“Would you like to come with me and visit a village so small that you will tower above the houses?” asked Enid Blyton in her 1951 book about Bekonscot, The Enchanted Village.
Over 13 million did, and thanks to them, as well as all the visitors, Bekonscot is still there and raising money for charity!
In 1927, Roland Callingham, a London-based chartered accountant instructed his contractors to dig a swimming pool at his home in Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire.
A year later, he got a garden railway built, the largest outdoor one in England. His head gardener Tom Berry built some model houses to add to the atmosphere. Encouraged by his friends and house staff, Roland also planned a rural landscape surrounding the pool, railway, houses and rockeries. And, his team included local schoolboys who turned their hands to model-making and the construction of Bekonscot.
Half-timbered and stone houses, shops, castles and gardens sprang out of the rockeries along with a network of tiny roads to connect them. Local buildings and personal favourites of the staff provided much of the village’s inspiration, for all were constructed form memory and old photos. Bekonscot’s founder was never concerned with precision. He liked it to be fun and full of character. It was never to be taken seriously. Humour, determination and craftsmanship were the highlight of this venture. Even its name was derived from Beaconsfield and Ascot, where the founder’s best friend lived.
Following suggestions from friends and family, Rolland opened Bekonscot to the public in 1929. Bekonscot has all the facilities that the most demanding of residents would desire near their homes — two railway stations, a cinema theatre, a fire station with a fire brigade, four pubs, two markets squares, a sea-side pier, a lake with boats and yachts, and lots of old-world small shops as well as a recent addition of a smallest Marks and Spencer shop.
Brightly-coloured houses cling on the hillsides, framed by beautiful old trees and exotic clinging creepers and plants.
The Chessnade Zoo is an amalgam of two popular zoos -- Chessington and Whipsnade -- and has an exotic miniature menagerie. Elephants, giraffes, penguins and flamingos alongside a chimps’ tea party -- it seems most of the animals were carved out of limewood by local school children -- and the latest penguin enclosure is based on one at London Zoo.
The path climbs past the bear and tiger enclosures to the highest point of the landscape — Greenhaily — with its cricket pitch, windmill, and the busy railway station from where one can hear the station master, and announcements on the arrival and departure of all trains running around Bekonscot.
The market town is the oldest part of the model village, and even the smallest child can look down like a giant above the tiny people going about their daily business.
The most fascinating feature is the fire brigade, which promptly puts out the fires in the pretty, thatched Rose Cottage. Makes one wonder what precise methods are adopted for the sudden outburst of the fire, and the prompt dousing-down.
The lake is like a sea to the village, with its boats, lifeboats, a lighthouse, water well and a pier. The Ovaltine diary farm with its world-famous drink finds a prominent place in this part of the village.
The Bekonscot Model Railways (BMR) intrigues many visitors. About 10 trains weave their way along the village, and the control room is at the Mary Loo signal box.
Many of the trains have historic value, having run for over 50 years and covered over 2,000 real miles. The success of the original village, saw it being expanded in 1945 to include more features. In winter, the place is closed for refurbishment.
Enid Blyton’s connection with this town does not end with the reference in her book. She stayed in Beaconsfield for about 30 years. During her centenary celebrations in 1997, a replica of her house was inaugurated by her daughter Gillian. One of the reasons Bekonscot leaves the young and the old delighted, is that it genuinely satisfies our desire for nostalgia -- it feeds our child-like curiosity for all things small.