Jan 4 2012: Life in the Lilliput Village: Eleven Images from Bekonscot and a Model of Bankside (The Childrens’ Encyclopedia, 1950s)

Life in the Lilliput Village is a feature in a 1930s childrens’ encyclopedia showing images from the model village of Bekonscot, which was built by R.R. Callingham on a site near Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, presumably as one of the many such attractions created around the country during the mid-twentieth century. Quite why wandering around miniature towns became a staple leisure activity for families seeking distraction at weekends is something of a mystery, like Crazy Golf, which was, I suppose, a variation on the same theme. Perhaps it’s the God-like feeling of standing astride a familiar world, or the chance to play Lemuel Gulliver, the ordinary human granted a kind of superhero status in a Lilliput awed by his otherwise average dimensions and talents?

I once discussed these attractions with a friend, who suggested that reality TV now fulfils the same function, giving us a world we can feel superior to even as we become ever less empowered in the lives we actually inhabit at work, home and in real towns and cities. Or perhaps it’s simpler than that: maybe the ideal communities presented here in model form seemed, for a few decades, like plans to be realized in the real landscapes of Britain, much as the odd-one-out image here was, showing engineers running tests on smoke distribution from Bankside Power Station at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington. By the 1970s, when these attractions declined, that optimism went with them.

A small flavour of it appears in the low-budget promotional clip made by American singer April March in the late 1990s, as she performs Mignonette in a miniature Paris, dancing around Versailles, the Eiffel Tower, railways and airports just as the children in these images ran playfully through Callingham’s Bekonscot back in its own day.

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