built the model village and protected its history for future generations.”

As luck would have it, the completion of the model village coincided with the Coronation Day of King George VI in 1937 and one can only imagine the pomp and ceremony which accompanied its opening. The date was probably not planned from the outset as George ascended the throne when things went somewhat awry for his older brother, Edward VIII, who abdicated over his love for a certain American divorcee).

The Bourton model village has, since then, entertained and enthralled generations of visitors to this beautiful part of England.  Many who tour the site remark about how well the tiny trees fit in to the village, giving it that extra verisimilitude.  The fact that the shrubbery looks so authentic is down to careful pruning over the years.

As it was made in the 1930s it means that Bourton is as close to a perfect reproduction of any English village from that period as you are going to get.  So perfect an imitation is it that you even get a model of the model village of itself – sitting behind the New Inn just as it does in real life. And inside the model of the model village? Yes, you guess it: a model of the model of the model.

The model village is a tourist destination in its own right but the savvy visitor who plans to discover the real Bourton-on-the-Water can use this to their advantage.  After all, what better way is there of navigating and negotiating the streets of a new place than by studying it first in miniature?

First Image Credit Flickr User simononly