'Bekonscot Model Village is strange to look at but almost immediately feels familiar. Probably this is because its rolling green landscape – punctuated by passing steam trains, church spires, thatched and Victorian-style cottages, red phone boxes, country pubs, a tea room, a cricket pitch, a rash of white picket fences, and so on – looks like an impossible collage of the outdated yet default symbols of England most of us instinctively recognise, and which tourist-board marketing departments seem in no hurry to replace. Although we might dismiss the contemporary relevance of the scenes at Bekonscot they retain a sure-fire emotional charge. Added potency is given to this button-pressing vision of the past by the model village's rule of painstaking uniformity: everything its inhabitants do, wear and eat is strictly modelled on life in the 1930s – in this tiny pre-war world there are no anomalies to snag the eye.' – from the Introduction to the book 'Forever England' (Dewi Lewis Publishing)
Opened to the public in 1929, Bekonscot in Buckinghamshire, England is the world's oldest model village, and the inspiration for other villages or 'miniature parks' both in the UK and abroad. Bekonscot started life as a diversion for the houseguests of a rich accountant, Roland Callingham, who built a slowly expanding system of miniature train tracks and houses round a swimming pool in his garden.
Today, Bekonscot covers 1.5 acres, and over 3,000 tiny people live in its six different village communities. Although many of the UK's model villages closed in the 1960s and 70s after the popularity of British resorts waned following the advent of cheap holidays abroad, there are still around 20 model villages open to the public across the country. These sites are still very popular both with locals and tourists – Bekonscot alone attracts over 200,000 visitors a year.
Together, Liam Bailey's images of the inhabitants of Bekonscot project take the mould of a classic social documentary, exploring the home and working lives of people from a single community. The pictures show us these lives are extremely comforting – no one is struggling with their destiny, and nothing ever changes. But beneath the surface of these colourful, cheery portraits lies something more complex. In a place where the clock was made to stop in the late 1930s, everything is coloured by a disjointed kind of nostalgia: how perfect is a world where nothing ever moves on? The ice-cream man will never sell an ice cream; the diver about to make his jump from the top board will never make it into the water. Bailey's images reveal Bekonscot to be a village full of tension – as in a photograph; these miniature people, streets and houses are trapped in time.
Liam Bailey has exhibited widely in the UK. He graduated with a Masters Degree in Photography in 2006 and has worked as a freelance photographer since the early 1990s. In the past ten years he has combined his professional practice with lecturing work, teaching both photography and professional practice, and has been visiting lecturer across the UK. He is also a director of Photofusion Photography Institute in Brixton, London.
All work is available for purchase.